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When couples become grandparents: factors associated with the growth of each spouse.


This correlational study examined perceived personal growth among couples who recently became grandparents, investigating its association with attachment style, self-differentiation, and the perceived growth of the spouse. In addition, the background variables of age, education, and physical health were examined. The sample consisted of 206 Israeli couples who were approached six to 24 months after the birth of their first grandchild. The results showed that grandmothers reported higher growth than grandfathers. Lower education, lower attachment anxiety, and higher perceived growth of the spouse were associated with the perceived growth of both men and women, in the regression analysis. Older age and lower physical health, along with higher self-differentiation among less educated women, were also found to be connected to the perceived personal growth of grandmothers. Furthermore, higher avoidant attachment was associated with less growth among healthier grandparents and with more perceived growth among less healthy grandfathers. Hence, both the individual's internal resources and his or her partner's perception of growth were associated with self-reported growth in the transition to grandparenthood. The study not only sheds further light on the potential for growth inherent in the transition to grandparenthood, but also provides the first indications of associations related to sharing this experience with a spouse.

KEY WORDS: couples; growth; transition to grandparenthood

The transition to grandparenthood is considered a major life event (Taubman--Ben-Ari, Ben Shlomo, & Findler, 2012) and is generally perceived as a positive experience (Sands, Goldberg-Glen, & Thornton, 2005). Grandparenthood may offer a sense of completion and a sense of satisfaction or provide an opportunity to reflect on one's influence across generations (Ashford, LeCroy, & Lortie, 2006). Such benefits notwithstanding, this life transition may also exact certain costs, including anxieties, feelings of incompetence, and burden (Findler, Taubman--Ben-Ari, NuttmanShwartz, & Lazar, 2010), which, in turn, may generate stress. Indeed, grandparenting has been associated with increased stress (Musil & Ahmad, 2002), and studies have found that one major risk factor for psychological distress in later life is the decline in physical health (for example, Cummings, Neff, & Husaini, 2003); another risk factor is the elderly person's social status, thus, their own perception of their position in the social hierarchy (Demakakos, Nazroo, Breeze, & Marmot, 2008). In addition, becoming a grandparent is symbolically associated with old age, regardless of a person's chronological age or vitality, and this, too, may engender stress (Gauthier, 2002). In other words, inherent in the transition to grandparenthood is the potential to experience both positive and negative emotions and cognitions.

In the wake of the 21st century, there has been a growing tendency to focus on individuals' strengths and resources rather than on distress, depressive symptoms, and other pathologies following life transitions (Linley, 2003). Theory and research have highlighted the potential benefits of challenging life events, stressing that the need to adapt to demanding circumstances may also engender personal growth (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004). Although most of this literature deals with traumatic life events, growth need not be related exclusively to dire experiences; it may follow on any challenge to core beliefs and the resulting reexamination of existing ways of thinking (Tedeschi, Calhoun, & Cann, 2007). Recognizing this possibility, recent studies have exan-tined growth in the wake of more mundane events, such as a romantic breakup (Tashiro & Frazier, 2003), academic studies (Anderson, Walter, & Lopez-Baez, 2008), and the transitions to parenthood (Sawyer & Ayers, 2009; Spielman & Taubman--Ben-Aft, 2009; Taubman Ben-Ari, Ben Shlomo, Sivan, 8: Dolizki, 2009; Taubman--Ben-AM, Findler, 86 Kuint, 2010) and grandmotherhood (Ben Shlomo, Taubman--BenAM, Findler, Sivan, & Dolizki, 2010; Taubman Ben-AM et al., 2012). Indeed, even positive experiences that are life altering and entail stress, such as the transition to grandparenthood, may also be challenging to the individual's schemas and life narrative and, thus, lead to the experience of growth.

The term "growth" refers to a sense of development, rather than a return to baseline. Three broad areas of growth are generally reported: (1) enhanced interpersonal relationships and greater appreciation of others, (2) changes in self-perception in the direction of increased resilience and maturity, and (3) a reexamination of life philosophy and setting of new priorities (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004). These general categories are represented in the positive changes and signs of growth in the wake of the transition to grandparenthood that have been reported in the literature since the 1960s. In their classic study, Neugarten and Weinstein (1964) suggested that grandparenthood may engender an experience of biological renewal, continuity, self-fulfillment, a chance to succeed in a new emotional role, and the indirect expansion of the self through the grandchild's achievements. Later studies have indicated that those who enjoy being grandparents feel younger and hope to live longer than those who do not take pleasure in their new status (Kaufman & Elder, 2003), and that grandparent identity meanings are related positively to self-esteem and negatively to depressive symptoms (Reitzes & Mutran, 2004). In addition, it has been shown that grandparenthood may represent an opportunity to reexperience parenthood without the attendant responsibility (Kornhaber, 1987) and that more positive grandparent identity meanings may encourage a heightened sense of well-being by providing a sense of authenticity, meaning, and purpose (Reitzes & Mutran, 2004).

Research reveals that internal resources may contribute to growth following a stressful experience (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004). Among these are certain personality traits or ego resources (for example, Taubman--Ben-Ari et al., 2010), including attachment security, an internal resource that may help an individual to cope with and adjust to stressful events (Mikulincer & Florian, 1998). Attachment security has been found to be especially relevant in the context of parenthood.

Bowlby (1988) maintained that the quality of attachment interactions during infancy produces mental working models that organize cognition, affect, and behavior and shape both the self-image and social and intimate relationships. Furthermore, he claimed that the successful accomplishment of affect regulation, which occurs as a central part of the formation of attachment, is a cornerstone of a broader experience of emotional security.

Since the late 1990s, self-report studies of this notion among adults have used two basic dimensions of attachment: avoidance and anxiety (Brennan, Clark, & Shaver, 1998). Individuals high on avoidance are characterized by a distrust of others' goodwill and a preference for emotional distance, rely mostly on themselves, and fail to use proximity seeking to relieve distress. Those high on anxiety display a strong need for closeness combined with an overwhelming fear of rejection, tend to rely mentally on their emotional state, and use emotion-focused coping strategies. Moreover, people high on either anxiety or avoidance are likely to appraise stressful events in negative terms and to report high levels of distress (for example, Fraley & Shaver, 1997). In contrast, those low on the two dimensions exhibit the secure attachment style: They are comfortable with closeness and interdependence and rely on support seeking and other constructive means to cope with stress.

Studies conducted among mothers have indicated that those with insecure attachments are more vulnerable to symptoms of depression and lower well-being in response to stressful life events (Berant, Mikulincer, & Florian, 2001; Simpson, Rholes, Campbell, Tran, & Wilson, 2003). Findings regarding the association of attachment style to mother's growth, however, are less consistent. Whereas one recent study indicated that attachment avoidance and anxiety do not play a role in mothers' personal growth one year after birth (Taubman--Ben-Ari et al., 2010), another study conducted among both mothers and fathers a short period after the birth of their first child revealed that fathers who were more anxiously attached also reported greater stress-related growth (Spielman & Taubman--Ben-AM, 2009). Spielman and Taubman--Ben-AM suggested that fathers higher on attachment anxiety are more apt to experience the demanding transition to parenthood as a stressful situation, leading them to hyper-activate their attachment system and seek emotional closeness (Simpson et al., 1992), which might enhance their sense of growth.

To the best of our knowledge, only one study has examined the association of attachment to women's perceptions of the transition to grand-motherhood, and no prior investigation has considered grandfathers. The findings indicated that the higher the maternal grandmother's attachment anxiety, the greater her sense of growth during her daughter's pregnancy (Ben Shlomo et al., 2010). According to the authors, people with less stable personality strengths are more strongly affected by situations that shake their existing equilibrium or that entail some degree of uncertainty, even when the change is positive in nature. For such people, the very notion of change inherent in the transition to grandmotherhood undermines their precarious sense of self and their ability to feel in control of the situation. Following this initial finding, we explored the associations of attachment style and personal growth in the transition to grandparenthood, and related to grandfathers as well as grandmothers.

Another fascinating feature of personality that is indicative of emotional and social maturity, and thus may be relevant to the concept of growth, is differentiation of self, as conceptualized by Bowen (1990). This concept refers to the ability to distinguish and integrate the emotional and intellectual aspects of the personality and contains both intra-and interpersonal dimensions. In individuals with high self-differentiation, emotions and thoughts work in tandem; in the case of low self-differentiation, emotions overpower thoughts or thought displaces emotion. Optimally self-differentiated individuals are able to feel and express their emotions and to control their impulses. They can make considered and planned decisions even in stressful situations, and they tend to display good psychological adjustment. In contrast, less differentiated people tend to be less flexible and less adaptive, to experience higher levels of chronic anxiety, and to be more emotionally dependent on others. In addition, they more easily become dysfunctional under stress and, thus, suffer more psychological and physical symptoms (Bowen, 1990; Skowron & Friedlander, 1998).

In some ways, the description of self-differentiation resembles that of the secure attachment, as can be inferred from writing of scholars like Crittenden (1992), who noted that when adults and children are able to exchange accurate information about feelings and intensions, they can be apart without either parents or children feeling anxious. Children who mentally integrate both cognitive and affective information are called "balanced/secure" (Crittenden, 1992). Because balanced/secure children are able both to communicate the range of their feelings and to reason intuitively with caregivers about the danger of situations, they often feel comfortable, even when they do not get their way.

To the best of our knowledge, in the only published study that investigated the connection between differentiation of self and growth, which was conducted among siblings of a child with a disability, it was found that higher differentiation of self was associated with greater personal growth (Findler & Vardi, 2009). Hence, level of self-differentiation might also be expected to affect grandparents' potential to grow and benefit from the transition to their new role.

External resources have also been shown to enhance coping and growth, as supportive others can promote personal growth by providing a way to craft narratives about the changes that have occurred, and by offering perspectives that can be integrated into schema change (Neimeyer, 2001; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996). They may also communicate positive messages about how one is coping by fostering perceptions of increased personal strength and reminding people of the importance of significant others (McMillen, 2004). Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004) suggested that the importance of social relationships to psychological growth lies in their ability to promote awareness and the subsequent revision of life views. Moreover, Crittenden and Dallos (2009) have pointed out that families should be described not only in terms of the sum of their individual experiences, but also in terms of their mutual influence. Thus, couples are composed of individuals in dyadic relationship, with nmtually influencing patterns (which she calls "reciprocal causality"). Thus, we sought to examine whether the spouse's experience of growth would be associated with personal growth in the transition to grandparenthood.

A final issue to consider is that of relevant background variables, specifically health, education, and age, and their potential contribution to growth. Findings relating to physical health indicated that the better a maternal grandmother's physical health, the better her mental health during the pregnancy of her daughter (Ben Shlomo et al., 2010). In addition, an investigation of grandmothers who were custodians of their grandchildren found that good physical health was related to lower perceived burden and higher psychological well-being (Dowdell, 2004). In regard to education, the results of one study indicated that the more educated the maternal grandmother, the greater the sense of growth she experiences during her daughter's pregnancy (Ben Shlomo et al., 2010). This might be explained by the fact that a wider variety of resources are available to educated women, which may enable them to better appreciate life and its possibilities, a factor associated with the perception of growth in stressful situations (Updegraff, Taylor, Kemeny, & Wyatt, 2002). Finally, higher age among new maternal grandmothers has been found to contribute to higher personal growth (Taubman-Ben-Ari et al., 2012). The authors suggest that becoming a grandmother at an older age may present to some individuals more difficulties, a situation that may enhance growth. Certain older grandmothers might be afraid that they will be unable to invest enough in their new role and may doubt their capacity to perform it well, as more time has elapsed since they themselves were the mothers of young children. Though this depends on personal capacities and resources, it might generate both concrete fears (such as remembering how to hold a baby or change diapers) and symbolic anxieties (such as ambivalence or unresolved conflicts), again increasing the potential for growth.

Thus, although the literature provides a basis on which to assume a connection between the transition to grandparenthood and growth, to the best of our knowledge, only two studies have explored the factors associated with personal growth among new grandparents, and even they focus only on maternal grandmothers (Ben Shlomo et al., 2010; Taubman--Ben-Ari, Ben Shlomo, & Findler, 2012). The present study therefore examined all four grandparents, investigating internal resources that may be associated with growth as well as the association of one spouse's perception of growth to that of the other.


In light of the literature, the current study used the individual's attachment style and level of self-differentiation as internal resources, along with spouse's perceived growth, examining their associations with perceived personal growth in the parallel transition of men and women to grandparenthood. We also examined three background variables: age, education, and physical health. All these factors may aid the individual to regulate distress and thus be associated with personal growth in the wake of this major life transition.

The following three hypotheses were formulated:

1. Higher levels of experienced personal growth will be associated with higher levels of differentiation of the self.

2. Higher levels of experienced personal growth will be associated with spouse's report of higher personal growth.

3. Higher levels of growth will be associated with older age, higher education, and better physical health.

In addition, as previous findings regarding attachment were inconclusive, we examined the associations between attachment styles and growth, without a specific hypothesis. We also examined the unique and combined contributions of the internal resources and spouse's growth to grandparents' personal growth.



The sample (N = 412) consisted of 206 married Israeli couples whose first grandchild had been born six to 24 months earlier. Grandmothers' ages ranged from 40 to 66 (M = 50.64, SD = 4.99), and grandfathers' ages ranged from 43 to 75 (M= 53.42, SD = 5.26). Most of the participants (60%) had an academic education (BA), and most (about 60%) defined their economic status as average.


The Experiences in Close Relationships Scale (Brennan et al., 1998) was used to assess attachment style. The scale consists of 36 items tapping the dimensions of attachment anxiety (for example, "I worry about being abandoned") and avoidance (for example, "I prefer not to show a partner how I feel deep down"). Participants rated the extent to which each item was descriptive of their feelings in close relationships on a seven-point scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much). The reliability and validity of the scale have previously been demonstrated (Brennan et al., 1998). In the current sample, Cronbach's alpha coefficients were high both for the anxiety items (.90) and for the avoidance items (.85). Accordingly, a score for each of the two subscales was computed for each participant by averaging his or her responses on the relevant 18 items, with higher scores indicating a higher level of either anxious or avoidant attachment.

The Level of Differentiation of Self Scale (LDSS) (Haber, 1984), based on Bowen's conceptualization of this characteristic, was used to measure self-differentiation. The scale consists of 32 statements tapping two major factors: emotional maturity (for example, "I can solve problems if I'm emotionally upset"), and emotional dependency (for example, "My actions and decisions are based on the agreement of other people"). Respondents were asked to indicate the degree to which they agree with each statement o,1 a four-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). The LDSS was translated into Hebrew, revalidated, and adapted by Baum and Shnit (2005), who reported a high reliability of Cronbach's alpha = .91 for the final version. Cronbach's alpha in the current study was .90. A self-differentiation score was therefore calculated for each participant by averaging his or her scores on all 32 items, with higher scores reflecting higher levels of self-differentiation.

Personal growth was measured by an adapted version of the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996). This 21-item self-report scale relates to personal and spiritual strengths, appreciation of life and new possibilities, and relationships with others (for example, "I learned a great deal about how wonderful people are"; "I am able to do better things with my life"). For each statement, participants were asked to indicate the degree to which the change had occurred in their life since becoming a grandmother or grandfather. Responses were marked on a six-point Likert-type scale, ranging from 0 (I did not experience this change) to 5 (I experienced this change to a very great degree). Though the PTGI was originally designed to assess positive changes in the wake of adversity, researchers have begun to use it to assess less traumatic and more mundane, yet still challenging, life events, such as romantic breakups (Tashiro & Frazier, 2003), work-related stress (Paton, 2005), academic studies (Anderson et al., 2008), and parenthood, especially motherhood (Sawyer & Ayers, 2009; Spielman & Taubman--Ben-Ari, 2009; Taubman--Ben-Ari et al., 2009; Taubman--Ben-Ari et al., 2010). In the present study, Cronbach's alphas were .97 for both grandmothers and grandfathers. Each participant was thus assigned a personal growth score, computed by averaging his or her responses on all items, with higher scores indicating a greater experience of personal growth.

A demographic questionnaire was administered to obtain the participant's age, education (elementary school, high school, post-high school, academic), marital (married, divorced, widowed), economic (that is, how would you consider your economic status as compared with the Israeli populations': above average, average, below average), and health status (that is, your health these days is very good, good, fair, poor, very poor).


After the Bar Ilan University's School of Social Work Institutional Review Board reviewed and approved the study, social work undergraduate students, who served as research assistants under our supervision, located new grandparents in the community (through neighbors, family members, acquaintances, colleagues), explained the goals of the study, and requested their consent to complete a set of self-report paper-and-pencil questionnaires. During a period of three months in 2009, 210 couples from various geographic localities all over Israel gave their informed consent to participate. The final sample consisted of 206 married couples of first-time grandparents (206 grandmothers and 206 grandfathers) who completed the full set of questionnaires. The participants were promised full anonymity and confidentiality, by putting their completed questionnaires in sealed envelopes, which were opened and coded to the computer only when all the research questionnaires were returned. No identifying personal data were gathered.


Data analysis was conducted in three steps. In the first stage, paired associations and differences between grandmothers and grandfathers were calculated to understand whether becoming a grandparent is experienced similarly by men and women. Then, Pearson correlations were conducted to examine the associations between the independent variables and the outcome variable of growth. Finally, hierarchical regressions were performed to identify the factors that might contribute to perceived growth among first-time grandmothers and grandfathers. This afforded insights into whether growth in the wake of this transition can be explained by the same or by different resources for the two partners and whether one spouse's experience of growth contributes to the growth perceived by the other spouse, beyond other variables.

In the first stage of analysis, we looked at the associations and differences between grandmothers and grandfathers on both the dependent and the independent variables. A series of t tests for paired samples and Pearson correlations were performed to examine attachment anxiety and avoidance, differentiation of self, and personal growth. The results of the analyses appear in Table 1.

The results in Table 1 reveal that grandmothers tend to report higher attachment avoidance and higher personal growth in the transition to grandparenthood than their spouses. In addition, significant positive correlations emerged between grandmother's and grandfather's measures, especially in reported growth. Thus, the more one of the spouses perceived growth, the greater the growth reported by the other.

Next, Pearson correlations were calculated to examine the relationship between growth and each independent variable. The results of this analysis for grandmothers and grandfathers appear in Table 2.

For both grandparents, lower attachment anxiety, lower education, and lower physical health were all related to higher levels of personal growth (see Table 2). In addition, higher age for grandmothers and lower self-differentiation for grandfathers, were associated with higher growth.

Additional correlations calculated to examine the relationship between differentiation of self and attachment dimensions indicated r = .07, p > .05, r= .34, p < .00, for grandfathers' avoidance and anxiety, respectively; r= .00, p > .05, r= .23, p < .00, for grandmothers' avoidance and anxiety, respectively). Hence, the correlations show no association between differentiation of self and attachment avoidance and a low positive association between differentiation and attachment anxiety.

We also performed t tests to determine whether differences in reported growth would emerge between maternal and paternal grandparents. The results indicated no significant differences either for grandmothers [t(198)= .63] (M= 2.35, SD = 1.30; M=2.23, SD= 1.27, for maternal and paternal grandmothers, respectively) or for grandfathers [t(196)= .97] (M=2.05, SD= 1.32; M= 1.87, SD = 1.30, for maternal and paternal grandfathers, respectively).

In the final stage of the analysis, two hierarchical regressions were conducted to examine the unique and combined contribution of the study variables to the explained variance in grandmothers' and grandfathers' personal growth following the transition to grandparenthood. The background variables of age, education, and physical health were entered in step l; the internal resources of attachment anxiety and avoidance and differentiation of self, in step 2; and the external resource of spouse's growth in step 3. In step 4, the interactions between the independent variables were entered using a stepwise method, so that only variables showing significant contributions were entered in the equation. The results appear in Table 3.

The independent variables explained 42% of the variance in grandmother's personal growth (see Table 3). Demographic variables accounted for 13% of the variance, with the higher the growth perceived by the older the grandmother, the lower her education, and the worse her health. Internal resources accounted for an additional 7% of the variance, indicating that lower attachment anxiety was associated with greater perceived growth. Spouse's growth added 19% to the explained variance, so that the higher the grandfather's growth, the greater the growth perceived by the grandmother. In the final step, the interaction between grandmother's differentiation of self and education accounted for another 3% of the variance in the outcome variable. Simple slope analyses (Aiken & West, 1991) revealed that differentiation of self was positively and significantly associated with personal growth among grandmothers with lower education, b = .20, p < .05, and was significantly but negatively associated with growth among grandmothers with higher education, b=-.24, p < .05. Thus, among more educated women, the more self-differentiated they were, the less growth they perceived, whereas among less educated women, the higher their self-differentiation, the more growth they reported.

In respect to grandfathers, the independent variables explained 42% of the variance in personal growth (see Table 3). The background variables accounted for 6% of the variance, with the higher the growth perceived, the more educated the grandfathers. Internal resources accounted for an additional 15% of the variance, indicating that lower attachment anxiety was associated with greater growth. Spouse's growth added 17% to the explained variance, so that the higher the grandmother's growth, the greater the growth perceived by the grandfather. In the final step, the interaction between grandfather's attachment avoidance and physical health accounted for another 4% of the variance in the outcome variable. Simple slope analyses (Aiken & West, 1991) revealed that attachment avoidance was positively and significantly associated with personal growth among grandfathers with poorer health, b = .29, p < .01, and significantly but negatively associated with growth among grandfathers with better health, b = -.26, p<.05. Thus, among more healthy men, the more avoidant they were, the less growth they perceived, whereas among less healthy men, the more avoidant they were, the more growth they reported.


The present study examined the perception of growth following one of the major life transitions: becoming a grandparent for the first time. It was conducted among intact heterosexual couples who have recently become grandparents. We sought not only to find evidence that growth is a real option in the wake of this event, but also to explore potential associated variables with this experience, focusing on attachment anxiety and avoidance, differentiation of self, and spouse's reported growth.

The results indicate that both men and women may indeed experience growth in the transition to grandparenthood. Thus, they may sense some kind of development in their self-perceptions in regard to their strengths, interpersonal relationships, and the setting of priorities. However, grandmothers reported a higher level of growth than did grandfather. This finding may be explained by a host of previous studies showing consistent differences between grandmothers and grandfathers, whereby grandmothers are more involved and committed to the grandparent role and more satisfied with it than grandfathers (for example, Silverstein & Marenco, 2001). Thomas (1989) suggested that the continuity of maternal involvement in child rearing may make women more comfortable and satisfied in the role of grandparent. Becoming a grandmother may well reveal a woman's strengths; make her feel needed again years after she has finished rearing her own young children; and afford her the opportunity to share knowledge gained from her own experience, to help out her children, and to serve as a role model. All these features of the role of grandmother are likely to facilitate the perception of personal growth.

Nevertheless, in spite of the differences in the level of reported growth between men and women, the results indicate that the two spouses' perceived growth is interrelated. In confirmation of our hypothesis, spouse's growth was found to be associated with personal growth among both grandmothers and grandfathers, beyond the contribution of background variables and internal resources. This shows that growth might be enhanced by sharing an experience with a significant other who is undergoing the same process. Though sharing life events with other people has long been recognized as contributing to positive adaptation and even to growth (for example, Neimeyer, 2001; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996), the current findings relate to it within the spousal relationship. Moreover, it is based here on the independent reports of both partners. We believe this to be a unique contribution of the current study to the literature on growth, providing evidence of the potential importance of enhancing the perception of growth in one spouse as a means of facilitating such a perception of growth in the other.

Our results also show that lower attachment anxiety was associated with higher growth for both grandparents. This finding differs from those of previous studies that found that the higher an expectant maternal grandmother's attachment anxiety, the greater her sense of growth (Ben Shlomo et al., 2010), and the higher a first-time father's attachment anxiety, the greater stress-related growth he reported (Spielman & Taubman--Ben-Ari, 2009). However, our finding is in line with several studies conducted among mothers that show that those with less insecure attachments appraise motherhood in more positive terms, are more likely to seek support, and report less psychological distress (for example, Berant et al., 2001). In a similar fashion, it would seem that having the ability to regulate emotions is connected among new grandparents to a positive perception of the experience of grandparenthood and to their being open to learning new things about themselves, thus gaining a sense of personal growth. Moreover, as embarking on the role of grandparent is likely to arouse anxieties of various sorts that might adversely affect a grandparent's relationship with both the grandchild and his or her parents, it is possible that people with lower anxiety attachment are better able to handle this situation and develop from it. Further investigation is necessary to confirm this explanation.

Our prediction regarding the link between differentiation of self and growth was confirmed only in part. Among grandmothers, higher self-differentiation was related to higher growth for less educated women and to lower growth for more educated ones. Among grandfathers, differentiation of self was inversely related to growth but made no unique contribution beyond the other internal resources. Thus, differentiation of self was found to be an important internal resource in the transition to grandmotherhood for women with a lower level of education, who tend to be more committed to family roles. It is possible that such women can only perceive growth if their level of self-differentiation is high enough to prevent them from "losing themselves" in their new role. Their ability to differentiate themselves from their daughters, who have now also become mothers, might enable a sense of personal development as a result of this new opportunity to demonstrate their capacity to nurture and care for others. As noted earlier, a previous study of siblings of children with a disability also found higher levels of self-differentiation to be associated with greater personal growth (Findler & Vardi, 2009). The relationship between these two features, therefore, warrants further investigation.

In partial support of our hypothesis in respect to a connection between older age and growth, it was found that in line with previous studies (Taubman--Ben-Ari et al., 2012), grandmother's age was positively related to growth, so that the older the grandmother, the more growth she perceived. However, no such relationship was found for grandfathers. It is possible that as men tend to be less actively involved in the grandchild's development, being an older grandparent does not represent the same difficulties and anxieties for them as being older does for women, and being an older grandfather is therefore less likely to enhance growth. Older grandmothers might also have been looking forward to resuming their maternal role for quite a while, and are thus more prepared for their new status and more comfortable than their husbands are with it.

Contrary to our prediction, lower education was positively associated with reported growth among both men and women. This finding contradicts the results of a previous study conducted among women whose daughters were pregnant, which showed that the more educated the expectant maternal grandmother, the greater the sense of growth she experienced during her daughter's pregnancy (Ben Shlomo et al., 2010). Similarly, the current study found lower physical health to be associated with higher growth among grandmothers, again contradicting the results of the study by Ben Shlomo et al. It is possible that for women in poorer health, which is characterized by pain, frailty, and various loses, the role of grandmother is a positive reminder of happiness and family continuity, and consequently connected with a sense of growth. However, in view of the contradictory findings, the role played by level of education and health in the transition to grandparenthood should be more thoroughly explored in future studies.

Several possible limitations of the study should be noted. First, it relies almost exclusively on self-reports, although one very important measure was provided by the participant's spouse. Future studies might derive additional measures from the spouse and other relevant sources (for example, other family members, physicians) or from observational methods. Second, as the study design was correlational, it does not indicate causality. Suggestions that the predictors actually caused changes in outcome variables should therefore be considered with caution. Third, the associations between the couple's growth should be further studied, as it might be that features of the transition to grandparenthood are actually affecting both grandparents, causing them to respond in a similar fashion. Although we wanted to learn how this experience might be connected to the other spouse's growth, other ways of measuring this phenomenon might be helpful in discerning each individual's perception from that of the spouse, and helpful in using this information as an indication of a casual factor, which was obviously not possible in the current study. Fourth, we used a convenience sample in the present study, though we invested many efforts in encouraging participation from a wide range of geographical and social areas. In addition, we concentrated only on the perception of growth in the transition to grandparenthood and on few independent variables. Future studies might examine other important outcomes, such as life satisfaction and marital adjustment, as well as additional contributors (for example, personality traits, perceived social support). They might also refer to the role that grandparents play in their grandchildren's lives, their level of involvement, and some background variables such as the geographical distance between them. Also, though we examined potential interactions between the study's variables, only two were found to be significant, which is of limited value in respect to what can be learned from them. It is possible that adding some or all of the previously mentioned variables, would better clarify the contributors to growth and the interactions between them. Finally, although Israel is in many ways a Western society, culture-specific factors may have had an impact on the present findings. Research conducted in other locales might provide cross-cultural and cross-ethnic validation.

These limitations notwithstanding, the present study represents an attempt to consider the experience of couples becoming grandparents for the first time. Further investigation is needed to examine whether this life transition strengthens their relationship or widens the gaps between them.

Nevertheless, our findings already offer important insight for practitioners. An understanding of the complex set of factors that play a role in the transition of men and women to grandparenthood can enable the design of timely preventive and empowering interventions for first-time grandparents. Whereas classes exist for first-time parents to help prepare them for their new role and help them cope with it, grandparents are generally ignored, as if the birth of one's first grandchild is not a life-altering event. Programs should therefore be made available to new grandparents as well. Such interventions should not only be practical in nature, but also devote attention to the emotional aspects of the transition in terms of both internal and interpersonal contents as well as to the spousal relationship and the potential for differing perceptions of the new status. As grandparenthood may last as much as a third of one's life nowadays, enhancing positive experiences, perceptions, and emotions and fostering personal growth in the wake of this transition is a very worthy professional target.

doi: 10.1093/swr/svt005

Original manuscript received December 10, 2010 Final revision received May 18, 2011 Accepted June 6, 2011 Advance Access Publication February 13, 2013


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Orit Taubman--Ben-Ari, PhD, is a psychologist, an associate professor and faculty member, Liora Findler, PhD, is a social worker and faculty member, and Shirley Ben Shlomo, PhD, is a social worker and faculty member, the Louis and Gabi Weisfeld School of Social Work, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel. Address correspondence to Orit Taubman--Ben-Ari, Louis and Gabi Weisfeld School of Social Work, Bar-Ilan University, 52900 Ramat Gan, Israel; e-mail:
Table 1: Means, Standard Deviations, t Scores (for paired samples),
and Correlations for the Study Variables for Grandmothers and

                  Grandmothers   Grandfathers

Variable           M      SD       M      SD

Attachment        5.07   .99     4.95    1.17

Attachment        4.88   .92     4.53    .94

Differentiation   2.84   .44     2.88    .47
of self

Personal growth   2.28   1.28    1.95    1.31

                   t(205)     r


Attachment          1.43     .35 ***

Attachment        4.48 ***   .27 ***

Differentiation     0.92     .18 **
of self

Personal growth   3.57 ***   .50 ***

** P<01. *** P<.001.

Table 2: Pearson Correlations between the
Study Variables for Grandmothers and

                   Grandmother's   Grandfather's
Variable              Growth          Growth

  anxiety          -.30 ***        -.38 ***
  avoidance        -0.07           -0.13
  of self          -0.05           -.18 **
Age                .16 *           0.08
Education          -.23 ***        -.21 **
Physical health    -.25 ***        -.16 *

* p<05. ** p<01. *** p<001.

Table 3: Hierarchical Regression Coefficients (Beta Weights)
for Growth among Grandmothers and Grandfathers

                                 Grandmother's Growth

Variable                   [beta]      T       [DELTA][R.sup.2]

Step 1                                         .13 ***
Age                        0.16     2.41 *
Education                  -0.21    3.00 **
Physical health            -0.22    3.17 **
Step 2                                         .07 **
Attachment anxiety         -0.27    3.69 ***
Attachment avoidance       0.02     0.23
Differentiation of self    0.01     0.11
Step 3                                         .19 ***
Partner's growth           0.45     7.63 ***
Step 4                                         .03 **
Self-differentiation x     -0.18    3.14 **
Attachment avoidance x    --       -
F                                              16.63 ***
[R.sup.2]                                      .42 ***

                                 Grandfather's Growth

Variable                   [beta]      T       [DELTA][R.sup.2]

Step 1                                         .06 **
Age                        0.04     0.53
Education                  -0.19    2.66 **
Physical health            -0.13    1.87
Step 2                                         .15 ***
Attachment anxiety         -0.39    5.36 ***
Attachment avoidance       0.05     0.66
Differentiation of self    -0.02    0.32
Step 3                                         .17 ***
Partner's growth           0.45     7.44 ***
Step 4                                         .04 ***
Self-differentiation x    --       -
Attachment avoidance x     0.19     3-32
F                                              16.49 ***
[R.sup.2]                                      .42 ***

* p<05. ** p<01. *** p<001.
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Author:Taubman-Ben-Ari, Orit; Findler, Liora; Shlomo, Shirley Ben
Publication:Social Work Research
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Mar 1, 2013
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