Grandmothers here, and around the world, are increasingly called upon to provide regular childcare to enable parents to engage in paid employment. Yet many of these grandmothers are in paid employment themselves. Caroline examined the experience of grandmothers living in Auckland City, who were in paid employment at least twenty hours a week and who provided regular weekly childcare of at least ten hours a week to their grandchildren.
This research was based on feminist poststructuralism which focuses on gender and how gendered norms describe and establish the ‘right’ ways of behaving. These expectations contribute to assumptions that the accommodation of childcare and paid work is normal and natural for women. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with fifteen grandmothers and their accounts were analysed using narrative analysis. The narrative analysis focuses on the importance of stories as the primary way in which people make sense of their lives, drawing on wider social, cultural, political, and gendered narratives.
Findings included the importance of paid employment in the participants’ lives, allowing for the construction of an identity that was different from a grandmother-focussed identity. This importance of paid employment also shaped participants’ understandings of the importance of paid employment in the lives of mothers; maternal paid employment was constructed as important for wellbeing and for enabling an identity different from that of ‘mother’. Grandmothers’ stories identified two clear intentions for providing childcare: supporting maternal paid employment, and childcare as a response to concerns about grandchildren’s wellbeing.
Finally, holding multiple roles and balancing paid employment and childcare were storied as the juggling of identities rather than the juggling of the tasks involved in combining paid work and childcare. Caroline’s study improves the understanding of the different roles and identities of grandmothers. It describes societal expectations for how women can and should combine their paid employment and family lives in later life.
Caroline Day 2021. Negotiating grandmothering, paid employment and regular childcare in urban Aotearoa New Zealand. PhD thesis. Massey University.