Why do grandparents care?

Author Identifiers

Rebecca Bullingham


Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Medical and Health Science by Research


School of Medical and Health Sciences

First Advisor

David Coall

Second Advisor

Shantha Karthigesu


Experiencing love, joy, and excitement for the future are often feelings associated with becoming a grandparent. Grandparents are an invaluable resource to parents because of their ability to assist with raising children. For many, providing grandchild care is a natural part of being a grandparent and is often viewed as a desired and satisfying part of the role. Living longer than previous generations, grandparents typically have active lives and their role as a grandparent is likely one of many roles they fulfil. Although there is consensus that grandparents who provide childcare experience health benefits, some recent studies have inconsistent findings. Frequency and intensity of grandchild care may explain the inconsistencies as providing intensive grandchild care has been associated with poorer health outcomes. Another, currently unexplored, explanation is that grandparents have different motivations (e.g., autonomy versus obligation) and it may be that these motivations moderate the association between grandparenting and health. Employing a qualitative dominant convergent parallel mixed methods design, focus groups were used to explore grandparents’ experiences of providing grandchild care in Australia. Participant surveys gathered demographics, lineage, and frequency of childcare. The reason for exploring intensity qualitatively and frequency quantitatively was to obtain different but complementary data on the same topic to bring greater insight into the inconsistencies between grandparental health outcomes. Thematic analyses revealed that many grandparents enjoyed providing grandchild care and were autonomously motivated to help, yet many acknowledged that the role comes with challenges. The health and wellbeing of grandparents was good, however, feeling tired was a common physical challenge among grandmothers. Grandparents felt appreciated by both their families and grandchildren for the support they provided. Grandfathers felt that if there was conflict appreciation may change. Most grandparents felt in control regarding the frequency of care they provided. In some cases, however, parental circumstances (e.g., employment obligations and relationship breakdown) limited control for grandparents. Maintaining paid employment and grandchild caregiving was a challenge with many grandmothers reducing their hours or retiring. In this sample, there was a high level of cooperation and low conflict between parents and grandparents, grandfathers, in particular, expressed the importance of respecting parents. This research provides insight into how grandparents balance healthy ageing with the challenges of providing grandchild care. Exploring grandparents’ motivations provides some insight into why grandparents care for their grandchildren and the impact motivation may have on health. Understanding how grandparents negotiate the grandchild caregiver role contributes to the wider body of knowledge on family relationships. Especially, as healthy relationships between grandparents, parents, and grandchildren are important for the healthy functioning of the larger family system.

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