Working Grandparents Relish Their Multitasking, Survey Says

Bar-Ilan University survey examines attitudes toward jobs, family roles.

Nir Keidar

Toby Stupp, a 55-year-old woman in Sha’arei Zion, is at work most of the day – holding a job, keeping house and studying for a degree.

As computer coordinator at the Lady Davis High School in Tel Aviv while holding a similar job at the College of Software Technology and Engineering in Petah Tikva, she works close to two shifts. She also takes care of her aging mother and helps with three grandchildren while in her second year of a master’s program in social work.

“It’s hard for my children today to manage without my help,” Stupp explains. “I collect the children from after-school programs regularly and when they’re not feeling well, I do everything I can.” Stupp admits that such a multifaceted lifestyle creates tensions and conflicts. “I’ll get home a 6 in the evening and want to spread out on the sofa. But no – I stop and say to myself, ‘I’ll go now to check up on mother or to help the children.’”

Stupp is the kind of new grandmother/grandfather who was the subject of research by Prof. Liat Kulik of the Bar-Ilan University School of Social Work.

It’s a stage of life characterized by conflict – between the demands of their jobs in an era when people are extending their working lives into old age, and the demands of children, grandchildren and often by elderly parents as well.

“In the past, the grandparent years were a tranquil stage of life in terms of responsibilities. Most time was dedicated to grandchildren,” says Kulik. “Today, this stage of life, because of advances in technology, demographics and changing values, is likely to be filled with responsibilities.”

Kulik notes that longer life spans mean that many people in their late fifties and sixties still have living parents, which can be very demanding. Also, advances in fertility treatment mean that women can and do give birth at later ages, meaning grandparents can find themselves looking after young children well into the late stage of their own lives.

Kulik’s research surveyed 316 grandparents, all of them still in the labor market, to find out whether they were challenged and fulfilled by the multitasking they face or find it depressing, perhaps even a danger to their health.

What she found is that for most, life is more satisfying now than when they were young or middle aged. “On a scale of one to five, with five showing the greatest satisfaction and one the least, the average response of those surveyed was 4.05, which shows they see their busy lifestyles as positive and even enriching,” says Kulik.

“I love this lifestyle, but it’s exhausting,” Stupp says about her daily routine.

Grandfathers can be involved as much as grandmothers. Yisrael Beitan, 60, married and a resident of Petah Tikva, admitted that he was a distant father when his three daughters were growing up and he was working as a career officer in the air force.

But when his first grandchild, Tamar, was born, her mother, a student, had trouble finding babysitters – so Beitan assumed the responsibility even though he was by then working at a high-tech company.

“Shortly after the birth, I told my superiors I was going down to half time,” he recalls. “Management was surprised and offered to hire a babysitter at the company’s expense. But I refused because I didn’t want to give up on the pleasure of caring for grandchildren. I learned how to change diapers and to feed a baby at the right time.”

After the first year, Beitan returned to full-time work, because it was decided the grandchildren needed other company. Beitan’s wife, Shuli, who heads a municipal social work unit, is also involved despite her workload.

Even so, Beitan is still very much a hands-on granddad. Every Friday he gives his grandson Ofir’s nursery school a lesson in the week’s Torah portion. He and Shuli are caring for Shuli’s mother, especially seeing to her medical care and Shabbat meals.