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18 July 2005
Young Grandmothers Prone To Emotional Distress And Depression

A University of Florida (UF) study, appearing in Marriage and Family Review, has found that younger grandmothers raising grandchildren are depressed more often than their older counterparts. "Unlike older grandparents who are frequently retired, middle-aged grandparents face problems trying to balance their newfound parenting roles with other responsibilities, including the demands of careers and personal interests," said UF sociologist Terry Mills.

The study examined psychological distress in households where grandparents are raising grandchildren, with no biological parent present - what sociologists call 'skipped-generation families'. The older the grandmothers were, the study found, the less likely they were to experience symptoms of depression, the study found. Mills said that the growth in the number of skipped-generation families was due to a variety of social problems, including drug abuse, teen pregnancy, divorce, AIDS and imprisonment.

"Skipped-generation households are a 21st-century problem," said Mills, citing statistics that show that nearly 8 percent of all children under the age of 18 in the U.S. currently live in homes with grandparents. "One reason for a grandmother's emotional distress may be her sense of failure as a parent," said Mills. "She may feel, 'I have to do this because my own son or daughter could not care for their child.'" Many re-enter the parenting role when their parenting skills are rusty, and some find it difficult to resolve the issues of whether they are a parent or a grandparent, he said.

"One serious consequence of becoming a custodial grandparent is a change for the worse in the grandparent's financial status," said Mills. "A grandmother may want to work rather than receive welfare, but for those without a husband or partner who could help with child care, it might be difficult to manage." Mills suggests that federal policies limiting welfare benefits and providing little assistance to skipped-generation grandparents should be revised to contribute more support for the valuable role they play. "I don't think society is aware of the public service these grandparents provide in struggling to keep families intact instead of just shipping the children off to foster care. Yet foster parents get a lot more money and support in terms of social assistance than these kinds of caregivers do," he concluded.

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