“We Must Help Them As Much As We Can”: Grandparents Care Work in a Neo Liberal Era
In addition to cultural factors, the care provided by grandparents, is also influenced by the “new economy”. In the wake of globalization and neo liberalization, we have witnessed increasing demands on professionals – both in term of their hours and availability. There has also been a rise in the number of workers in hourly-waged “precarious” or “bad jobs” with little to no flexibility. These trends coupled with the growing numbers of working mothers with young children have resulted in a “care deficit” and a growing demand for child care. In a familist society, such as Israel, this is translated into the young parents’ expectations that their parents, the grandparents, will help shoulder the care work.
Based on in-depth interviews of 32 Jewish retirees, men and women with heterogeneous class backgrounds, we examine how economic forces and cultural factors have shape gendered grandparents’ care practices and meanings. Though both men and women feel that grandparenthood is an important and central aspect in their lives, they still grandparent differently. Whereas women tend to perceive taking care of their grandchildren as a continuation of their role as mothers, helping adult children juggle between work and family, for men fatherhood continues by carrying on their “provider” role and assisting their children financially. These men “slide” easily into the grandfather role without much internal deliberation, whereas women are much more likely to debate among themselves about what constitutes “a good grandmother” and what kind of grandmother they are or would like to be. They oscillate between the individualistic cultural imperative of “it’s me time” and the motherly imperative that, in the Israeli context, never ends.
This gendered perception of grandparenting has two interrelated implications. One, it tends to reproduce the gendered division of care work both among the grandparents and the young couples. It is most often the grandmother who takes responsibility, though the grandfather might tag along. Moreover, the care grandparents provide is usually understood in terms of helping the young mother (daughter or daughter-in-law) more than the father. Two, this emerging Israeli version of “two- person career” (Papanek 1973) family where the (house)wife, who now works full- time, is replaced by care-on-demand grandmothers enables employers to place increasing demands on workers' time and commitments, assuming that every worker (with family responsibilities) has someone at home to help with domestic care work. Thus, neoliberal labor market practices appear to be operating in tandem with and are maintained by gendered moral rationalities, which are based on love, commitment and an ideology of the “good mother”.