Becoming a Grandmother: A Life Transition

Becoming a Grandmother: A Life Transition

by Sheila Kitzinger

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Kitzinger, a social anthropologist, explores the experience of grandmotherhood both personally and historically based on detailed research.


Kitzinger, a social anthropologist, explores the experience of grandmotherhood both personally and historically based on detailed research.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A social anthropologist who has written on childbirth (The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth), Kitzinger explores here the experience of grandmotherhood both personally and in an historical overview based on detailed research. From questionnaires returned by mothers and grandmothers in the U.S., Britain and Australia, she concludes that "Knowing how to be a grandmother does not come instinctively." Contrasting grandmothers who in traditional cultures were icons with many of today's grandmothers, who often don't view the role as a pinnacle of achievement, Kitzinger covers a broad range of issues that arise once a grandchild is born and family relationships shift and change. With understated advisories, she also addresses the many ways "grandmother skills" can be acquired and enjoyed. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
An uneven contribution to the collection of volumes on celebrating a feminist old age: how to be a grandmother in an era of long-distance and blended families.

Kitzinger has previously written about sex, birth, and motherhood (Ourselves as Mothers, 1994, etc.), in that order. Now that she is a grandmother, she offers both personal reflections on and studious analysis of what she sees as a major life transition. Moreover, she says, for many women, the challenge of becoming a grandmother is compounded by its proximity to the hurdles of menopause. Among the demands when a grandchild arrives: Grandmothers must rework their relationships with their children, define the boundaries with daughters- and sons-in-law, determine whether they want to model themselves on Grandma Walton or Auntie Mame, and bring themselves up to date on trends in child-rearing. According to Kitzinger, grandparenting is a minefield. Chapters discuss daughters who feel rejected, age gaps, favoritism, oversensitivity, the in-laws, and "The Reluctant Grandmother." Even willing grandmothers will throw up their hands at Kitzinger's view of the complex balance of sensitivity, wisdom, and creativity that grandparenting demands. It's also unclear what generation the author is addressing: Few, if any, new turn-of-the-21st-century grandmothers will have raised their children without benefit of washing machines and disposable diapers, as she suggests several times. A final chapter of suggestions on playing with grandchildren recommends basics like reading aloud, cooking, and singing, but there's no mention of the new tools, like e-mail and video, that will bridge distance and bind grandparent and grandchild (not, admittedly, as satisfying as baking chocolate chip cookies together, but worth exploring, nonetheless).

There is something to be said about the changing roles of grandparents at the turn of the millennium, but this muddled compendium says too much about the problems and too little about the solutions.

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