The Changing Role of the Grandparent

Single moms desire and highly appreciate the grandparental role as a replacement parent. Grandmothers often adopt this role for a specific period due to exceptional circumstances. After that period, they return to a more secondary position.  

For example, a popular view is that if the daughter can perform the role of the primary and only active parent, grandparenting practices should be sporadic. In other words, it’s only when it’s convenient for the grandmother. In case of the inability of the daughter to fulfill her role as a parent (e.g., during sickness), the grandmother completely takes over the part of the mother and becomes a replacement parent. Once the daughter can take back her responsibility, the grandmother shifts back to her initial grandparenting role practices.

Authority Figures

An essential aspect of the replacement parent role, for example, is the grandmother as the disciplinarian figure. Moreover, single moms place significant importance on the help their parents provide in bringing up the children, especially in disciplining them in their absence.

As a result, both roles are of intrinsic importance for the single mom and the grandmother. Grandparenthood is not only an essential part of life and ego-identity. It serves as a substitute for the losses grandmothers had already experienced when their children left the house (empty nest syndrome).  They can also feel lonely due to social isolation, separation from/loss of a partner, etc. Thus, taking on roles as grandmothers and the intensified grandparental involvement apply in both of these roles. Therefore, they feel an increased sense of emotional bond. Moreover, they feel a greater degree of family belongingness. It’s also a pleasant feeling of someone depending on you and providing unconditional love to you. 

Replacement Partners

  Therefore, in a sense, in some instances, the grandchildren and the lone-parenting children can themselves have the role of a “replacement partner” and a “replacement family” for the grandmothers. That reciprocity could also be one reason why relationships between daughters/lone mothers and mothers often improve after the birth of grandchildren. Interviewees state that the association “strengthens” because of all family members’ awareness that they have only one another. This relationship is equally important for both sides and is a ground for mutual support.

Besides the subjective, psychological value that both lone mothers and grandmothers place on the grandparental roles as replacement parents and replacement partners, it might be that there are also relationship dynamics that could be causing and encouraging their incorporation. Often, the changes in family and life structure, the stress surrounding these changes, and the desire for all additional tensions to be avoided to build a stable new system of family relationships enforce the incorporation of new behavioral patterns and attitudes.  

Such new patterns of behavior on the side of the actively involved grandmothers are, for example, the practice to simply offer or to straightaway provide specific support rather than to waiting to be asked for it in advance, as they acknowledge having to ask for help will be highly uncomfortable for the mothers and will enforce time and organizational constraints.


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