Importance of Grandmothers: Anthropology

Importance of Grandmothers: Anthropology

The importance of grandmothers in the society can be attributed to the Grandmother Theory which holds that evolution of human beings and ability to live long is largely because of the existence of the grandmothers who are always available to take care of the young ones (Kim et al., 2012, p. 4880). Significant studies and theories have supported the impact and benefits associated with the strong parent-child relationship. However, they have failed to recognize the strong effect in the grandmother-grandchild relationship. Besides, the studies have forgotten the critical roles played by the grandmothers to nurture the human society. For example, severally grandmothers all over the world are well-known for their unwavering support through guidance, offering wisdom advises and for providing both economic and social support not only for their families’ children but also for the big kin groups and society at large. The benefits that grandmothers provide to society equals the argument of Kristen Hawkes that grandmothers have made humans live longer than other species (Kim et al., 2012, p. 4881). This paper uses the evolutionary perspective and life histories to explore and review the importance of grandmothers in the society.

Evolutionary Perspective

Kristen Hawkes upholds that grandmothering marked the first step in making the current human generation. Yes, it was because of our grandmothers our parents were born, and as a result, we were born. To support the importance of grandmothers, evolutionary biologists and anthropologists have strived to explore the occurrence of menopause among the females and the impact it has on the human society. It was a big and hard puzzle whether upon women reaching the menopause stage they were beneficial to the society, especially in contributing to the human gene pool. Kristen Hawkes resolves this aching head puzzle through grandmother hypothesis. The Grandmother Hypothesis explains the aspect of female menopause by highlighting the hidden evolutionary grand mothering values (Kim et al., 2012, p. 4880). Just because females are unable to give birth after menopause, it does not mean they are not beneficial to the human society.
The Grandmother Hypothesis supports the importance of grandmothers in the society by pinpointing out that they have helped in developing human society through laying a foundation where other distinctive human traits have evolved. For example, the human nature to cooperate with others, ability to learn new skills, bigger brains and concept of pair bonding are founded on the grounds set by the grandmothers. To prove the importance of grandmothers in the society, Hawkes, the advocator of the Grandmother Hypothesis teamed up with James Coxworth, anthropologists and Peter Kim, a mathematical biologist and used computer simulations to evidence the hypothesis. The idea behind the test was to determine the effects of introducing grandmothers and menopause in the social structure of primate species lifespan.
The simulation by the three researchers found that grandmothers can help their fellow human beings to live longer. For example, it was found that grandmothers played crucial roles in nurturing and bringing up children and in return enabling mothers to have more time to continue giving birth to more children. The three scholars compared human beings with other primates to expound on the benefits of the grandmothers in the society. They observed that the young ones of other primates such as chimpanzees could feed themselves without the help of their parents. However, human beings young ones were unable to do so and therefore, the need to have another person to help the childbearing mothers to take care of the weaned young ones. For example, the researchers found that it was hard for a two-year child to survive when his or her mother gave birth to another kid because the mother had to concentrate more on the infant than the two-year-old child. The grandmothers solved this problem by assuming the responsibility of caregivers.
The simulation results matched with the Grandmother Hypothesis. For example, old females that survived to postmenopausal lifespan increased the probability of the grandchildren living longer. This because over time females those who lived longer could disproportionately pass their survival genes to thousands of generations to come (Kim et al., 2012, p. 4882). As a result, through grandmothers, the species in return evolved into longer lifespans. With the simulation results, the Grandmother Theory could be justified that grandmothers helped in increasing the lifespans of grandchildren. The Hawke position maintains that the reason why mothers continue with production is not that fathers are there to provide food but because grandmothers are available to help in feeding the weaned young ones (Kim et al., 2012, p. 4881).
Researchers have also indicated that grandmothers are key icons behind human evolution. Scientists attribute the importance of grandmothers in the human society to the monogamous bond rather than having several mating partners (Kim et al., 2012, p. 4883). The importance of grandmothers from evolutionary perspective also explains why old men would prefer to engage in the relationship with young women. The Hawke research disputes the traditional evolutionary theory which argued that the pair bonding between male and females was a result of men providing food to their women and offspring. As a result, the men were only human species that could pass the genes to their descendants. ¬†¬†Hawkes goes ahead to prove the importance of grandmothers by exploring the apes’ way of life. The apes and chimpanzees are close primates to the human species. The authors pointed out that grandmothers were always available to ensure that young ones were not left behind when apes began looking for more complex resources. Based on the natural selection concept only species with large brains could survive the adverse effects of nature. Having grandmothers who helped the young ones to adapt to the environment helped apes to evolve to the modern human species¬†(Kim et al., 2012, p. 4882). Therefore, the foundation of the human evolution can be strongly linked to grandmothers.
The importance of grandmothers in the society can also be explored by disputing the traditional evolutionary theory which suggests that it is senseless to have living individuals consuming the social resources and they have nothing to contribute to the society (Curnoe, 2015). The proposition of this theory appears to refute the importance of grandmothers who unable to continue with reproduction after reaching the menopause stage. The traditional evolutionary theory strives to dispute the purpose of grandmothers in the society. However, Darren Curnoe, the evolutionary biologist goes against the traditional evolutionary theory. Just like the Hawke’s position, Darren argues that grandmothers have given necessary support that human species needs to survive and become and become successful (Curnoe, 2015).
Curnoe (2015) evidenced the importance of grandmothers in the society by revisiting the human ways of life of hunting and gathering during the evolutionary stages. Darren noted during this evolutionary stage almost one-third of the people died a few years after birth. The author went ahead to depict that those who managed to survive to the old age were endowed with wisdom and experiences that they passed to the next generation (Curnoe, 2015). The ability of humans to live long gave human species survival advantage compared to the other primate species. It is out of this observation whereby the scientists argued that grandmothers, the human species that have lived long are within our human genomes and as a result, human species can live long.

Life Histories

The life history connotes that both females and males individuals in the society go through different stages before reaching to maturity. For example, upon weaning off, individuals undergo through growth and development, adulthood, reproduction and survival that will be largely determined by their lifespan. In all these stages grandmothers play critical roles that ensures complete human lifecycle. Additionally, grandmothers support their families both socially and economically through different stages of growth. Grandmothers’ importance in the society from the life histories perspective can be explored based on the following grounds;

Grandmothers’ Importance on Low-income Societies and Families

            Grandmothers offer a huge caregiver support to the low-income societies and families. The studies conducted by (Sear & Mace, 2008, p. 1) in the Gambian context proved that grandmothers were very helpful in reducing mortality rates among the children. The demographic data that was collected between 1950 and 1975 in rural of Gambia showed that there were high mortality rates among the children who lacked grandmother care. The two researchers linked the high rates of deaths among the children to the discrepancies in the health care. The two anthropologists observed that kids who were being weaned off lacked sufficient immune and strength to vigor by their own. However, it was found that with the intervention of grandmothers the mortality rate reduced by half (Sear & Mace, 2008, p. 12).
The research by the two scholars also found that if the children fathers died there was no difference in death rates, but when grandmothers died, the differences were observed. Importantly, the research also established that only maternal grandmothers were more responsible for the development of the grandchildren than paternal grandmothers. The grandmothers from the father’s side did not affect the children outcomes.¬† Therefore, based on Gambian study it can be concluded that maternal grandmothers are more impactful on the growth and development of the human race than paternal grandmothers.
Similar results as that of the Gambian case study were observed by (Leonetti & Nath, 2005, p. 194) in Khasi and Bengali, two regions in the northeast India. The two groups in Khasi and Bengali experienced the characteristics of low-income societies and families, for example, lack of modern control techniques, unstable income and casual laborers. The Khasi and Bengali marital structure were different from that of the Gambian case because newly married women lived with husbands mothers in the same compound where they were could be looked after by their mothers-in-law. The researchers found that with a senior woman close to reproductive mothers increased their fertility rates unlike having senior males near. Just like the Gambian case, the results from northeast India attested that maternal grandmothers’ caregiving was more effective than the paternal grandmothering. These results were based on the findings that 96 percent of the children managed to live up to the age of six years while under the care of their maternal grandmothers. On the other hand, with the paternal grandmothers or not, 86 percent of the children managed to attain the age of six (Leonetti & Nath, 2005, p. 13).
Apart from low-income families, grandmothers are also important for the working families as well as mothers returning to work after maternal leave. The working families that are unable to afford caregiver services rely on grandmothers to take care of their children. The study conducted in the United Kingdom by Mintel found that one out three grandmothers one was responsible for taking care of her grandchildren in the absence of their mothers (Daily Mail, 2005). This was an indication that grandmothers will look after their grandson and granddaughters when their parents were away from home. These grandmothers were also found to help their grandchildren with other invaluable duties such as doing household chores as well as financial help.
The Mintel study in the United Kingdom context exhibited that 34 percent of the grandmothers would take care of their grandchildren while their parents were away from home, especially when working. Additionally, the findings from the study indicated that 52 percent of grandmothers offered a lot of child care services to the young mothers who were returning to work after maternal leave (Daily Mail, 2005). Ideally, after maternal leave mothers leave behind infants that cannot vigor by their own. Therefore, working mothers who could not afford caregiving services relied on the children grandmothers to take care of the young ones while they returned to work. From this survey, the Mintel concluded that grandmothers were not only helpful to their families’ children but also to their own daughters, daughters-in-law as well as close relatives (Daily Mail, 2005).

Grandmothering on Grandchildren Gender

In the previous discussion, this paper has largely focused on the general importance of grandmothers in raising their grandchildren. The discussion has not specified between the two genders, boys and girls which do grandmothers favor most. The solution to this question lies in the study conducted by Jamison together with her research team in a village in the central region of Japan to determine the effect grand mothering had on both genders (Jamison et al., 2002, p. 67). Just like the case in Gambia and India, the researchers found that with the presence of grandmothers the chances of boy child not to survive were 52 percent less than when the boys were raised in the absence of grandmothers (Jamison et al., 2002, p. 73).
The Jamison study also found that when boys lived in the same household with their paternal grandmothers, their chances of dying were 62 percent than those without a close grandmother. Amazingly, the research found no close relationship between the survival of the girl child and grandmothering. Therefore, it can be concluded that grandmothers are more impactful for the survival of the male grandchildren than the female grandchildren.

Maternal versus Paternal Grandmothers

In the discussion on grandmothering of grandchildren gender, this paper has found some situations where maternal grandmothers are more effective in caregiving than the paternal grandmothers. This was evident both in the Gambian, Indian and Japanese contexts. The existing differences between the two grandmothers are explained by Jameson research. Jameson and her research team based the maternal grandmothers’ effective caregiving attitude to the Darwinism paternity uncertainty, old evolutionary concept¬†(Jamison et al., 2002, p. 70).¬† Darwin argued that paternal uncertainty among the paternal grandmothers can influence them to doubt their grandchildren. For example, they may doubt the fidelity of their daughters-in-law and as a result, end up holding the love that they may have for their son‚Äôs children.
On the other hand, the old evolutionary theory maintains that maternal grandmothers are sure that their daughters’ children are their own children and it cannot be disputed that they do not share blood relations. Therefore, the probability of a grandmother loving her daughters’ children is higher than that of their sons’ children. The conclusion by the Jameson research on the differences between the two grandmothers has been proved by the various studies (Angier, 2002). All studies have ended up concluding that there is still an existing difference about caregiving between maternal grandmothers and paternal grandmothers that are still evident in today’s human society.

Grandmothers contribute to the Well Being of their Grandchildren

In the recent past family, patterns have been changing tremendously. For example, there has been an increased number of broken families, and as a result, the children wellbeing has been threatened. However, grandmothers have set in, and they are playing a vital roles in their grandchildren lives. The contribution of grandmothers in their children lives can be explored from the research conducted by Buchanan. The researcher found that involving grandmothering in the children lives increases their well-being. The study involved over 1500 children participants and results indicated that those who largely interacted with their grandmothers experienced the fewer case of behavioral and emotional problems (University of Oxford, 2016). The researcher went ahead to the point that grandmothers were very helpful in improving the wellbeing of their grandchildren especially for separated families and young girls undergoing through adolescent stages. The Buchanan study discovered that grandmothers were filling the caregiving gap left behind by the working mothers through informal caring. The researchers observed that children at adolescent stages were the ones who were more influenced by the grandmothers parenting than other children. The closeness between the grandmothers and their grandchildren was not effective but interacting with the children and doing things with them had a more positive impact on the children well-being (University of Oxford, 2016). The study also found the interaction between grandmothers and grandchildren helped to calm down adverse family situations such as separations. Apart from close interactions, the research also attested that grandmothers were very effective in bringing and maintaining stability in the families and in return enabling the children to survive the family crisis.

Contribution of Grandmothers at Different Stages of their Grandchildren

Grandmothers offer their contributions to their grandchildren at different stages in their lives. First, grandmothers are very influential on infant feeding. Ideally, in the first six months, infants should feed on breast milk only (Gross et al., 2011). After six months up to 2 years, the infants are fed different combination of foods in addition to the breast milk. Community and family culture has been found to influence infants eating habits. Young mothers may not be aware of different types of foods that infants should be fed and therefore, calling for the need of another experienced individual. It is this juncture; grandmothers are consulted and help in identifying the cultural foods that infants should feed on. Secondly, the young mothers may lack the social aspects that are associated with breastfeeding. In case of these challenges, young mothers will require help from old relatives especially their mothers or mothers-in-law to support them to overcome the challenges. Through helping the young mothers, the grandmothers help the infants to grow to healthy children.
At the early stages of growth, grandmothers are involved more in guiding their grandchildren than the grandfathers. The grandfathers are more tied to the older grandchildren who are seeking advice on transitions from education to employment. Therefore, from the infant stage to the adolescent stage, grandmothers are the ones who shape the behavior of their grandchildren. For the grandchildren between the age of four and ten years, grandmothers will help them on how to observe good morals as well enlightening them about their community culture. Additionally, when the granddaughters reach the adolescent stage, grandmothers take the responsibility of teaching them the morals and behavior that will limit their closeness and interaction with their fathers. At this stage, grandmothers will educate young girls on the morals and behaviors that girls are supposed to observe. As a result, they will grow as responsible children with the observance of norms governing the society.
However, the stages have shown that grandmothers are not involved more in their grandsons’ lives during adolescent and adulthood stages as they do with their granddaughters. As the grandchildren grow, they get more attached to their same-sex grandparents (Cook & Roggman, 2010, p. 118). The shift of attachment from grandmothers to the grandfathers among the boys is influenced by the urge for the boys to learn about men morals from the grandfathers, for example, how to behave as well how to grow up as responsible men that can raise families.

Grandmothers’ Characteristics and Roles

Grandmothers are well-known for possessing traits that manifest their roles. Besides, grandmother is endowed with characteristics that form the foundation of morals that other family members should emulate. For example, grandmothers are among the human beings who largely observe the trait of patience. Grandmothers will be patient with their grandmothers especially when they misbehave out of the notion that it is a common part of growing children. It is out of patience whereby the grandmothers will not confront or harshly condemn their grandchildren when they misbehave. Instead, the grandmothers will teach the young ones what is good and give them time to reform.
One of the major roles among the grandmothers is to calm situations in the event of family disputes such as separation. Through their unconditional love, grandmothers encourage and love their grandchildren to help them to overcome problems and disappointments they may be experiencing. Additionally, through the trait of empathy, grandmothers will be able to know the problems affecting their grandchildren. Grandmothers supplements the characteristic of empathy with a willingness to listen to their grandchildren. The research shows that grandmothers are good listeners and they will always be there to listen to their grandchildren narratives and stories. Through listening, grandmothers’ gets know problems their grandchildren are facing and advise them on how to deal with such challenges.
The grandmothers are the greatest gift givers to the children. The grand mothering gift is not about buying items or taking grandchildren to vacations but being present to interact and listen to them. Grandmothers give their children their presence and time to educate them on basic human skills such as preparing a meal. Finally, grandmothers are strongly attached to their grandchildren, and they always want them to grow up while observing the community culture, norms and morals. This means grandmothers usually get concerned about how the grandchildren behave and the things they do. The conservative nature among the grandmothers can be attributed to their confusions and ignorance they on the current affairs in the modern world.Grandmothers have proved to be the key icons behind the human evolution. They teach and pass societal norms from one generation to another. Despite, being unable to continue with reproduction after menopause stage, their contribution to the human society cannot be ignored. They have played vital responsibilities that have facilitated the survival of human beings. For example, the grandmothers who live long pass those long life human genomes to their grandchildren. Additionally, grandmothers help their own daughters and their daughters-in-law in caring for the weaned young ones hence giving them more time to have other kids. This grandmothers’ responsibility has been found to reduce children death mortality rates. Grandmothers also help the young mothers on how to raise a health infants by recommending other types of foods in addition to breast milk. Finally, grandmothers offer caregiving and guidance to children at different stages of growth and therefore, enabling them to grow up as responsible girls and boys.

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