Exploring the relationship between grandparents and their grandchild who has a disability

Woodbridge, Sandra (2010) Exploring the relationship between grandparents and their grandchild who has a disability. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


This thesis reports on the findings of a study which sought to explore the relationship between grandparents and their grandchild who has a disability. In contrast to previous studies, it presents the grandparents’ perspective on the roles and relationships they maintain within their families and adopts a qualitative approach to identify the meanings, symbols and beliefs grandparents attribute to their experiences.

Grandparents have played and continue to play an important role in the lives of many families, contributing both symbolic and instrumental support to their grandchildren. Changing life expectancy for older people has meant that many more grandparents and grandchildren now have the opportunity to participate in meaningful interactions and to develop strong relationships. In the future, this will be true for great grandparents and in some cases great great grandparents as well. This presents a number of challenges to all concerned as family members negotiate the often complex arena of family life in the 21st Century. Realizing that a grandchild has a disability adds another degree of complexity to the negotiation of roles and responsibilities of grandparents within families. By focussing on grandparents experiences when their grandchild has a disability, this research both explores a knowledge gap in the current literature and more practicably, will inform both grandparents and their families as they negotiate these challenges. This research makes a significant contribution to knowledge in this area by exploring grandparents’ views on the differences in the relationship they have with their typically developing grandchildren and their grandchild with a disability; the impact having a grandchild with a disability had had on their grandparent identity and whether it impacted on quality of life.

As well as reporting on the aims of the study, the papers presented in this thesis report on the key topics and themes identified in the analysis of the transcribed interviews conducted with 22 grandparents whose grandchild has a disability. Article 1 presents an overview of the literature which informs current knowledge in relation to grandparents, presenting a historical and theoretical perspective. Additionally, it presents previous literature which discusses the roles and styles grandparents adopt thus providing a framework which is later used to examine the roles and styles adopted by the grandparents in the study.

Article 2 addresses the emotional responses grandparents in the study experienced as they grandparented a child with a disability. Comparing these emotions to that of a roller coaster ride, ranging from absolute sadness and grief to pride and delight, these findings highlight their unique experiences and will be reassuring for other grandparents who experience similar emotional responses.

Article 3 discusses from the grandparents’ perspective, how having a grandchild with a disability has impacted on their family. Whilst reporting on the day to day challenges of competing family commitments and conflict, a number of grandparents in this study also commented that the experience had made them closer as a family and that there had been significant changes in how some individual family members now viewed people with disability.

Article 4 explores the impact having a grandchild with a disability may have on the grandparents’ sense of identity and enactment of the grandparent role, utilising Neugarten and Weinstein’s (1964) classic grandparenting styles and Kornhaber’s (1996) concepts of latent and functional grandparent identity as a basis for comparison. It provides important insight into grandparenting identity when a child has a disability, suggesting that the grandparenting experience and role enactment may be universal with only the context and delivery varying.

In summary, this thesis confirms the valuable role grandparents play in the lives of grandchildren who have a disability and their families. It identifies a number of implications and makes recommendations for future research and practice.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 41020
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Buys, Elinor
Keywords: grandparent, children with disability, emotional experiences, families, relationships, roles, identity, sustainability, latent grandparent identity, functional grandparent identity, intergenerational relationships
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 29 Mar 2011 02:11
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2017 14:43

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