How well do grandparents cope with parenting?


For some children grandparents serve as parents. A new study looks at how grandparents cope with parenting when compared to parents.

For many children, family means parents (as the primary guardians) and siblings. However, for 2% of children in the United States, the primary family guardians mean grandparents. There is little known about how grandparents as caregivers compares to parents as caregivers. A recent investigation in Pediatrics provides some new information on how both compare in regards to caring for a child with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), caregiver aggravation and coping, child temperament, and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).1

The investigators used a combined data set from the 2016, 2017, and 2018 National Survey of Children’s Health. The data included children aged 3 to 17 years. They looked at composite and single-item outcome measures.

A total of 80,646 households, with 78,239 parent-headed and 2407 grandparent-headed were studied. In this sample, the children in grandparent-based households experienced more ACEs than the children in parent-headed houses (β = 1.22, 95% CI: 1.07 to 1.38). Children who were in preschool and school and lived in grandparent-headed households were found to be more likely to have ADHD than their peers in parent-headed homes (adjusted odds ratio = 4.29, 95% CI: 2.22 to 8.28; adjusted odds ratio = 1.72, 95% CI: 1.34 to 2.20). School-aged children in grandparent-headed homes had poorer temperament (βadj = .25, 95% CI: −0.63 to 1.14) and the caregivers in those homes showed greater aggravation (βadj = .29, 95% CI: 0.08 to 0.49). These differences were not noted after children who had ADHD were excluded from the sample. Differences were not noted between the 2 types of households for interactions with children, caregiver coping, and emotional support.

The researchers concluded that grandparents who are tasked with raising their grandchildren are coping with the stress of parenting as well as actual parents. The fact that they are often caring for children who have poorer temperaments than their peers as well as greater development problems than children in parent-headed homes speaks to the coping skills of grandparents who serve as parents. It also speaks to an area of stress that clinicians should be sensitive.


1. Rapoport E, Muthiah N, Keim SA, Adesman A. Family well-being in grandparent- versus parent-headed households. Pediatrics. August 3, 2020. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1542/peds.2020-0115

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