Family Wellbeing Similar With Parents or Grandparents Heading Household

By Lisa Rapaport

August 07, 2020

(Reuters Health) - Grandparents raising children seem to cope as well with parenting duties as parents, even though they're more likely to care for kids with more developmental and behavioral problems, a U.S. study suggests.

Researchers examined data from the National Health Interview Survey on 2,407 grandparent-headed households and 78,239 parent-headed households with children aged 2 to 17 years old. They adjusted for sociodemographic confounders and compared households headed by grandparents and parents based on child outcomes including adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), ADHD, preschool inattention and restlessness, and child temperament, as well as caregiver outcomes including aggravation, coping, support, and interactions with children.

In grandparent-headed households, preschool and school age children were more likely to have ADHD (adjusted odds ratio 4.29 and 1.72, respectively) than in parent-headed households. Grandparents were also more likely to head households where kids experienced more ACEs (beta 1.22), school-age children had worse temperament (beta 0.25), and caregivers experienced more aggravation (beta 0.29).

Despite this, researchers didn't find any differences between grandparent-headed and parent-headed households in terms of caregiver coping, emotional support, or interactions with children.

"Interestingly, despite custodial grandparents reporting greater parental aggravation and identifying their school-age children as having a more difficult temperament, no differences were noted between grandparents and parents in terms of their reported ability to handle the day-to-day challenges of parenting," said senior study author Dr. Andrew Adesman of the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in Lake Success.

After excluding kids with ADHD from the analysis, researchers didn't find statistically significant differences in child temperament or caregiver aggravation, researchers report in Pediatrics. This suggests that differences in child behaviors and social characteristics between the two groups might be due to ADHD, and not differences in the adult caregivers, the study team notes.

Although researchers did find differences between grandparent- and parent-caregivers in terms of emotional support and coping, these differences were in large part attributable to the many sociodemographic differences that distinguished these two groups.

However, 24% of parents and 30% of grandparents heading two-caregiver households still reported that they didn't have someone to turn to for day to day emotional support. And 31% of single parents and 41% of single grandparents also said they lacked this type of support.

"Pediatricians who care for children being raised by grandparents must evaluate not just the physical and mental health of the child, but also the physical and emotional well-being of the custodial grandparents," Dr. Adesman said by email.

One limitation of the study is that all outcomes for children and caregivers were self-reported by parents and grandparents, and it's possible that grandparents have a different perspective than parents on things like child behavior and temperament, Dr. Adesman said.

Another limitation is that researchers lacked data to determine which child health outcomes developed before or after they began living in grandparent-headed households. Particularly with ACEs, it wasn't clear whether these experiences occurred while children were in grandparents' custody or preceded this custody arrangement.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, online August 3, 2020.