Grandmothers Count: The silent contributions of grandmothers in promoting child development

  • Susan


Grandmothers are in a unique position to promote grandchildren’s nutrition, health, development and safety-indirectly by emotional and instrumental support of the grandchild’s parent, and directly by raising the grandchild. Ten percent of the child population in the U.S. live with a grandparent. In a survey design with a sample of convenience, this study described 155 diverse grandmothers in three grandmother family profiles: multigenerational families (10.5%); grandmother caregivers (16.2%); and involved non-residential grandmothers (73.3%). To access these grandmothers, we reached out to churches in central North Carolina. More than three out of four grandmothers saw their children at least weekly, 43.4% daily. The survey identified both the challenges e.g. food insecurity (11.5%), housing insecurity (17.4%), and the opportunities e.g. providing childcare (70.8%) to promote positive health and development of their grandchildren. The study described the roles grandmothers play in the lives of families— activities, advice offered, skills taught, and efforts grandmothers made to keep their grandchildren safe. The survey also explored grandmothers’ worries and needs e.g. food and housing insecurity, respite care, and wanted information e.g. parent trainings. Grandmothers were asked about their social supports, informal e.g. family, friends, neighbors, formal supports e.g. church, community groups, and instrumental social support e.g. help with food, clothing, housing,transportation, child care, sick care. We compared the experiences of African American, Black (26.7%) and European American, White (69.3%) grandmothers. Black grandmothers were more likely to be single, not have the child’s parent living in the home, have a child in the child welfare system, and were twice as likely to be a primary caregiver, yet, they did not report higher levels of stress or poor health, than the White grandmothers. Even though all of the grandmothers actively provided for the needs of the family, they did so at a cost. Although within one standard deviation of the comparison sample, all five health indicators—physical, social, self-esteem, general and perceived health of the grandmothers trended towards poorer health when compared to her community peers. This pattern also held true of all four indicators of dysfunction—anxiety, depression, anxietydepression, and pain.