Bridget Jenkins

Postgraduate Research

Graduation Year: 2013

Research Areas: Care, Families & Communities

Research Topic: Grandmother care and family power in Australia: Incorporating the complexities and the contradictions of carework

Bridget gained a BA(Hons) from The University of Sydney in 2008. Her PhD was funded by an APAI scholarship through the ARC Linkage grant for the project ‘Grandparents as Primary Carers of their Grandchildren: A National, State and Territory Analysis’. 

Description: Despite the prevalence of grandmothers as both child care providers and kinship carers in Australia, little is known about the process by which grandparents come to provide this care, or the family power dynamics which lead to grandmother care provision. Drawing from interviews with 20 caregiving Australian grandmothers this thesis serves to address the current gap in the research. This thesis adopts a life course approach, positioning grandchild care within the contexts of grandmothers? histories of care, work, and family relationships in order to arrive at a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the intersection between family power and care in grandmothers? lives. It was found that grandmothers often confronted powerful structural and ideological forces which predisposed them to provide familial care across the life course. Normative gender ideologies linking femininity and carework, a history of care, the inherent emotionality of care as a labour of love, and values and beliefs relating to the supposed superiority of family care were themes which featured heavily in grandmothers? narratives. Additionally, kinship care grandparents attributed a lack of choice and control over their care commitments to a paucity of supports and services, inappropriate information provision, a poor relationship with case workers, and the perceived marginalisation and devaluation of their voices, both within the out-of-home care (OOHC) and legal systems. In their narratives, however, grandmothers also spoke of the considerable joy, satisfaction and sense of accomplishment they derive from ensuring that grandchildren are happy and healthy, and from fostering their abilities and interests. This finding echoes a feminist literature on the importance of transformative power; that is, the use of power in caregiving for the empowerment and enrichment of the care receiver. While grandmothers recognise that their care is often provided within a context of constrained choice, they also experience care provision as a positive source of personal power. Ultimately this thesis documents how grandmothers mediate the dilemmas, tensions and contradictions that exist between, on the one hand, their experiences of care, with all the pleasures, frustrations, interpersonal power and labour carework entails; and their social situations as carers. In order to facilitate the new theories and approaches required to address the intersection between care and family power more fruitfully, it is concluded that care needs to be approached as a complexity and a contradiction in terms of family power.  

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