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Grandmothers at Work

Grandmothers at Work: Juggling Families and Jobs

Madonna Harrington Meyer
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 293
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  • Book Info
    Grandmothers at Work
    Book Description:

    Young working mothers are not the only ones who are struggling to balance family life and careers. Many middle-aged American women face this dilemma as they provide routine childcare for their grandchildren while pursuing careers and trying to make ends meet. Employment among middle-aged women is at an all-time high. In the same way that women who reduce employment hours when raising their young children experience reductions in salary, savings, and public and private pensions, the mothers of those same women, as grandmothers, are rearranging hours to take care of their grandchildren, experiencing additional loss of salary and reduced old age pension accumulation. Madonna Harrington Meyer'sGrandmothers at Work, based primarily on 48 in-depth interviews conducted in 2009-2012 with grandmothers who juggle working and minding their grandchildren, explores the strategies of, and impacts on, working grandmothers. While all of the grandmothers in Harrington Meyer's book are pleased to spend time with their grandchildren, many are readjusting work schedules, using vacation and sick leave time, gutting retirement accounts, and postponing retirement to care for grandchildren. Some simply want to do this; others do it in part because they have more security and flexibility on the job than their daughters do at their relatively new jobs. Many are sequential grandmothers, caring for one grandchild after the other as they are born, in very intensive forms of grandmothering. Some also report that they are putting off retirement out of economic necessity, in part due to the amount of financial help they are providing their grandchildren. Finally, some are also caring for their frail older parents or ailing spouses just as intensively. Most expect to continue feeling the pinch of paid and unpaid work for many years before their retirement.Grandmothers at Workprovides a unique perspective on a phenomenon faced by millions of women in America today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3815-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Balancing Care and Work
    (pp. 1-31)

    Legions of working grandmothers across the United States are quietly, almost invisibly, caring for grandchildren so that parents can work or have a break from busy schedules. Deanne is one of 48 working grandmothers I interviewed who is balancing paid work and caring for grandchildren. A 57-year-old, white, married, well-educated, middleclass woman with two daughters, Deanne works full-time as an elected official in a small midwestern town. She also takes care of three of her six grandkids three or four days a week after work and often on weekends. She also checks in on her mother at the nursing home...

  6. 2 Joys and Second Chances
    (pp. 32-61)

    Much is said about the negative aspects of carework, but the working grandmothers I interviewed who care for their grandchildren reap tremendous positive rewards. Indeed, to talk to these 48 grandmothers is to talk to 48 women who know joy. To a person, the grandmothers I interviewed are happy to spend time with their grandchildren. Many, but certainly not all, like the balance of work and grandchild care, feeling that the roles enhance rather than stress them.

    Paula, a 48-year-old, divorced, black woman from a northeastern city with four children and seven grandchildren, balances many roles. But when it comes...

  7. 3 Intensive Grandmothering
    (pp. 62-97)

    Much has been said about the intensification of mothering in the United States. Sharon Hays traces evolving practices and suggests that for about three decades we have been in an era of increasingly intensive mothering in which mothers, even if working, are encouraged to invest a great deal of time and energy into raising their children.¹ While mothers of all races and classes are pressured to intensify motherhood, Annette Lareau found that middle-class and upper-class women are most likely to cultivate their children through specific efforts encouraged by parenting experts.² In a way that is without historic precedent, modern US...

  8. 4 Juggling Work and Grandchildren
    (pp. 98-130)

    Many grandmothers juggle work and caring for grandchildren. Onehalf of Americans are grandparents by age 50; 70 percent of those in their early 50s, and nearly 65 percent of those in their late 50s, are still employed.¹ Studies show that working grandparents are just as likely to provide care as those who are retired, and one-third change their work schedules to accommodate grandchild care.² Like younger American women, grandmothers often struggle to balance work and child care in part because the United States does not guarantee paid time off for sickness, vacation, or parental leave, nor does it ensure universal...

  9. 5 Financial Ebbs and Flows
    (pp. 131-152)

    Intensive grandmothering can be quite expensive. Many grandmothers who care for their grandchildren report less money coming in and more money going out. Some grandmothers reduce earnings because they reduce paid work hours to increase unpaid carework hours. Some also change jobs, in an effort to have maximum scheduling flexibility, and in the process they give up some of their pay, hours, and benefits, notably paid sick time, paid vacation time, health insurance, and private pensions. Decisions that prioritize the care of grandchildren over earnings and benefits may adversely impact current and long term income, investments, savings, and private and...

  10. 6 Containing Carework
    (pp. 153-173)

    Though grandmothers may love their grandchildren, and many may want to provide almost limitless care and support, some want to set limits. For some grandmothers, enough is enough. These grandmothers limit grandchild care to protect their time, health, finances, jobs, social lives, or retirement plans. Some limit the care they provide by simply saying no or refusing to change their plans to accommodate requests from their adult children. Others limit the care they provide by working more hours, or years, than they need to so that they are not as readily available to provide care.

    Others find themselves limiting grandchild...

  11. 7 Emotional Ups and Downs
    (pp. 174-206)

    The emotional impacts of working, and caring for grandkids, are mixed. For some the combination of roles generates a tremendous emotional high, but for others it generates somewhat more negative sensations. Many working grandmothers enjoy terrific emotional rewards of providing high-quality, and much-appreciated, grandchild care. Most, but certainly not all, of the grandmothers feel very appreciated. For those who are perpetually thanked, the emotional rewards of helping their adult children by caring for their grandchildren are remarkable. Verbal expressions of gratitude are most frequent and most desired. Many adult children also give gifts and find ways to repay in kind...

  12. 8 Social and Health Pros and Cons
    (pp. 207-229)

    The impact of caring for grandchildren on working grandmothers’ social and physical well-being is mixed.¹ Grandmothers with more resources, who are working and caring for fewer hours per week, can readily juggle multiple roles of work and grandchild care and maintain a busy social life and good health. For these grandmas, multiple roles enhance each other and their overall well-being. By contrast, grandmothers with fewer resources, or who are working and caring for grandchildren for many hours per week, often do not have enough hours, or energy, to maintain their previous social lives. Some reduce social obligations in part because...

  13. Conclusions: Grandmothers at Work
    (pp. 230-238)

    Working grandmothers in the United States provide a great deal of care for their grandchildren, ranging from child care, emotional supports, financial supports, and, at times, custodial care. We have not known much about how working grandmothers balance work and care of grandchildren, or what the impact of that mix of responsibilities is on their financial, emotional, social, and physical well-being. This study addresses those issues, providing a national picture by using data from the Health and Retirement Survey (HRS) 2010, and an individual picture, by using the results of the Grandmas at Work Survey. According to the HRS 2010,...

    (pp. 239-258)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 259-264)
    (pp. 265-274)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 275-280)
    (pp. 281-281)