Grandparental agency after adult children's divorce

Virpi Timonen and Martha Doyle

in Contemporary grandparenting

Published by Policy Press

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9781847429681
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9781447307624 | DOI:
Grandparental agency after adult children's divorce

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This chapter focuses on grandparenting in families where members of the middle generation have divorced or separated. Grandparents’ roles in divorced and separated families range from intensive co-parenting to situations where they experience a drastic reduction or complete withdrawal of contact with grandchildren. The findings are in line with the argument that paternal grandparents tend to experience greater difficulties than maternal grandparents in securing what they see as an adequate level of contact with grandchildren following divorce (the ‘matrilineal advantage’ or the ‘matrifocal bias’). The influence of the middle generation was strongly evident, corroborating the parent-as-mediator theory. Grandparents’ feelings of affective solidarity, their protective parenting style, and unstinting practical support of their adult children support the argument that some grandparents revert to earlier parenting roles when their adult child divorces. However, the chapter also argues that grandparents seek to actively influence the extent to which they are involved in the lives of grandchildren and the middle generation. Grandparents make choices and develop strategies to shape their involvement in the lives of younger family generations. Some (paternal) grandparents are able to use their agency to forge positive relationships with the custodial parent. The main motive for exercising grandparental agency is the wellbeing of and contact with their grandchildren, but agency can also be used in the interest of their own wellbeing for instance to reduce involvement in grandchild care. The chapter concludes by encouraging research into what shapes grandparental agency and conjectures that the main determinants of agency are gender, education, income and wealth, and the characteristics of the separating couple in the middle generation.

Keywords: Divorce; Separation; Middle generation; Grandparental agency; Lineage; Paternal grandparents; Matrilineal advantage

Chapter.  8322 words. 

Subjects: Marriage and the Family

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