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‘Grandmothering While Black’ explores skipped-generation households

LaShawnDa Pittman’s book begins with a table of women’s names, listing their names, their ages, their marital or dating status, and the number of children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren they have—74, to be exact.

The common denominators among the women are that they were Black grandmothers who raised any number of their children, creating what are known as skipped generation households, households consisting solely of grandparents and grandchildren.

in his bookGrandmothering While Black: A Twenty-First Century Story of Love, Oppression, and Survival,” Pittman, a professor of American ethnic studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, examines the nuances of the role of contemporary Black grandmothers in today’s landscape.

The Northwestern University graduate collected data from nearly 100 women on Chicago’s South Side over four years through in-depth interviews with the women and ethnographic research through doctor visits, outreach offices, school and daycare appointments, and caseworker meetings.

In doing so, Pittman explored the numerous forces that facilitate and impede their care and delved into the relationship between old and young, in which the elder attempts to perform maternal functions without the legal rights of the role.

Pittman, a sociologist, showcases the strategies black grandmothers used to manage their caregiving roles in state and federal systems to ensure the well-being of the next generation.

“This book shows the complexity of what these grandmothers faced. It’s a lot,” Pittman said. “This long lineage of Black women dealing with so many things, and the importance of us voicing what that looks like and giving each other opportunities to share that knowledge… that’s no small part.”

Pittman says more grandparents currently raising her grandchildren More than any other period in American history. Number of U.S. children living at grandparents’ homes It more than doubled from 3.2% in 1970 to 8.4% in 2019; 26% of these children were in generation-skipping households.

Two- and three-generation living arrangements are more common in multiracial communities; Black families are more likely than other groups to raise grandchildren in skipped-generation households.

Contributing factors range from changes in social and child welfare policies and practices, to increases in divorce rates and single parenthood rates, to declines in birth rates and marriage rates, as well as teenage pregnancy, mental and physical health problems, and child abuse and neglect. . Black kids too most likely lives in a single-parent family.

Combine this with some Black-grandmother-household incomes being at or below federal poverty levels, and it raises a lot of questions. “Why and how do Black women’s traditional roles as grandmothers translate into surrogate parenting? “How do they manage the demands of caregiving, including their lack of legal rights, difficulties making ends meet, and their inability to prioritize their personal lives?” Pittman writes in the book.

“There are a lot of systemic things that force this on us. …The incarceration of Black men and women had a huge ripple effect; it destroyed our communities and our families,” Pittman said. “It used to be that a Black man could work some kind of manufacturing job and send his kids to college and buy a house. Jobs that require physical labor are now in the service sector, they pay less, they have no benefits, they are harder to do. There is more discrimination. All of these things are important. Can you afford to live? “Can you even preserve the working class without falling into poverty, let alone moving into the middle class?”

Over 300 pages, Pitman considers the economic survival strategies used by black grandmothers as they struggled to care for kin. It is a mix of “burdens and blessings,” rewards and consequences, ranging from the opportunity to become a parent again and a sense of purpose to caregiving that restricts retirement freedoms and impairs physical and mental health.

Pittman, who grew up in a household where her grandparents helped her immediate family, became interested in Black women and resilience as a graduate student at Northwestern. There Pittman produced a dissertation on Black women and their psychological health and another study on the social capital of children in poverty.

Everything revolved around Black grandmothers raising grandchildren. Pittman realized her goal was to understand grandmothers’ perspectives, which ultimately led to the book.

Sociologist and author LaShawnDa Pittman is an associate professor of American ethnic studies at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“You can’t talk about the care of grandparents anymore without talking about how they created the structure to provide that care,” he said. “It’s not the way it used to be, where Big Mama stepped in, took the baby, enrolled him in school, and had a harmonious relationship with the parents, where the parents worked themselves up to get their baby back. Although this may happen, in most cases it does not.

“When conflict occurs and grandparents have no legal rights over their grandchildren, they have a different set of issues to deal with, and neither book dealt with that,” Pittman said. “Do I go over the parent and get legal guardianship, prove the parent is unfit? Do I want to do this to my own child? This is a complex set of problems. Caregiving in the 21st century is a story that needs to be told in its present form. How do parents navigate their lack of legal rights regarding the child welfare system and, in some cases, the criminal justice system? “The way they go about getting resources is all a big policy story.”

Pittman Spoke to policy makers What will be said across the country is, “Here are the resources available to these families, very few, and yet there are all these barriers that they face.”

She hopes her book will highlight the hardships Black grandmothers face. It is incumbent upon those in power to consider the training of front-line workers who interact with these families.

Pittman asks people who work with skip-generation families “what have they done to help make this happen?” He said they had the feeling.

But he says you shouldn’t assume you know their story. Tackling explicit and implicit biases and misinformation in the training of agency representatives would go a long way, he said.

In her interviews with grandmothers, Pittman often expressed that they felt lonely in their caregiver roles. To help fix this, Pittman is developing something his website so Black grandmothers can share resources, knowledge, and stories with each other. He also hopes his book serves as a shout-out to the Black community.

“It creates awareness and provides a sense of solidarity. … It is very important for us to understand what we want from our mothers, grandmothers and aunts,” Pittman said. “Understand that these are the kinds of sacrifices, the complexities that our mothers and aunts had to deal with. And grandfathers too. Most skipping generation households are headed by both grandparents. But Black grandmothers have the distinction of being more likely than any other grandparent to do so without a parent or partner.

Reaching out to Black grandmothers in our communities would go a long way, Pittman said. Black women want to provide for their families and communities, but they also need to take care of their own health and need rest and support, she said.

“If you know there are people in your family who do this, look at what they need. “Don’t assume they got it,” he said. “I hear people say things like, ‘They’re doing this out of love.’ Why shouldn’t we ensure that children in this country have what they need, no matter who their caregivers are? We do this for foster parents.

She examined how in popular culture Black grandmothers tend to be romanticized within the Black community and pathologized outside it. And she wondered: “Where do you go to figure out who these women really are?”

That’s why Pittman Real Black Grannies, the first digital archive created specifically with their reality in mind. Society must continue to make changes to support skipped-generation households, Pittman said, because bringing two vulnerable populations together and asking them to solve this problem themselves is asking too much.

“The complexity of what they were dealing with, the mastery of saying ‘we’ll find a way,’ the masterful way they navigated, the strategies they developed to keep their grandchildren safe and still try to get what they wanted. “I needed it, it blew me away,” Pittman said. “Yes, they did it miraculously and amazingly, and it’s still not enough. “We need to make it so it’s not that hard.”

drockett@chicagotribune.com

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