Researching intimacy in family life: a mixed methods study of emotional closeness of grandparent-grandchild relationships in Scotland
This thesis aims to investigate how, and under what circumstances, intimacy in grandparent-grandchild relationships is enabled, enacted and sustained in the early years of grandchildren. Previous work on emotional closeness of grandparent-grandchild relationships suggests that grandmothers and maternal grandparents are more likely to feel stronger bonds with their grandchildren, and that grandparents with a good quality of relationship with parents and living geographically close to grandchildren have greater opportunities to develop a strong emotional tie. The majority of previous research involves data on perceptions of closeness of grandparents focusing on one of their grandchildren or by young adult grandchildren reporting on closeness with a specific grandparent. In addition, qualitative research with grandparents indicates the diversity of ways they exercise agency, and involvement in the life of grandchildren, as well as gendered changes in grandfatherhood. However, there has been limited scholarly attention given to practices of intimacy, emotions and masculinities in grandparent-grandchild relationships, and the ways grandparents interpret and negotiate intimate relationships with their grandchildren amid changes in individual, familial and relational aspects over time. This study uses quantitative data to examines the extent to which individual, family and socio-structural factors influence the mothers’ perception of emotional closeness of the relationship of an infant child with four types of grandparents. This is supplemented by qualitative data on grandparents’ views of closeness with all their grandchildren. There is a limited scholarly literature on the relation of grandparents’ lived experiences, and shared normative understandings, and a sense of being close and special to their grandchildren. The ‘practices of intimacy’ approach highlights the significance of practices of everyday life enacted by individuals in relation to others in building the quality of being close, and the processes through which individuals attach meaning to such practices. This approach is adopted to understand the diversity of ways grandparents interpret and do intimacy with their grandchildren. The thesis aims were achieved through a mixed methods research process combining secondary data analysis of the Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) study and in-depth interviews with 24 cases of grandparents (12 solo, either with a grandmother or grandfather, and 12 with couple). GUS maps the emotional closeness of grandchild-grandparent relationships through the grandchild’s mother’s perception. Analysis revealed that perceived emotional closeness was more likely if the grandparent had social contact with the mother, lived geographically close, and looked after and engaged in outings more regularly with the infant child. In general, social contact and propinquity impacted less on grandmothers, particularly maternal grandmothers, and more on paternal grandfathers. Also, looking after grandchildren on a regular basis was distinctly salient for grandmothers, whereas going more frequently on outings was more salient for grandfathers than grandmothers. As regards practices of intimacy, grandparents emphasised the importance of communication through verbal, bodily and relational forms enacted through a large variety of activities in the daily living related to forms of caring, playing and spending time together, which construct a sense of emotional closeness. The study suggests that intimate grandparent-grandchild relationships are intersected by moral understandings of ‘good grandparenting’, which are challenged or find contradictions in lived experiences of grandparenting that produce asymmetrical emotionalities among grandchildren, and ambivalences in relation to children and grandchildren. The study suggests that grandparents reflect on their emotionality, and enact embodied emotions, depending on relational and family circumstances, and throughout changes in the relationship with their grandchildren as they get older. The study shows that grandfathers engage in emotional forms of caring, which may challenge hegemonic masculinities, and that the relation between masculinities and practices of intimacy are troubled, particularly in the event of parental divorce.