I interviewed my grandmother, aged 71, about family. I wanted to know about how things were different, because she was raised in a fairly traditional family structure whereas I was not. My experience was that my parents were divorced, and that caused a fracture in the domestic system. I know that my grandmother was opposed to the divorce and I wanted to talk to her about that. Her views were quite a bit, I guess the word would be traditional, in terms of how families should stick together. I was able to gain some interesting insights into my own family history as the result of this project, and I was able to learn more about the sociology of families as well.
On Gender Roles within the Family
My grandmother worked part time at the gift shop of the local hospital, while my grandfather was the main breadwinner of the family. My mother started out not working, but went back to work before the divorce. At that point, she was glad that she had gone back to work because she was forced to take care of us mostly on her income. Kraaykamp (2012) notes that the attitudes women take towards gender roles differ significantly between women who work outside the home and those who primarily work inside the home. Chee and Elder (2009) argue that there is a high correlation between husbands' equal gender view and lower stress levels for women, but my grandmother said she never felt stressed in her situation. I wonder if the different times contributed to that, since it was normal in her day to be relied on to work only in the house, with the part-time job being just to get out of the house a bit. Arguably my own mother's situation of working full-time should have had negative outcomes on both her and I.I could see sometimes she was stressed out but we really made a strong commitment to each other to get through hard times and I actually feel that I am better for that. So again, my own experience contradicts the literature a little bit.
Child-rearing is another area where I think my generation differs. I grew up with a few people whose fathers played an active role in raising them. I would visit my father and we spent a lot of active time together as well. My grandmother confirmed what my mother had told me, that grandpa never spent much time with the children. He spent some time with my uncle when he was older and trying to make the high school baseball team, but my grandmother explained that back in the 1940s and 1950s when she was little, her mother did everything for the children, and she inherited that attitude as well. Over the course of a couple of generations, we have seen fathers become much more involved in raising children, I think because more women have entered the workforce and the work needs to be shared (Dermott & Seymour, 2012).
So we talked a bit about how work has changed the dynamic of families. In school growing up, I think we had just about every family type, from single parent families to large immigrant families, people being raised by their grandparents, just every type you can imagine. My grandmother told me that once in a while you would see this in her generation, but most people tried to keep their families together and work everything out. She said that she got that from her parents, who had gone through the Depression and the war, and really learned how to stick together. People today do not try hard enough to make things work, something she said she told my mother a lot. I told her I supported my mother, and that being raised by a single mother was pretty normal.
I took the opportunity to discuss social control theory with my grandmother. It has long been felt in sociology research that family cohesion, stressors and relationships are all contributing factors…