Conference Presentation: Identity and Labels in Grandfamilies

Dr. Jessica Freeman and I were awarded top paper in the Aging and Communication division of the National Communication Association. We will be presenting our paper, “Grandma or Mommy: Familial Labeling as Constructs of Identity in Grandfamilies,” in November at the NCA National Convention in Dallas, TX. I will post a link to the full paper after it is published. Here is the abstract:

Grandfamilies, or families in which the grandparent(s) act as a primary caregiver to their grandchildren, face unique challenges related to identity and family structure. One area of identity that grandfamilies must navigate is the assignment of labels-specifically whether to go by traditional grandparent labels such as “grandma” and “grandpa,” or to assume parental labels such as “mom” and “dad.” Though a small body of literature has examined labeling in the context of foster and adoptive families, no known research has addressed the issue of labeling in grandfamilies and the meaning surrounding those labels. Through application of identity theory, the current exploratory qualitative study aimed to understand how grandfamilies apply familial labels as a construct of identity and how these labels are negotiated between the grandchild, the grandparent, and in some cases, the birth parents. Twenty in-depth interviews were conducted with grandparents who identified as the primary caregiver to at least one grandchild, with questions focusing on the labels grandparent caregivers assumed and how the labels were determined. Data were analyzed applying grounded theory and Boyatzis’ techniques of inductive thematic analysis. Results indicated that grandparent caregivers applied varying familial labels, depending on the unique context of their family structure. Factors in that decision included the grandchild’s age upon placement in the grandparent’s home, as well as the biological parents’ frequency of participation in the grandchild’s life. Further, data analysis revealed three emergent themes and six subthemes: Identity Duality (Grief, Opportunity); Labeling Strategies (Correction, Submission); and Labeling Conflicts (Internal, External).