A grandmother at 27

A grandmother at 27

Elizabeth Stark

A grandmother at 27

Most women don’t expect to becomegrandmothers until they are in their 40s or 50s. But some women become grandmothers in their late 20s or early 30s when their daughters, products of teenage pregnancies themselves, become teenage mothers.

To see how young grandmothershandle their out-of-sync roles, sociologist Linda Burton interviewed mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers from black working-class families in Southern California. Eighteen of the grandmothers were in their late 20s through their late 30s; 23 were “on-time’ grandmothers in their 40s and 50s.

Burton compared the responses ofthe early grandmothers with the “on-time’ grandmothers and found that women who became grandmothers later in life were happier with their roles. They were more likely to have established careers, as well as the time and money to spend on their grandchildren. Most of those who became grandmothers at a youthful age felt they were too young to be grandmothers, did not like the “old’ connotation it bestowed on them and resented being saddled with a grandchild when they wanted to get on with their lives.

One 28-year-old grandmother toldBurton, “I could break my daughter’s neck for having this baby. I just got a new boyfriend. Now he will think I’m too old. It was bad enough being a mother so yount–now a grandmother too!’

Since many of the teenage motherswere too immature to care for their babies, they turned them over to their mothers, as their mothers had done with them. But quite a few of the young grandmothers refused to care for their grandchildren and instead handed them over to their mothers. So these great-grandmothers –the youngest was 46 years old– found themselves caring for the babies of the granddaughters they had also raised.

Not surprisingly, some great-grandmotherswere unhappy with this situation. One 56-year-old told Burton, “My daughter and granddaughter keep making these babies and expect me to take care of them. I ain’t no nursemaid; I ain’t old; and I ain’t dead yet.’ The burden was especially hard on great-grandmothers in five-generation families who were also caring for their ailing parents.

Burton did find a few younggrandmothers who were content with their roles. One 38-year-old mother who was caring for seven children at home felt that the addition of a grandchild was no burden at all. “This baby has only added joy to my life . . .. I take pride in being a grandmother.’

And a 91-year-old great-great-great-grandmother,who gave birth to her first child at age 14, liked the idea of being able to meet and know the many generations of her family that followed her. “Then you have more people to look out behind you when you [are] old like me.’

Linda Burton, Ph.D., is at PennsylvaniaState University. She reported her work in American Behavioral Scientist (Vol. 29, No. 4). For more information on teenage pregnancy see “Young, Innocent and Pregnant’ in this issue.

COPYRIGHT 1986 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group