The AIDS epidemic in Africa south of the Sahara has left many orphans in its wake. In Kenya alone there are 2 million orphans under 15. Many patriarchal extended families live around Lake Victoria. The old parents are often well looked after by their children. Grandmothers console and encourage their grandchildren, pass on values, teach them what adult life is all about. When the parent generation dies of AIDS, these roles are altered. Grandmothers look after their grandchildren. How does that work?

That question is answered in a major interview study involving 262 grandmothers who bear the full responsibility for raising their orphaned grandchildren, 113 grandmothers with normal responsibilities, and 115 biological mothers. The children’s behavior was also assessed by teachers.

The role of grandmothers changes when they take over the responsibility for their grandchildren. The experience a higher level of stress than ‘ordinary’ grandmothers. Stress was related in both groups to their experience of behavioral problems among their grandchildren and their access to practical and emotional support.

The role of the grandmother is different from that of the mother: in a comparison between grandmothers with orphaned grandchildren and biological mothers, the grandmothers experienced more stress than the mothers. The grandmothers’ stress was associated with advanced age and the demanding new caregiver role. Perceived stress was also related to how many children were being taken care of, how difficult the children were to raise, and what emotional and practical support was available.

The number of risk factors and moderating factors for problem behaviors were compared among 128 orphans and 113 non-orphaned children. Even though the number of risk factors was greater, the orphans did not evince more problems than other children. Nor did the degree of perceived stress among grandmothers affect how the orphans functioned socially. The children’s behavior was related to the caregiver’s perception of her own competence, her good relation to the child, and the practical support available. Tough child-rearing methods were related to the age of the grandmother, her lack of education, her perception of stress, and the child being over the age of six. Tough child-rearing methods used by loving grandmothers counteract risk factors and produced well-adjusted children.

Name of dissertation: Social adjustment of Kenyan orphaned grandchildren, perceived caregiving stress, and discipline strategies used by their fostering grandmothers

Author: Paul Odhiambo Oburu, cell phone: +46 73-919 2241, phone: +46 31-773 16628 (office)
External examiner: Assoc. Professor Marjorie Smith, London
Time and place of public defense: Friday, April 2, 2004, at 10:00 a.m., Hall F1, Department of Psychology, Haraldsgatan 1, Göteborg