Grandmothering While Black

Sociologist LaShawnDa L. Pittman writes a powerful ethnography in “Grandmothering While Black,” in which she takes a close look at how kinship background as well as current socio-economic situations that impact the role grandmothers play in homes that require kids to be in their care.

Chapter 1 notes the particular challenges faced by Black mothers — it looks at the effects of “racial, gender, and class inequalities across generations” while the next chapter delves deep into the many ways in which Black grandmothers care for their grandkids. This may include “prioritizing and protecting their grandchildren, nurturing them as a part of their lineage, and equipping them with the tools necessary to achieve success.” None of these are easy to achieve and the author discusses varied situations in depth to showcase how the relationships play out at various stages of kinship caregiving.
Chapters 3 and 4 focus on the many strategies that grandmothers adopt to ensure they continue to provide the best possible care whether they are legally registered to administer such care or it occurs outside of legalized kinship caregiving.

As with many aspects of the child welfare system, there are economic implications of caring for kids without adequate financial support. Pittman writes about the “grandmothers’ fragile financial status and the economic survival strategies they used when the ends did not meet” in Chapter 5.

Beyond the monetary travails, grandmothering often takes a physical toll on these women, which is noted in detail in Chapter 6 of the book. Excerpts from Pittman’s interviews with a number of women who have lived experience of the kind are littered throughout the pages of the book, and bring the reader closer to understanding how those women managed the caregiving. The quotes are delineated well and serve to explain the issues well.

As the author notes at the end of Chapter 6, “Grandparent caregiving contributed to and exacerbated financial fragility and emotional and physical health issues.” She concludes by stating her interviews reveal “the need for major policy changes that prioritize supporting children and shoring up their caregivers, regardless of who they are.”


“Grandmothering While Black; A Twenty-First-Century Story of Love, Coercion, and Survival” by LaShawnDa L. Pittman;
$85.00 (hardcover); $29.95 (paperback and e-book); Pages: 350; ISBN: 9780520389960;

— Reviewed by Sriya Chattopadhyay