Reflections on grandfathering as a new mum

I haven’t posted to my blog for a while, mainly because I recently gave birth to my first child, a beautiful little girl called Lorelei. In a rare moment in which she is sleeping and I have a little time to do some writing I wanted to jot down some thoughts about how having her has changed my life and impacted upon the way I think about my PhD research. Even now, exhausted from a lack sleep, my identity is still strongly connected to my work interests! Having created a new generation in my family I have had a great opportunity to reflect more on my work and my sociological interests (in family life, grandparenting and intergenerationality) in ways I think I was less equipped to do before.

Most interesting has been observing how my own dad, father-in-law, grandfather and grandfather-in-law have reacted to Lorelei. In my PhD research many of my participants expressed their delight at becoming and being a grandfather and great-grandfather. Until I saw the expressions of my grandfathers, the first time they clapped eyes on their new great-granddaughter however, I hadn’t fully appreciated what this meant. These men really love this little person; love that is difficult to capture in words but expressed so wonderfully in one soppy look. They light up when they see her and say they can’t believe that they have a great-grandchild. Most poignant has been my grandfather-in-law who I interviewed for my PhD research. It was difficult for him to express how he felt about being a grandfather during this interview. Instead he talked about his work and the history of the town he grew up in. This led me to make assumptions about the extent to which he valued being a grandfather in relation to the other things we discussed. Observing his interaction with my daughter revealed just how inaccurate those assumptions were, and the need in future research, for a methodology more appropriate for researching men and family life. Family life, love and intergenerational relationships are powerful, dynamic and highly emotive, something that I now feel was not fully captured in my interviews.

My dad and father-in-law have reacted very similarly. They hold her and my dad was a dab hand at rocking her to sleep when he last visited. These things were not surprising to me, but they were new. Lorelei is the first grandchild on my side of the family and this is the first time I am really seeing the male members of my family with a baby.  Of course there are families where this may not be the case, where men’s involvement may be more limited but it is important to make visible family lives where this isn’t the case as well.

Observing these moments, moments I didn’t fully capture or understand during the interviews for my PhD research, has made me realize that observation is important. In hindsight, more methodological creativity is needed to develop the findings from my research. As much as men may talk about their love for their grandchildren (although somewhat reticently for some of the men I interviewed), nothing has been more revealing than seeing my own grandfathers, and of course my dad and father-in-law, meet their (great) granddaughter for the first time.

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