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TWU Professor Notes Changing Role of Grandparents

TWU Professor Notes Changing Role of Grandparents


Note: National Grandparents Day is Sept. 8, 2002

DENTON — The image of a gray-haired grandmother baking cookies for her visiting grandchildren may be a thing of the past.

Many of today's grandparents have become full-time caregivers for their grandchildren. A Texas Woman's University professor says dealing with the changes inherent in these situations can be stressful for those who don't know where to turn for help.

Dr. Lillian Chenoweth, a TWU professor of family studies, said the role of a grandparent traditionally is more relaxed than that of a parent.

“The traditional role of grandparents is that they don't enforce the rules,” she said. “They `spoil' their grandchildren.”

When grandparents take on a parental role, Chenoweth said, they have to establish different boundaries and be aware of age-appropriate behavior. If they have assumed full-time care for their grandchildren, they may have questions about their legal rights as well as financial issues, she said.

Chenoweth deals with parent education in her family studies classes, but said little attention has been paid to grandparent education. Her interest in the subject led to her writing a chapter in the book “Grandparents raising grandchildren: Theoretical, empirical, and clinical perspectives,” (B. Hayslip and R. Goldberg-Glen, Eds., 2000).

Chenoweth said the number of grandparent-headed households increased sharply about 10 years ago and has become widespread, crossing all ethnic and socioeconomic levels. While some grandparents have taken on the parental role by choice, she said, circumstances have led others to take their grandchildren into their homes. A typical scenario involves grandparents taking over the parental role because the parent is having problems, Chenoweth said.

Many people assume that, having already reared children, the grandparent is more than capable of rearing a grandchild. However, Chenoweth said, grandparents in these situations must deal with their own issues as well as the child's.

The child often is uprooted — sometimes to another town or even another state — and must adjust to a new home and a new school. Younger grandparents may still have full-time jobs, while others may have been looking forward to retirement and traveling.

Some grandparents have difficulty dealing with their emotions as well as the situation itself, but are unwilling to reach out, Chenoweth said. “They think asking for help is a sign of weakness, but I believe it is a sign of strength,” she said.

As more attention is paid to the number of grandparent-headed households, more agencies are offering support. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Web site,, offers a wealth of information and resources for grandparents who are rearing their grandchildren.

Chenoweth said there are advantages to grandparent-headed households. “The grandparents feel needed, the child feels loved, and it creates a special bond between them,” she said. She stressed that it can work, if resources and support are available. Though she said society has not done a lot to help grandparents in these situations, she believes that will change as the issue gains attention.

“I believe we will begin to focus more on their unique needs,” she said.



The AARP Web site,, provides the following statistics on grandparent-headed households:

  • 4.5 million children under age 18 are growing up in grandparent-headed households. Approximately one-third of these children have no parent present in the home.
  • The number of children in grandparent-headed households has increased 30 percent since 1990.
  • In Texas, the number of children younger than 18 living in grandparent-headed households increased 44.1 percent from the 1990 Census to Census 2000. Texas ranks 15th out of the 50 states in the percentage change during those years.
  • The majority of grandparents rearing grandchildren are between ages 55 and 64. Approximately 20 to 25 percent are 65 or older.
  • While grandparent-headed families cross all socio-economic levels, these grandparents are more likely to live in poverty than are other grandparents.
  • There are eight times more children in grandparent-headed homes than in the foster care system.

For Further Information Contact:

Karen Treat
Senior Copywriter
Tel: (940) 898-3456