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Are there life stories other than grandparenthood? Dr Jill Reynolds British Society of Gerontology 40 th Annual Conference University of Plymouth 5 -7 th July 2011
Qualitative data from existing datasets • 80 interviews men and women over 65 years (UKDA 5237, Bowling, A. Adding Quality to Quantity: Quality of Life in Older Age, 2000 -2002) of whom 14 had no children (9 F: 5 M) • 85 interviews men over 65 years (UKDA 6011 Arber, S. and Davidson, K. , Older Men: their Social Worlds and Healthy Lifestyles, 1999 -2002 of whom 15 had no children
Identifying a self-narrative: my assumptions • an individual's account of the relationship among several self relevant events across time. In developing a self-narrative we establish coherent connections among life events. (Gergen, K. J. 1994: 187) • Not one single story waiting to be brought out. • Narratives shaped to the purpose of that telling. • Discontinuities, multiple pathways rather than developmental stages • Canonical narratives (Bruner, 1991) culturally available plots (Mishler, 1999) • Talk rhetorical within the larger argumentative context of the culture (Billig, 1987)
Narratives of grandparenting: Quality to Quantity • A majority of respondents who were parents produced some self-narrative in describing life events. • This was more pronounced from female respondents than male, just over ¾ from women, just under ¾ from men. • Of these narrative responses more than ¾ focused stories on their children or grandchildren, often talking about frequency of visits or of caring help they received. • Many parents mention children or grandchildren in response to what makes them most happy, while nearly half refer to family on ‘the good things that give life quality’.
Narratives of grandparenting: Older men • A majority of parent respondents produced some selfnarrative in describing life events – more than ¾ • Most brought children or grandchildren into their conversation without waiting to be asked • A degree of their talk was about children and grandchildren – mainly in response to questions rather than focusing on these stories, also re help received and visits • Many parents mention children or grandchildren in response to what makes them happy or when they were happiest.
Happiness as family (074 f) I: What makes you the most happy at the moment? R: The most happy – er, I think when I’m with my family really (laughs). Yes, I always enjoy them, we used to have family fun days and I lived in D then, I used to have a much bigger garden and we used to meet up once a year – I mean we met in between obviously but once a year we all got together, uncles and aunts and everything, and just had a barbecue and um, played games, silly games and races and things (laughs). I: Mm. R: Yes, no, that makes me happy – knowing that they’re happy and well (laughs) all those sort of things really.
Quality as family (040 f) I: [. . . ] we want to know what, why people’s quality of life is good R: Yes its having people em, I know one lady em, she lost her husband three years ago and she hasn’t got children and she hasn’t got brothers or sisters and that surprises me with people and she’s very much on her own. And her nephew, he’s awfully good but he lives too far away to keep coming everyday and sort of say, [. . . ]She doesn’t drive and she says to me its lovely to go away but when she comes back to the house and nobody’s there, and that brings it down to what its like. It’s awful. So em I call myself extremely lucky that I’ve got a family, it is a family, they do keep in touch. It’s very nice. We had two weddings this year. One in M. Y. em that was my brother’s daughter and my brother lives in L. , another brother, and he has a wedding in September. In addition to these weddings we’ve has three little babies. My niece had a baby and my daughters has a baby and my daughter in law’s having a baby any minute now. So/
Neglect as family (043 f) My family doesn’t have much bother with us. One at the moment is in Tenerife. I haven’t had a card from her yet, but I may get one tomorrow. She’ll be home Friday, but whether she’ll ring me I don’t know. The only one who bothers is the granddaughter Julie. She’s the only one that bothers. . My daughter wouldn’t think about it. It’s been over a year since we saw her, from one Christmas to the next. It was only through my granddaughter that she came to show me the baby. That’s why I don’t worry now, I just get on with it. Look after yourself that’s all you have to do. When I think about what I did for her though.
Patterns in narratives of nongrandparents – women • Most happy – seeing someone, friend, brother, feeling well, being alive, little things • Widows show some accounting in response to whether they have children • Two widows talk of neighbours’ children as family and one of dog as ‘my baby’ • Those women who do not talk of marriage are likely to talk of being happy with own company
Variable accounts of no children 050 f R: Yes, it’s the only home I’ve had, married home, (I: Mm. ) Lived with my mum for a little while, (I: Mm-hm. ) You know, cause things were hard just after the war, you know, you couldn’t get anywhere, and, um, families had priority for council property, you see, we didn’t have any children, didn’t want any. (I: Mm. ) But sadly we never did have any children because we were getting settled and then he was killed, you see. (I: Mm. ) So missed out on a family. I: OK – and if we talk about your quality of life now,
Grandparenting neighbours’ children 021 f R: (laughs) But I do – I’ll tell you one thing I love in life, and that is – I love cats and dogs, and I love children. (I: Mm. ) I think the children – I love – my neighbours next door, they’ve got lots of grandchildren and I share ’em. (I: Oh!) Yeah, it’s lovely. I shared all their children, and the son – that little girl sitting on my lap there is (I: Uh-huh. ) Is their little girl A, and she’s a lovely little girl, she comes in every weekend to see me. (I: Mm. ) Lovely little girl.
Happy with own company 028 f I: You've spoken about how you'd like someone to come and see you (mmhmm) A social worker, is there anything else which would make the quality of your life better? R: No, I don't think so, I quite happy how I am. I: Okay. (short pause) Is there anything which would make the quality of your life worse? R: (short pause) Well, I suppose loneliness makes it worse, doesn't it, really? Although I don't mind my own company.
Patterns in narratives of nongrandparents – men • Family question meets protestations of being a bachelor – too old for getting married – yet with lady friends (83) • Less self-narrative, questions often met with factual, abstract answers • New living together relationship of 18 months (70+) • Bachelors often say happy with own company • One married man talks of being ‘grandma and grandad’ to neighbours’ children • Happiness in terms of relationships – friends’ successes, marriage
Accounting for no children 025 m I: Uh-huh. OK - and have you got any children? R: No children, none at all - been married for 52 years. I: OK, that's fine - I won't ask you too many questions. R: No, go on, you fire away, I'll be alright. I: (laughs) OK. Um - what, what do you think of when you hear the words quality of life?
Accounting for no children 045 m I: OK – what would make the quality of your life better? R: (pause) Well of course I’m a single chap and I’m too old for it, for getting married sort of now to make it better, you see, but I’ve got, cause I’ve got friends, lady friends and that. (Mm-hm. ) So I can’t, I can’t go much further – I can’t really expect to (laughs) well at 83, or 84 now. (Mm -hm. ) (pause) Yeah, I suppose being a, being a traveller I missed a lot in my life, but I couldn’t help it because I, I mean I started off at B, wasn’t the work, so it made me go to L for work, and that started my travelling you know, and I got to like travelling around (laughs). I: So – what did you miss because of your travelling? R: Well of course home life, yeah, missed the home life, had to come away from that.
New relationships – 29 m Interviewer: Is this your first stable relationship? Subject: Yes, it is, amazingly enough, at my age! Interviewer: May I ask how you met her, the lady? Subject: Yes. We met quite by chance. We were on holiday in Jersey and it was a quite amazing meeting. It was a SAGA singles holiday and she'd been widowed and it was her first holiday for some years and she went rather reluctantly on holiday. She was persuaded to go by her daughter and never regretted it! (Laughter) So, I think that's reasonably unique at this sort of age. Interviewer: Yes, it's very gratifying. Subject: Very gratifying, yes.
Attitude concerning children: 29 Naturally, if I'd had children, I'd have wanted a larger house, yes. Interviewer: The fact that you didn't have children, is that something which doesn't concerns you? Subject: I would have liked to, yes, looking back on it. I suppose that's my main regret that I didn't have anyone to follow me, but there you are. Interviewer: Your partner has children? Subject: She has a daughter. Interviewer And do you feel that she's part of your family? Subject: Yes. We haven't know one another all that long, but we get on very well, and there is a closeness which is building up.
Neighbours’ kids 025 m (1) R: (pause) Well I'm not too sure I understand - life quality to me is the simple things of life we've got. (Mm. ) I've got me own things to do, watercolours, painting. (Uh-huh. ) The kids live all the way round here, (laughs) we've got a load of them (clock starts to chime). No, but up until now I've got no problems, we've got our own little caravan in K, we go down to there, we've got a car, we get out and about. (Mm. ) But I can't think of anything else that - you know, it's simple enough but it's happy enough. (Yeah, yeah. ) It's my way of life. (Yeah) Er we've had no beefs about it, er as I say we've got good neighbours around here, very good neighbours we have a lot of fun with them. We're the grandma and granddad round here. (laughs) Er –
Neighbours’ kids (2) I: OK - and (pause) has your life changed a lot since you retired? R: Oh, yes - work a lot harder since we retired. Er (pause). [. . . ]Well decorating is the small part of it, but we've all just got a very big garden out the back, that has to be looked after, though I'm not allowed to do much in. er - and I've got my own hobbies, watercolours. (pause) And this time of the year, cause we've got quite a lot to do for - not got to do, we've got - there is quite a lot to do for the children, we make them Christmas cards, things like that. (Mm. ) They've got used to it now and expect it. Er - there seems to get one more every year. So this time of the year - well, I say this time of the year, I didn't, I started doing these way back in August, so. . .
Happiness as relationships Interviewer: What especially makes you happy now? Subject: Well the family has got it all together really you know all the families are doing well that's always nice Interviewer: When you say families that's Subject: From hers and mine are reasonably together and we have lost my sister which of course is that group's mother but the B***** side is all right Interviewer: Nephews and nieces you're Subject: Yes they are all reasonably near and they contact me so they are another
Conclusions • Research exploring ‘quality’ or ‘social worlds’ appears likely to draw on talk of close relationships, and having children close by is often co-constructed as advantage • Accounting for ‘no children’ is evident in these data from both men and women, but more likely to occur when the participant has been married • ‘Family’ is a resource that can be drawn on flexibly by all participants: it doesn’t just mean own children or grandchildren, identity work draws on close relationships • Talk about the past is important to older people and allows a whole person to emerge
Jill Reynolds Faculty of Health & Social Care The Open University Walton Hall Milton Keynes MK 7 6 AA www. open. ac. uk