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October 25, 2022

Grandparents Supporting Families Affected by Mobile Labour (Families, Mobility, and Work)

Summary of a chapter on labour mobility and intergenerational relationships.

October 25, 2022

In Families, Mobility, and Work – a collection recently published by Memorial University Press that explores the intersection between family lives and work-related mobility – researchers Dr. Christina Murray, BA, RN, PhD; Dr. Doug Lionais, PhD; and Maddie Gallant, BScN, RN, share insights on intergenerational family experiences of labour migration in Atlantic Canada.

Their chapter, “‘Above Everything Else I Just Want to Be a Real Grandparent’: Examining the Experiences of Grandparents Supporting Families Impacted by Mobile Labour in Atlantic Canada,” highlights qualitative research findings on the challenges and opportunities experienced by grandparents who have stepped up to support their younger generations when one or both parents travel long distances and/or are separated from family for work.

This chapter is one of many rich contributions included in Families, Mobility, and Work – a compilation of articles and other knowledge products based on research from the On the Move Partnership. Published in September 2022 by Memorial University Press, this book is now available in print, as an eBook, and as a free open-access volume available in full on Memorial University website.

“All participating grandparents identified challenges related to three overarching themes: increased roles and responsibilities; a struggle between their idealized/anticipated vision of grandparenting and life after retirement and their lived reality; and challenges related to negotiating their relationships with other extended family members.” – Christina Murray, Doug Lionais, and Maddie Gallant

Access Families, Mobility, and Work

Chapter abstract

Until recently, research on interprovincial labour migration in Canada has paid limited attention to the experiences of the family members left behind. The Tale of Two Islands project was a multi-year narrative study that examined how long-distance commuting for work between Cape Breton Island and Prince Edward Island (PEI) and western Canada impacted intergenerational family members, including workers and their spouses and grandparents. As part of this study, conversational interviews were carried out with individual members of ten intergenerational families in PEI and Cape Breton including with thirteen grandparents. Three focus groups including one with grandmothers (N12) and another with grandfathers (N5) were carried out in PEI. This chapter explores the challenges and opportunities experienced by grandparents impacted by long-distance, interprovincial labour migration and their reflections on how this affects their daily lives. Key themes emerging from the interviews and focus groups involving grandparents included the multiple roles and responsibilities grandparents assume as they strive to support their adult children and grandchildren impacted by labour migration; the contrast between their ideal of grandparenting and their lived reality; and the familial and financial pressures they experience. Focus groups included multiple grandparents who have ended up caring for their grandchildren full-time due to parental mental health and addiction problems often linked to mobile work. Their challenges are highlighted, along with recommended steps to help address these challenges.

About the authors

Christina Murray, BA, RN, PhD, is an Associate Professor with the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Prince Edward Island. Her nursing practice has been grounded in public health and community development. Since 2015, Dr. Murray has been leading a program of interdisciplinary, collaborative narrative research focusing on labour migration and its impact on the health of individuals, families, and communities. She was the principal investigator on the Tale of Two Islands study and the Families, Work and Mobility community outreach project and is currently leading a project focused on grandparents raising their grandchildren on PEI. Dr.  Murray is also the recipient of the Vanier Institute’s 2018 Mirabelli-Glossop Award.

Doug Lionais, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Shannon School of Business at Cape Breton University, where he teaches within the MBA in Community Economic Development (CED) program. He received his PhD in Economic Geography from Durham University (UK) after earning a BBA from Cape Breton University. Dr. Lionais’ research focuses on understanding processes of uneven development and the production of depleted communities, local and regional economic development, and forms of alternative economic practice that respond to depletion.

Maddie Gallant, BScN, RN, is a practising obstetrical registered nurse and a passionate advocate for evidenced-based practice and improving patient experiences and outcomes in all areas of health care. Maddie Gallant has played a role in the Tale of Two Islands research study as a research assistant for the duration of the study. She continues to delve into the data uncovered by the study in order to disseminate and translate important findings to other healthcare professionals in the hope of improving patient care for families experiencing labour migration.