Ambivalence and the paradoxes of grandparenting

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This paper focuses on 'normative talk' about grandparenting. It is based on a secondary analysis of a study involving 46 interviews with grandparents. It identifies two main cultural norms of grandparenting that emerged from the data - 'being there' and 'not interfering'. There were very high levels of consensus in the study that these constituted what grandparents 'should and should not' do. However, these two norms can be contradictory, and are not easy to reconcile with the everyday realities of grandparenting. The study found that norms of parenting and also of self determination were also very important for the grandparents in the study. They had a keen sense of what being a 'good parent' (to their own adult children) should mean - especially in terms of allowing them to be independent - but this could sometimes conflict with their sense of responsibility to descendant generations of grandchildren. Using the concept of ambivalence and drawing on the accounts of grandparents in the study, the paper explores and offers an explanation for both the coexistence and conflict between different sets of norms, as well as for the remarkably high levels of consensus about 'being there' and 'not interfering'. The paper concludes with a discussion of some of the limitations of the data and the analysis, and with suggestions for the development of further work in this area. © 2007 The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)687-706
Number of pages19
Journalsociological review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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