Sunday, 2 October 2016

Giving Grandmothers a Voice

Guest post by Roz Rigby, a Health Improvement Practitioner at Newcastle City Council and Doctoral student in Public Health at Northumbria University

Today is Grandparents’ Day, a day which celebrates the contributions of grandparents to families and
society overall. Grandparents can have important roles in the health related decisions of families and my research is looking at the influence of grandmothers on introducing solid food. Much of the literature describes grandmothers in a negative light, suggesting they may advise their daughters to start solids before the recommended six months. I found that there was very little research that addressed this from the perspectives of grandmothers’ themselves, and therefore I set out on my research journey with the intention of finding out ‘how do grandmothers make sense of the role they play in introducing solid foods to their grandchildren?’

 I am using constructivist grounded theory methods based on the works of Charmaz (2014)1, and am still finding new meaning in my data, as I try to write up my findings. I am finding this an exciting time in the research, after the arduous task of trying to understand the terminology in qualitative methodology! I must admit that I expected to find grandmothers defending the older methods of introducing solids, which was generally started at around four months, but I actually found that they were open to change and generally accepted the new guidelines. I have also uncovered a complicated web of dynamic family interactions in which grandmothers can struggle to come to terms with competing values of the wider family that they find themselves in. Some grandmothers expressed how marginalised they feel, as they do not have access to the latest information, except through their daughters or daughters in law, and yet, they are often providing extensive childcare.

One of the issues that this research has highlighted for me, is the contested levels of responsibility that grandmothers face. On the one hand they are ‘proxy’ parents, making autonomous decisions about the food that they offer their grandchildren, whilst on the other hand, this can compete with the parents’ decisions and parenting styles (which may in turn be influenced by the other grandparents). Being able to switch this responsibility on and off can cause tension and conflict, particularly if there is a feeding issue. The problems of having a fussy eater can cause parents and grandparents immense distress, with issues of power and control coming to the fore. Grandmothers often worry about conflict within the family and are wary about raising their concerns, for fear of fracturing relationships and possibly losing contact with their children and grandchildren.

Of course it’s not all doom and gloom, as they all report feeling immense love for their grandchildren and a similar nurturing feeling that they had for their own children. They get tremendous satisfaction from these relationships, and I hope that my research will help practitioners to have a better understanding of the issues grandmothers face. I am looking forward to using the findings to develop an intervention that will help families navigate potential intergenerational conflicts and find ways of developing collaboration within families, as they all have the best interests of the children at the heart of what they do.

  1. Charmaz, K. (2014) Constructing Grounded Theory (2nd Edition). Sage

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