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Backhouse, J 2009, 'Grandparents raising their grandchildren: impact of the transition from a traditional grandparent role to a grandparent-as-parent role', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright J Backhouse 2009


In many Western societies grandparents take on the role of occasional or short-term care providers of their grandchildren. However, recent years have witnessed a significant increase, both in Australia and overseas, in the number of children being raised by their grandparents due to the inability of the children’s parents to effectively meet their parenting responsibilities.

This study is an interpretive inquiry that seeks to understand the meanings grandparents attach to their experiences of the grandparent-as-parent role, rather than the traditional grandparent role. The study also investigates how assuming the non-traditional grandparent role has influenced the identity of grandparent caregivers. A narrative inquiry approach was employed to ‘hear the voices’ of 34 grandparents who were raising their grandchildren in NSW, Australia. In-depth interviews were conducted with each of the participants and their narratives were subsequently analysed through the lens of identity theory.

Findings from the study reveal that grandparents experience a significant degree of roleidentity conflict in their grandparent-as-parent role. The loss of their traditional grandparent role, together with the shift in commitment to the grandparent-as-parent role, has resulted in a ‘space of difference’ between the ‘ideal’ and the ‘real’ of being a grandparent. This ‘space of difference’ is made up of a series of binary experiences described as myth/reality, visible/invisible, deserving/undeserving, voice/silenced, included/excluded, which appear to have consequentially impacted grandparents’ selfesteem and self-verification processes. The study posits that grandparents lack adequate support, or doulia, resulting in a prevailing belief that their commitment to the grandparentas- parent role is not publicly acknowledged nor afforded the justice it deserves.

The study concludes that both policy and practice in NSW have failed to recognise and address the complexity of experience, or the ‘space of difference’ occupied by grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, and provides a number of recommendations in response to the grandparent experiences narrated through this research.