Lived Experiences as a Grandparent in China

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Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1667 Words
Date:  2021-03-13


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To catch-up with dramatic changes in the economic structure and social landscape in the recent decades, families in China have had to endure greater challenges than ever before. Industrialization and urbanization inevitably push people into a competition that requires them to devote extra time and vigor competing with one another. Consequently, the original family setup has been changed to fit the context of a metropolitan life. In this new family structure, the role of senior citizens is not defunctionalized as the family convergence theorists and modernization theorists have predicted (Chen, Liu, & Mair, 2011). Increased life expectancy and reduced child mortality in most countries mean that more people live to be grandparents (e.g. Chen et al., 2011). Scholars from various disciplines have largely recognized the increasing importance of intergenerational relations (see Bengtson&Oyama, 2011; Chappell, McDonald&Stones, 2008)). Grandparents are increasingly reporting that they are replacing the role of parents in giving care to their grandchildren. In the U.S., for example, there are 2.6 million grandparents who already claim responsibility for caring for their grandchildren (Livingston & Kim, 2010).

Similar to the western world, the phenomenon of grandparenting is also continuously increasing in China (see Chen et al., 2011, 2012; Goh, 2009). Multiple factors which have resulted from industrialization and economic development together with Confucianism morals and patriarchal traditions have created unique experiences for Chinese grandparents. In China, it is common to find grandparents caring for their grandchildren in most families; there is a sharing of child care responsibilities in both urban and rural areas (Chen et al., 2011). The purpose of this paper is to answer the following questions: What are experiences are the experiences of the grandparents who are involved in grandparenting? How does grandparenting affect the lives of the elderly? How do they feel about intergenerational ties with their grandchildren? The goal of this study is to explore the experiences of grandparents to establish how they play the role of childcare givers to their grandchildren in urban areas. The theory of intergenerational solidarity will be used as a framework to understand Chinese empirical data of grandparents as regular childcare providers.

By focusing on how grandparents experience intergenerational relationships in the unique urban China context, this study hopes to reveal an intersubjective understanding of grandparenting experiences. Grandparents experience is defined as how grandparents feel about their grandchildren, themselves, and the intergeneration relationship between them. The structure of intergenerational relations is the background of this study. This paper will explore and analyze their experiences using a phenomenological approach. Due to geographic limitations, data for this study will be collected through online interviews. By addressing the research problem, gerontologists, psychologists, educator, and adult parents will obtain relevant information that could be used in influencing the discourse of grandparenting, improving intergeneration relations, and reducing the stress that grandparents go through during caregiving. As a result, a less intensive social context to support the senior citizens as grandparents might be provided.

Intergenerational relationships bounds families together and reflect diverse biographical and historical experiences that individuals in a family experience (Walker, 2002). Sociology provides important explanations when it comes to tackling social issues related to intergenerational relations. This phenomenological study is well-motivated in dialogue on literature in intergenerational relations, especially research concerning grandparenting. By describing, interpreting, and understanding grandparenting experiences in urban China, this research will reveal the essential factors in intergenerational dynamics that cut across three different generations.

Researches on grandparenthood in urban China are limited. Most studies focus on the outcome of grandparents giving care to younger grandchildren. Chen and his colleagues developed a series of quantitative researches to explore the mental well-being of grandparents. They examined how sharing child care provision affects old adults health trajectories (Chen et al., 2011). By analyzing data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey, Chen and Liu found out that grandparents who were giving high-intensity care to younger grandchildren were experiencing a decline in health they also observed that a lighter level of attention would bring a protective effect on the grandparents (2011). According to the study conducted, the extent of grandparenthood that could be beneficial to the older adult depended on the form and level of caregiving (Chen et al., 2011). Although researchers aimed at finding out the outcomes of grandparenting, they still gave an analysis of structural and cultural context. From the structural level, existing studies revealed that the nuclear family is the dominant household type and that a majority of the elderly population reside with their adult children (Zeng & Wang, 2003). This implies that grandparents share caregiving responsibilities with their children (Chen, Liu &Mair, 2011)). China has functioned for thousands of years under the Confucianism moral and patriarchal tradition. Grandparenting is guided by the Confucian norm of filial piety (Chen et al., 2011). In the Analects of Confucius, Confucius states his understanding of intergenerational relations, including three requirements of children and one requirement of parents. In the latter parts, Confucius claims that parents should be kind (Ci and Ren) to their children. To some extent, grandparents providing care for their grandchildren are a way to show kindness to their adult children. Besides, Chinese traditional norms also require individuals to put their interest in the collective interest of the family. A family is a basic unit of the social institution, which also has its collective value. To maintain family values and functions, grandparents are required to sacrifice their time and energy. Despite the several quantitative types of research that have been done on grandparenthood in China, researches that focus on grandparents personal experiences are limited. Goh (2009) developed an ethnographic study to gain an in-depth understanding of the experiences of these grandparents and their intergenerational relations in urban China, especially in Ximen. Using ethnographic data (field diaries, contact summaries, memos and reflective notes) Gohs research reflected contradictions between personal choices and intergenerational responsibilities, the personal interests and the family obligations that the Chinese old adults dealt with (2009). To some extent, Gohs research implied a truth that more qualitative studies need to be conducted to give voice to Chinese grandparents. This paper aims at displaying the experiences of Chinese grandparents and as a result, provides an explanation of the way of how they understand the intergenerational relations with their grandchildren.

Theoretical framework

The solidarity between generations paradigm will serve as the framework for this study. Conceptualizing and measuring the multiple complexities of families has been a challenge for social and behavioral researchers.The most prominent conceptualization over the past several decades has been the intergenerational solidarity paradigm. Intergeneration Solidarity theory is defined as the connection between different age groups, which is reflected in "personal wishes, material goals, emotional bonds and rational justifications, altruism and self-interest, caregiving and care receiving" (Cruz-Saco 2010; Bengtson and Oyama 2010). Regardless of national and cultural contexts, complexities of relationships within the family are natural especially in aging families where there are diverse, intergenerational relations between old parents and their adult children. Intergenerational relations cannot be perfect as every family experiences conflicts. Bengtson and Oyama (2010) argued that the core of intergenerational solidarity is its correlation with social cohesiveness, which builds bridges between generations to overcome conflicts and makes sure the transformation of value and beliefs. Bengtson constructs his model of intergenerational solidarity from six different aspects, namely, effectual, associational, consensual, functional, normative, and structural solidarity (Cruz-Saco 2011).

MethodTo achieve the research goal of an in-depth understanding of the lived experience of grandparents and their intergenerational ties in urban China, I employed the phenomenological approach of in-depth interviews via Skype on March 13th and March 15th, 2016. According to Holloway and Todres (2003), phenomenology is the faithful description of how experiential phenomena happen. Phenomenology views the everyday world as being a valuable and a productive source of knowledge. By capturing the meaning of each word individuals use to describe their lived experience, phenomenologists gain essential features of a phenomenon. Because phenomenologists obtain information from participants directly, it gives the information a degree of validity. For this study, phenomenology is used as it is the most appropriate methodology to guide data collection and carry out an analysis process. The methodology acquires first-person reports of the experiences of grandparents and provides a clear and straightforward way to understand the meaning of experiences of two grandparents. The purposeful sampling method was used to select participants. Two participants who claimed to be involved in providing childcare are family members and friends who are known to the researcher as current or past caregivers of grandchildren. They were asked to attend the research through a text message. Both participants were fully informed of the criteria for selecting them to take apart in the study, the purpose of the study and the intended uses of the research. The researcher also explained what their participation in research entails and what risks would be involved. Participants signed consent forms before attending the interview (Appendix A). Because both interviewees live in China, interviews were conducted online (via Skype) in Chinese. The first participant could not read English, so there was a third party who translated the content of consent form for the participant. Interviews were conducted at times convenient for participants while they were at home. An interview guide directed the interview (Appendix B). At the beginning of the interview, the researcher explained to the participants that they were able to exercise the right not to answer a question or to provide more information if they were comfortable. They were both informed they had the right to access recorded files after the interview. To protect their anonymity, their names were not be displayed in the finding section; the recorded file was been deleted from my personal laptop once they were transcribed.

As a grandchild raised by my grandparents, I have some level of bias towards this experience. During the data collection process, I focused objectively on what the experiences of the participants. During in-depth interviews, open-ended questions were asked. Data from the interview was transcribed, organized and then synthesized individually. The data collected data included words, attitudes, feelings, as well as vocal expressions used when the grandparents were narrating their experiences. Data analysis followed Holloway...

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