Patrilineal Ideology and Grandmother Care in Urban China

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Patrilineal Ideology and Grandmother Care in Urban China

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Title: Patrilineal Ideology and Grandmother Care in Urban China
Author: Zhang, Cong
Citation: Zhang, Cong. 2016. Patrilineal Ideology and Grandmother Care in Urban China. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
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Abstract: My dissertation explores an important but understudied dimension of interaction in China’s declining patrilineal kinship system – the childcare support provided by grandparents. Traditionally, paternal grandparents exclusively provided childcare support. Now, this practice appears to be undergoing a transformation towards a more bilateral approach where both maternal and paternal grandparents are involved in childcare. To better understand the changing norms, I investigated the choices of and experiences with grandmother care for 362 urban families with infants in China.
In the first study, I examined parents’ motivations for utilizing maternal versus paternal grandmother care by analyzing semi-structured interview data from a subsample of 77 families. Parents discussed four major considerations affecting their selection process, including grandmothers’ availability and qualifications, avoidance of patrilineal conflicts, and construction of multi-caregiver coalitions. Further examination suggested that stronger influence of interpersonal relationships on intergenerational interactions, women’s increased power in connecting with natal families, and a shift from lineage-determined to skill- and child-based care choice may have led to new norms in child care patterns. These findings suggest that the increase in maternal grandmother care reflects the weakening of patrilineality in Chinese society resulting from China’s rapid modernization.
In the second study, I explored the associations between the type of grandmother care and parents’ adaptation to parenthood, using a mixed-method approach. Quantitative analysis of the survey data showed that overall grandmother support was found to reduce parenting stress for mothers, but not fathers. In addition, no type of grandmother support, for either mothers or fathers, increased parenting stress. Finally, mothers appeared to be more sensitive to the support offered by their own mother than their in-law. Qualitative analysis of the interview data revealed that the different relationships mothers had with maternal versus paternal grandmothers might have shaped the differences in mothers’ perceived quantity/quality of and satisfaction with the support received. The interviews also suggested that gendered parenting roles that prescribed mother’s primary role as caregiver and father’s primary role as breadwinner may partly explain why grandmother support was more salient for mothers than fathers as a coping resource.
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