APOStolic ACTS: MINI-ETHNOGRAPHY OF SENIOR CITIZENS’ CAREGIVING TO GRANDCHILDREN

Introduction

This paper is about Filipino senior citizens as carers to grandchildren, either as their bloodline or as their plain wards. Caring is a way of disposing one’s affection towards children by providing for their needs in a particular social institution – the school. It narrates and consolidates the series of observations made on selected senior citizens in a school setting, particularly the school canteen during lunch time.

The subjects are the senior citizens, referred to as individuals who are considered elderly, especially those who have retired (Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2015). In the Philippines, senior citizens are those who are 60 years old and over, whether retired from work or not (RA 9994). Mandatory retirement is at age 65 years old but retirement may be availed of starting at age 60 years old.

With most usual family responsibilities, alongside career tasks, already done in their younger years, it can be observed that there are many senior citizens who continue to provide care for family members – their still growing up grandchildren. As an extension to their familial duties, caregiving to grandchildren by grandparents has become a universal phenomenon.  Even in a first world country like the United States, the prevalence of caregiving cuts across gender, class, and ethnic lines so that women, recently bereaved parents, and African Americans — have approximately twice the odds of becoming caregiving grandparents (Fuller-Thomson et al 1996; Scommegna and Mossaad 2011).

 

Objectives

This paper describes how senior citizens take care of grandchildren at the school canteen during lunchtime. The primary goals include:

  1. a) to study the senior citizens’ behavior towards the school children they are with as would have occurred in a school canteen during lunch;
  2. b) to describe the senior citizens’ human behavior that is representative of the way it exists in real life; and
  3. c) to observe the senior citizens’ care-giving activities towards grandchildren in a school-setting

 Field Work Methods

I have the privilege entry in the school premises including the school canteen being a parent to two schoolchildren myself; although, I cannot identify myself as one of the carers as I do not go to school for such purpose. My schoolchildren eat their home-prepared lunch at the canteen without any carer. For the purpose of this paper, I made myself a carer of my schoolchildren during lunch for ten schooldays.

To obtain more detailed picture of what transpired between the carers and the schoolchildren at lunchtime, I applied the participant observation method and blended as a complete participant. In the conduct of systematic observation, the natural behavior to observe was the caregiving by the senior citizen towards the schoolchild. Note-taking as my main recording tool, materials used during the observations were notebook and pen.

Like other caregivers, I sat down in one of the benches with food I bought from the school canteen on the table.  Like everyone else, I was there, ready for lunch, waiting for two school children. So, I am like the other caregivers present, I have children with me during lunch time. The only difference was, unlike those two weeks, I did not go to the school canteen on a daily basis before.

The cultural scene at a school canteen where children eat their lunch and the children’s carers would go during lunchtime to provide for the children’s needs. The school canteen was selected as the appropriate observation setting that met two primary considerations, theoretical and practical. Theoretical consideration was that the school canteen is like the schoolchildren’s second dining room where home-like behavior as caregiving towards them could occur during lunch time. Practical consideration was the school canteen is a place where presence does not require permission by the observed, a place where caregiving behavior can be observed even unobtrusively.

Other considerations taken included: the decision to engage in continuous real time observation and the use of focal individual sampling wherein only one person’s behavior is observed per episode. Every onset of behavior (frequency) or elapsed time behavior (duration) is recorded during observational session. The type of systematic observation is structured method. Aspects of caregiving are deemed relevant and activities involved in it were recorded.

The data are presented in narrative form with few themes culled from the text and placed inside matrices for emphasis. The write-up follows the matrix contents: episode date and time, nonverbal actions, linguistics, extra-linguistics and spatial. There is differentiation between relative and non-relative senior citizens in their caregiving activities. Individual actors are presented by episode of observation through detailed descriptions of the events taking place, attached as appendix.

 The Setting

This study is conducted at a school canteen of St. Michael’s College – Basic Education Department in Barangay San Miguel, Iligan City. The school offers kindergarten up to fourth year high school. The school canteen is located on the first floor of the school gymnasium, facing an airy, vast open field school ground, with trees on the sides. It has approximately 253 square meters floor area. There are eight rows of tables with 17 tables in each row. Each table measures about 2 feet wide and 4 feet long, which can accommodate approximately six to eight diners. Each table has bench of the same length on each side, facing each other.  There are numerous ceiling fans lined above in parallel the rows of tables.

The series of observations were done in five episodes of five different senior citizen caregivers spotted in the canteen in a span of ten days. Observation commenced at 11 in the morning and ended by 12.30 noon. The kindergartens first enter the canteen at 11.15AM followed by the graders at 11.30AM then the high school students at 11.45AM. The school bell rings by 12.15noon signifying return to the classrooms by all learners as the noontime prayer is overheard through loud speakers in the school premises.

The Cultural Description

There are a total of five senior citizens observed in this study. All of them looked to be just passed their 60s and not yet in 70s, based on their physical appearance and agility. Only one is male, the rest are females.

These senior citizens provided care for at least one school child up to at most three school children (Table 1). Of the five senior citizen caregivers observed in this study, three are relative of the learners while the two are not.

Table 1. Senior Citizens’ Relationship with the Schoolchildren

No. of children Relative Non-Relative
Male Female Male Female
One 0 2 0 1
Two 1 0 0 0
Three 0 0 0 1

 

Relative Caregivers

Of the three relative caregivers, the two grandmothers provided care for only one schoolchild (Table 1). The lone grandfather took care of two school-children, a boy and a girl.

Notably, while the grandmothers brought with them home-cooked meals during lunch time, the grandfather just brought water and ate with his grandchildren take-out meal brought by his daughter.  Hence, the latter only shared caregiving with the schoolchildren’s mother.

 

Table 2. Relative Senior Citizens’ Caregiving Activities

 

Actor EPISODE NON-VERBAL ACTIONS LINGUISTICS

(words uttered)

EXTRA-LINGUISTICS

(loudness of voice)

SPATIAL

(space management)

# Date Time
Female

 

Relative1

 

(R1)

2 Wed,

6 January 2016

 

11.00 AM – 12.30 PM .examined clothes, took off upper white uniform polo, wiped off the boy’s back with a hand towel

 

. placed a hand towel at the back

 

. took out food container, opened it, took out spoon and fork, and handed them to the boy

 

. spooned food into the boy’s mouth

 

. opened a water container and let the boy drink water

 

ali ngari, tiwasa ni imo pagkaon” (come here and finish your food)

 

mao na siya, bisan sa balay, mag-lakaw-lakaw bisan nagkaon. Mao hungitan na lang gyud para segurado mahurot ang pagkaon niya… Oo, apo nako na siya, anak sa akong nars nga anak.” (He is really like that even at home, he keeps on walking while eating. That’s why I just feed him to be sure his food are all eaten.. yes, he is my grandson from my daughter who is a nurse)

. soft but firm voice

 

 

 

 

. seated beside each other

 

. intimate

 

. spooned food to child’s mouth

Male

 

(R2)

3  

 

11.00 AM – 12.30 PM . served  water

. wiped back

. put hand towel on back

. spent time  in the swing with grandson

 

Inaudible

 

Very low voice it cannot be heard 2 meters away

. closer to each other

 

.sat beside each other

Female

 

(R3)

4  

 

11.00 AM – 12.30 PM . brought, served food and water

 

wiped back

. put hand towel on back

 

. Asked how the child was  

 

 

. soft and sweet voice

. closer to each other

 

. hugged the child

 

.sat beside each other

 

Non-Relative Caregivers

The two non-relative caregivers are all females. The first, NR1, took care for only one female schoolchild while the second, NR2, has a handful three schoolchildren to attend to – a girl and two boys. Both brought with them home-cooked meals during lunch time.

 

Table 3. Non-Relative Senior Citizens’ Caregiving Activities

 

ACTOR EPISODE NON-VERBAL ACTIONS LINGUISTICS

(words uttered)

EXTRA-LINGUISTICS

(loudness of voice)

SPATIAL

(space management)

# Date Time
Female

 

Non-Relative 1

(NR1)

1 Tues,

5 January 2016

11.10 AM – 12.12 PM

(1hr & 2mins)

. opened food container, placed in front of the  child

. handed spoon and fork

. poured down water and placed it beside the girl’s food

. checked on the girl’s back and adjusted the girl’s ponytailed hair

 

Inaudible

 

 

 

Very low voice it cannot be heard 2 meters away

 

.Seated on the same table, beside each other and in front of one another, but there is no physical intimacy like hugging or kissing

 

.wiping of back

 

.fixing of hair

Female

 

(NR2)

5  

 

11.00 AM – 12.30 PM . brought, served food and water

 

wiped back

. put hand towel on back

 

 

Inaudible

 

Very low voice it cannot be heard 2 meters away

.closer to each other

 

.sat in front of each other

Differences in Caregiving Activities among Relative and Non-Relative Senior Citizens toward Schoolchildren in the School Canteen

This section describes the senior citizens’ observed caregiving activities in relation to time, nonverbal actions, linguistics, extra-linguistics, and spatial.

Time

All of the caregivers entered the school canteen 15 to 30 minutes before the school children emerged out of their classrooms. Every day, it can be observed that they positioned themselves in the same spot inside the school canteen. It can be deduced that the specific area is their agreed common space for dining. Such regularity assures and provides secure feelings to the children. When they arrive, they are sure that their carers await them in the same area. That they have food set for them to fill their hungry stomach. The schoolchildren upon entering the canteen directly head towards them.  Their stay ranged from 50 to 75 minutes. They usually leave the school canteen after the bell rang at 12.15 noon.

Nonverbal Actions

There are common caregiving activities that the caregivers have done towards the school children at the school canteen.  These included bringing of food and water inside the school canteen, getting the food and drinking water ready on the table, checking of the child’s back, wiping and putting hand towel on the child’s back, and fixing of a girl child’s hair. These appeared to be the basic needs of the schoolchildren, which the senior citizen caregivers readily provided for them, notwithstanding their relationship.

What differs was the extra-care that bonds relationship.  It is that something observable between blood-related grandparents-grandchildren.  There is that fondness of the grandparents toward the child that is seemed amiss in the non-relative. The non-relative seemed mechanical in their dealing with the children.  But, the grandparents openly kissed or hugged their grandchildren as the latter approached their table.

The male caregiver did not bring food, only drinking water. It was the mother of the children who brought take-outs from McDonald’s. But this grandfather took and spent time to casually sit down with his grandson in a swing in the school playground. Not one female caregiver did this bonding activity.

Linguistics

At least two caregivers’ message can be heard of out of the five caregivers. The rest of the caregivers, while they talked to the children, were inaudible at two meters distance from them.  There is also the element of uncontrolled noise inside the school canteen with approximately 140 tables. The way the caregivers talked with the children differs among relative and non-relative. The former appeared more intimate and friendly when they talked while the latter seemed to limit their conversation and did not show endearment.

Extra-Linguistics

The caregiver relative, a grandmother with one schoolchild, whose language was heard of, spoke in a soft but firm voice that the child obeyed.  Her behavior is similar to what she usually does even in their house. The rest of the caregivers spoke in low tone so they were difficult to decipher or lip read.

Spatial

The caregivers stay proximate with the school children they attended to during lunch.  While eating, either they are seated in front or beside the school children. The distance between them sheds off when the caregivers touch the school children’s back to check on possible wetness.

Though there is similar distance among them, it is notable among the relative caregivers to naturally close the distance between them and the children through their hugs and kisses.  These are missing among the non-relative caregivers who seemed formal and distant from the children even when they are physically close to them.

 

Conclusions

Caregiving activities towards school children are commonly done by relative or non-relative senior citizens. They brought home-cooked food, water, and set the food in front of the children. Anticipating needs during the lunching process, the carers handed utensils and drinking water whenever there is a need, despite non-request from the children. These senior citizens show proficiency and mastery in caring for the growing schoolchildren. All of them periodically checked and wiped the backs of the children. These caregiving activities are expected to be carried out towards the children and everyone did so naturally.

Slight differences lie on the language spoken, though not audible from two meters distance, the relative caregivers spoke to the children in a sweet way showing more intimate relationship between blood-related than those who are not. There was a notable formality in how the non-relative caregiver dealt with the children.  There seemed to be the presence of an invisible barrier between them.

It was notable that despite the grandfather’s presence, there was a mother for the two children during lunch time. This led to the minimal activities the grandfather could do compared to the grandmothers. The grandfather’s presence suggested a supporting role for him in caregiving since the mother is there. Although, the grandfather took time to have a short bonding in the swing with the grandson that not one of the grandmothers had done even to their granddaughters.

The grandparents showed natural intimacy towards the children, like meeting them as they arrived inside the school canteen, talking to them in a buddy manner.  The children showed more listened to their own grandparents than their nannies.

 

Appendix

OBSERVATIONAL SESSIONS

This section presents in detail the five observational sessions at the school canteen in a span of ten days. Every session, the focus is on one caregiver to have an undivided attention towards the subject during the whole period.

Observational Session 1

Actor: non-relative, female

Episode 1: Tuesday, 5 January 2016; 11.00 AM – 12.30 PM

At 11.10 in the morning, this actor, who looks like in her mid-60s, entered the school canteen carrying a large brown tote bag. She was dressed in a loose gray shirt on top of a loose below the knee brown skirt, and a pair of slippers. Her hair, black with streaks of white, is like that of a man’s usual cut, up to her nape. She has a light brown skin complexion; her facial expression is that of a no-nonsense person, not friendly or smiling, just a civil one. She headed towards the farthest left table in the school canteen. It’s the left most table in a row of 17 tables near the canteen counters and food displays.

This short-haired grandmother sat on the table, facing the canteen entrance, her back on the counters.  On the table, in front of her, were 3 yellow Tupperware glasses, one 2-liter Coleman water container, three food containers. She sat there waiting for the learners to arrive.  The setting in front of her appears so ready for lunch eating.

At 11.17 in the morning, a girl of about 6 years old, in ponytail approached the actor’s table and directly sat down on the bench facing the actor. The actor opened one food container and placed it in front of the girl. The actor then handed the girl spoon and fork. The girl began eating her lunch. The actor seated in front of the girl saying nothing, alternately looked at the girl and around her where other schoolchildren also ate. The actor poured down water from the Coleman into a yellow plastic glass and placed it beside the girl’s food.

As the clock ticked 11.50 near noon, learners emerged out of their respective classrooms; most were headed towards the school canteen. While the girl continued to eat, a boy of about 11 years old approached the table and sat down beside the actor. The actor opened a food container, placed it in front of the boy and handed him spoon and fork. The actor poured down water from the Coleman into another yellow glass and placed it beside the boy’s food. The two children ate in silence and the actor simply sat there, observing them. The girl finished her food, drank water and stood up.  The actor stood up too and checked on the girl’s back and adjusted the girl’s ponytailed hair. Then off the girl she went out of the school canteen and headed back towards her classroom. The actor placed the used spoon and fork inside the used food container and placed inside a large brown tote bag.

At 11.55AM, an adolescent boy of about 15 years old approached the table and sat down where the girl earlier sat. The actor opened another food container and placed it in front of the teener. This time the school canteen was filled with noise from simultaneous chatting of diners and clicking of utensils.  One cannot anymore hear someone’s voice if not seated on the same table. The younger boy was done eating, pushed his food container towards the middle of the table and stood up.  The actor stood too and checked on his back and he hurriedly left the school canteen, walked towards a three-floor building where his classroom is on the second floor. The older boy continued eating while the actor poured down cold water from the Coleman to another yellow glass and placed it beside the teener’s food.

The teener ate for only 6 minutes and when he was done, he pushed his empty food container towards the center of the table. He drank water, continued to sit there and faced the other diners, probably his classmates, seated on the next table. The actor placed all the used spoon and fork inside the used food containers. Then she put the covered food containers, Coleman, plastic glasses inside the large brown tote bag. At 12.12 noon, she stood up, picked up the bag, said something to the teener in an expressionless face, and left.

Observational Session 2

Actor: relative, female

Episode 2: Wednesday, 6 January 2016; 11.00 AM – 12.30 PM

This actor, with looks of someone in her late-60s, entered the school canteen at 11.20AM with a black shoulder bag on her right shoulder and a white eco-bag on her left hand. She wore a red floral polo, brown slacks and a pair of an inch elevated sandals. She has a fair skin with visible light brown pigmentations on her arms. Her hair is colored light brown and shortly-cropped. Her face has that smiling and friendly countenance.  She proceeded to the farthest table to the left side of the canteen. She put her bags on the table and sat down. She opened her black shoulder bag and took out beauty product catalogs and handed them over to other women caregivers nearby her. She chatted with the possible customers for minutes.

At 11.50AM, when learners emerged out of their classrooms and headed towards the school canteen, a boy of about 9 years old approached the table where the actor is. The boy looked robust. The actor stood up to meet the boy. She examined his clothes, took off the boy’s upper white uniform polo, retained the white undershirt, and wiped off the boy’s back with a hand towel. She placed a hand towel at the back of the boy’s undershirt and led him to sit on the bench. She took out the food container, opened it, took out spoon and fork, and handed them to the boy. The boy started eating, but after just three spoons, the boy got up and roamed around talking to other school children nearby.

The actor called the boy, “ali ngari, tiwasa ni imo pagkaon” (come here and finish your food), and the boy went back to the table. He stood in front of the table and opened his mouth as the food was spooned into it. Then the boy roamed again. The actor answered another caregiver beside her, “mao na siya, bisan sa balay, mag-lakaw-lakaw bisan nagkaon. Mao hungitan na lang gyud para segurado mahurot ang pagkaon niya… Oo, apo nako na siya, anak sa akong nars nga anak.” (He is really like that even at home, he keeps on walking while eating. That’s why I just feed him to be sure his food are all eaten.. yes, he is my grandson from my daughter who is a nurse).

The rest of the lunch was eaten in that manner, the grandmother spooned food into the boy’s mouth then he would roam around. The grandmother opened a water container and let the boy drink water from it. She took out another food container and ate her lunch. When she was done eating, she called the boy, took out the hand towel from his back and let him wear his white polo uniform. She also put talcum on the boy’s back, briefly hugged him and bade him goodbye as the boy went out of the school canteen. The grandmother packed all the used food containers and utensils, put them back inside the eco-bag. She said she would go to her direct-selling business establishments and would come back later to fetch the boy.

 

Observational Session 3

Actor: relative, male

Episode 3: Monday, 11 January 2016; 11.00 AM – 12.30 PM

This tall 6-footer, handsome grandfather, who looked like in his mid-60s, arrived inside the school canteen at about 11.30 in the morning. He wore a cap on his head, a white t-shirt, gray knee-length cargo pants, and thick black slide sandals. He carried a small eco-bag with visible water containers inside. He proceeded to sit in the middle section of the left side of the school canteen. At 11.40AM, a woman entered the school canteen, approached his table and handed him a brown paper bag. He placed it in the side of the table and sat there with the woman sitting opposite him.

At 11.50AM, when learners entered in the school canteen, a boy of about 9 years old approached them. The boy is undeniably overweight. The boy took the woman’s hand and placed it on to his forehead. He did the same with his grandfather. The woman was the grandfather’s daughter, the boy’s mother. The woman took out the cartoon boxes of food containers from the paper bags – McDonald’s take-outs. The grandfather took out the water bottles, a 750ML green bottle and a 1-liter violet bottle. Then the three of them ate their lunch together. They looked like they were eating inside their own dining table.

After 5 minutes, a girl of about 11 years old approached their table. She also did take the elders’ hand just like her younger brother. The grandfather took out the last McDonald’s pack from the paper bag and handed it to his granddaughter who sat beside her mother. The grandfather attended more his grandson while the mother attended the girl. He checked on him now and then while they ate. He adjusted the hand towel on the boy’s back. He shredded the chicken on the boy’s lunch box.  He opened the water bottle for the boy, poured out water on the bottle’s cover, and handed it to the boy.

After they have eaten, the grandfather and the boy went out of the school canteen and headed towards the swing. There they sat and spent the next 10 minutes together swinging. Then the bell rang, signifying the learners’ return into their classrooms. The grandfather brought back his grandson inside the school canteen. He removed the hand towel from the boy’s back and let him wear hi white polo uniform. Along with his sister, the children proceeded back to their respective classrooms. The grandfather stayed for 10 minutes more after his daughter left.

 

Observational Session 4

Actor: relative, female

Episode 4: Tuesday, 12 January 2016; 11.00 AM – 12.30 PM

At 11.20 in the morning, this actor entered the school canteen and proceeded to the mid-section of the left side of the canteen. She settled on a vacant table. She appeared to be in her later 60s.  Her shoulder-length hair is well dyed in black color, waves of curls were clearly well tended, and the front sections were neatly clipped to the upper sides of her head.  She wore a black blouse with half-inch diameter of white polka dots, black slacks and a pair of 1-inch black sandals. She carried a black shoulder bag on her right shoulder and an insulated lunch box on her left hand. She put the lunch box on the table and proceeded to the school canteen’s food counter. After 5 minutes, she brought two bowls of food, a bottle of iced tea and two bottles of water on a tray back to the table. She placed the tray on the table and sat on the bench. She seemed busy arranging her things inside her shoulder bag. She checked on her cellular phone and attended to it in the next minutes.

At 11.52 in the morning, a boy of about 8 years old came to the table.  The actor stood up and in smiles hugged the boy and asked the child how he is, to which the child answered that he is okay. She checked on his back and placed a hand towel there. Then the boy was seated beside her. She opened the lunch box, took out the two-piece food containers, opened them and placed both in front of the boy. From the bag she took out two pairs of spoon and fork for the both of them. She asked the child to say the grace for the food and boy recited a short prayer for the food. Then they started to eat their lunch. She opened the iced tea bottle and gave it to her grandson. She opened the two water bottles for each of them. As the child drank the iced tea, she checked again on the boy’s back, adjusted the hand towel and wiped the child’s head. The two conversed in a friendly manner, like they are good buddies.

 

Observational Session 5

Actor: non-relative, female

Episode 5: Thursday, 14 January 2016; 11.00 AM – 12.30 PM

This actor, who looked like in her early 60s, arrived at the school canteen at around 11.10 in the morning. She wore a loose yellow-black stripe blouse over a loose gray knee-length skirt and a pair of slippers. Her straight black hair with streaks of white passed below her nape. She carried a black medium-sized eco-bag and proceeded towards the middle section of the canteen. She put the bag on the table and sat down on the bench, waited for her ward to arrive. She seemed amused as she watched the various activities around her.

At 11.55 in the morning, a girl who looked like 10 years old approached the table where the actor is. The girl sat down on a bench in front of the actor and the latter immediately checked on the girl’s back and wiped the insides with a hand towel. She tied the girl’s hair into a ponytail then took out a food container from the eco-bag, opened it and placed it in front of the girl. The actor handed the girl spoon and fork and child started eating. The actor watched as the girl ate her lunch.

While child ate, took out a water bottle, poured water into a cup and placed beside the food. The actor attentively watched over the girl as the latter continued to eat her lunch. After the girl finished her food, the actor checked on the girl’s back again and fixed the girl’s hair. The girl remained seated while talking to another girl on the next table. The actor then took out from the bag another food container and ate her lunch. When was done eating, she packed everything back inside the eco-bag. She sat there watching the child until the bell rang and the child went back to her classroom.

The actor went out of the school canteen and proceeded to the waiting area inside the school campus, at the right side of the main gate.  In this area, there are about twenty caregivers seated, waiting for their wards until end of classes in the afternoon, between 3.30 and 4.30 PM.

 

References:

Burton, Erlinda M. 2016. Lecture Notes on Qualitative Research Methods. Cagayan de Oro City: Xavier University.

Fuller-Thomson, E., Minkler, M., and Driver, D. 1997. A Profile of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren in the United States. The Gerontologist, 37 (3):406-411.

Merriam-Webster. 2015. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.  USA: New York.

RA 9994. Expanded Senior Citizen’s Acts of 2010. Republic of the Philippines Congress Records.

Scommegna, Paola and Mossaad, Nadwa. 2011. The Health and Well-Being of Grandparents Caring for Grandchildren. Population Reference Bureau Report.

WHO. 2016. Definition of an older or elderly person. World Health Organization. Retrieved on 15 October 2016 from WHO webpage: http://www.who.int/healthinfo/survey/ageingdefnolder/en/

Posted on January 9, 2017, in PARENTing, Sociological and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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