Sustaining Families in the 21st Century: The Role of Grandparents

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As the world's population ages there is a growing interest in the lives of older people. Older people may be parents, grandparents, members of extended families, neighbourhoods and countries. This paper will focus on one particular role, that of being a grandparent and its role in sustaining families and society. It presents the results of an Australian study of grandparents whose grandchild has a disability and explores their role in terms of relationships and support.

In the past grandparents were integral to the success of societies. Often respected and revered. Grandfathers, in particular held much of the power and control within families and were responsible for the distribution of the land and property amongst their kin. Grandparents were seen as the custodians of the family rituals and the development of kinship relationships.

In the 21st century, grandparents do not have the same status or position they once had but many contribute to sustaining the family. This may be by way of instrumental support such as the provision of housing, clothing, child-care, school fees and in some cases, assuming the full time caring role for the grandchild. Others may assume a more symbolic role, providing an environment which is stable, where the child feels safe and unconditionally loved and where the grandparent is seen as a role model, responsible for the transmission of wisdom and knowledge including the families history and traditions.

In-depth interviews were conducted with 20 older people who were grandparents of a grandchild who had either a congenital disability (diagnosed at birth) or an acquired disability (diagnosed after their 1st birthday). All the grandchildren were 17 years or younger at the time of the interview. The disabilities were categorised as either physical, cognitive or sensory and the results have an important contribution to make to sustaining families in an ageing population


Keywords: Families, Grandparents, Relationships, Grandchildren with a Disability
Stream: Cultural Sustainability
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: , , Sustaining Families in the 21st Century


Sandra Woodbridge

PHD Student, Centre for Social Change Research, Queensland University of Technology
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Sandra is a Lecturer in the School of Human Services at Griffith University and is undertaking her PHD studies at the Queensland University of Technology. She has over 20 years experience in the aged care industry in Australia including: working in aged care facilities, community organisations including Council on the Ageing Qld and as a consultant to both government and private organisations. Her research interests include housing choices for older people, intergenerational relationships and ageing and disability.

Ref: S08P0009