The second empty nest: The lived experience of older women whose intensive ‘grandmotherhood’ has ended

Yarin Cohen, Gabriela Spector-Mersel*, Sharon Shiovitz-Ezra

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Grandmothers are the major nonparental unpaid source of childcare in Western societies. Intensive caring for grandchildren may pose challenges to some grandmothers, but also offers an opportunity to refill the ‘empty nest’ often experienced in mid-life. When grandmothers' intensive involvement in their grandchildren's care decreases significantly or ceases altogether, they may experience a recurrence of the empty nest syndrome. This may be particularly powerful in the familial and pro-natalist Israeli society, where caring for children is a central tenet of femininity. Despite the growing numbers of grandmothers whose intensive involvement in caring for their grandchildren has ended, this transition has been overlooked socially and rarely examined empirically. To fill this void, the present study examined the lived experience of these grandmothers and the relevance of the concept of the ‘second empty nest’ in this context. Within a phenomenological study, in-depth interviews were conducted with 11 Israeli women whose intensive ‘grandmotherhood’ (childcare occurring at least three times per week, for at least two hours each day, for a minimum of two years) has ended. These interviews were analyzed according to Moustakas' phenomenological analysis. The analysis revealed four themes: the circumstances of the cessation of intensive childcare involvement; difficulties and challenges experienced; positive aspects associated with it; and behavioral and cognitive strategies utilized to cope with the void in grandmothers' lives. The grandmothers' experiences reveal a significant similarity to that reported by mothers undergoing the empty nest syndrome. Hence, we offer the term ‘the second empty nest’ to represent the phenomenon of grandmothers' cessation of intensive childcare. Alongside the similarities between the two empty nests, the challenges of the second transition seem more intense than those posed by the first. This is due to the different locations of mothers and grandmothers across the lifespan and the intersection between sexism and ageism that underlies Western societies. Possible practices to assist grandmothers undergoing the second empty nest are suggested.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number101163
JournalJournal of Aging Studies
Volume66
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Inc.

Keywords

  • Empty nest syndrome
  • Grandmothers
  • Second empty nest

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