Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Ever More Russian Grandmothers Refusing to Raise Their Grandchildren, Demographer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 19 – One of the most powerful channels in Russia for the transmission of traditional values to the rising generation has been the role grandmothers have played in raising their grandchildren while both members of the intervening generation go to work.  But now that particular transmission belt is coming to an end

            In new paper, Tatyana Gudkova of the Higher School of Economics says that ever more grandmothers are now telling their children that they have no interest in staying home and taking care of their grandchildren. They want to have their own lives rather than be tied down with another generation (

            To be sure, the demographer says, “there are not that many emancipated grandmothers” in Russia today. “The majority despite everything look after their grandchildren” so that their children can earn money.  But they no longer look on this as something they have no choice about, and that change in attitude is changing their roles.

            In Soviet times, Gudkova continues, grandmothers were not infrequently unpaid help, compelled to live together because of housing shortages and thus also compelled to help mothers and fathers as both worked. It was not always a happy arrangement, but it was accepted by most participants as the way things are supposed to be.

            “In the 1960s, grandmothers and grandfathers helped look after grandchildren in almost every third family. In post-Soviet times, this tradition has continued,” especially during difficult economic times and as a result of the increasing frequency of divorce which has meant that single mothers are forced to turn to their parents for help with children.

            The willingness of grandmothers to play this role not only has contributed to the maintenance of traditional values but has made people more willing to have three or more children. Where grandmothers aren’t prepared to play this role, traditional values begin to break down and people decide to have fewer children or none at all.

            There has not been a complete shift from a world in which grandmothers play a key role in looking after their grandchildren to one where they play no role at all. Instead, Gudkova says, on the basis of focus groups in four Russian cities, both grandparents and parents are evolving toward a variety of models, from the traditional to a complete break.

            In contrast to many other countries, the demographer says, “the difference between the end of active parenting and the appearance of the first grandchild is only three years in Russia. Thus, at 45, Russian women cease to raise their own children, but at 48, they begin to take care of grandchildren.”

            Many feel that they have no life of their own and resent being forced to continue to be parents, albeit for yet another generation. And so, Gudkov suggests, ever fewer Russian grandmothers are likely to be willing to play their traditional role and pass on their traditional values.

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