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Grandparents find themselves taking the initiative in providing for youngsters

For eight years Dana Moustafa* lived with her husband and children in her parent’s basement. Her husband’s job was inconsistent and her parent’s home was close to her job. What started out as a temporary arrangement to help a tough situation turned into grandparents completely running a household, marginalizing the parent’s role in their children’s lives.

Moustafa is one in a growing generation of parents affected by grandparents‘ involvement in their grandchildren’s lives.

”Grandparents are increasingly taking the role of parenting because of economic problems and the need of parents to work,” says Dr. Heba Wagih Kotb Assistant Professor of Psychology at the American University in Cairo. “

With more years of work, grandparents naturally have acquired more savings than their own children who have become parents. Economic changes also mean demands have increased. For example, tuition fees for schools would not exceed around 7,000 Egyptian pounds for a year in a good private school in the 80’s and 90’s. Now prices for what is considered an A-class school has currently reached 40 to 50,000 Egyptian pounds per year.

Although it was difficult, Moustafa and her husband made the decision to move which took them far from her parent’s home. The move from her parents‘ house caused a rift between Moustafa and them. “I felt they felt, if we’re not helping the kids what are we here for,” Moustafa says of her parents. When she moved out they were heartbroken at first, but she believes her life with her husband and children is a healthier one.

During the eight years in her parent’s home, Moustafa would try to buy groceries every once in a while but it ended up that her mother would just do the shopping for them. Moustafa says the few times she entertained guests, she would do the shopping but living with her parents put strong limitations on her family. With her children, her parents were the true heads of the household, not her and her husband.

In a culture where the father’s masculinity is defined by how well he provides for his family, the involvement of grandparents financially can sometimes lead to competition between the two families.

The close proximity of many families in their living accommodations as well as the large number of family businesses where the sons go on to work with their fathers making them clearly aware of the details of their children’s financial affairs allows for well meaning grandparents wanting to pay for things for their grandchildren.

Nour Soliman, an 18-year-old student says while her relationship with her grandparents is your typical “visit your grandparents for Friday lunch” relationship, many of her friends live in the same compound as their grandparents.

Now preparing for their High School senior year finals, many of these students move to their grandparents homes to be able to study, meaning everyday expenses are usually on the grandparents. Soliman says, “it is very normal to go hangout at a friend’s grandparents house, most of the time it is just an extension of their own home.”

Lina Mohamed’s* grandfather promised to get her a laptop. That evening her father, who had heard the conversation between her and her grandfather came home with a brand new laptop for her. Mohamed is 15 years old, she has two younger siblings and her parents have been married for 17 years now. Although her parents are capable of sustaining her and her siblings, her grandparents still feel the need to contribute.

Sally Abdullah*, Mohamed’s mother says it was never a problem that her parents helped out with certain things until her sister-in-law drew her husband’s attention to these contributions, making him feel emasculated that he accepts the assistance.

Abdullah recalls how the grandmothers were each jumping at the chance to be the first to get her daughter her first phone.

Now with Mohamed preparing for college, her grandparents on both sides are racing to reassure her parents that regardless of their financial situation, they should not worry about paying for college. However, Abdullah’s husband feels it is their responsibility and they are not planning to take the assistance, what will happen however is not clear.

With the disturbance in the economy which has affected a great number of Egyptians, Mohamed’s family are urging her to consider other universities just in case they can not pay for her first choice, her first choice being the college both her parents and her grandparents graduated from.

Sherine Ibrahim, managing director of Trillium nursery says parents bring in their children’s grandparents a lot to have a look at the nursery. She says most of the time it is to show them why their children’s nursery is so expensive. Ibrahim says a lot of the time grandparents help pay for their grandchildren’s tuition. Or, “it is to justify to the in laws why their son is paying so much for a nursery.”

Grandparents of all social classes are contributing to their grandchildren’s upbringing. El-Tahera Shafiq works as a housemaid, while she spends most of the week living at her employer’s home, her daughter’s family lives at her home. Her son-in-law has an unstable income, and like many men of his generation who have not completed an education relies on his mother in law who gets a stable monthly salary to provide for his two children.

Shafiq’s daughter, who is educated, remains at home with her toddler and infant whiles her 65-year-old mother goes to work. Shafiq lives for her grandchildren providing them with food and clothing. Raising her own four children as a single mother who was widowed while her youngest daughter was still an infant, Shafiq’s role as provider simply stuck, it is a given that she will provide for her grandchildren. A situation that Shafiq may sometimes resent due to her dwindling strength as she gets older, but quickly dismisses because as the Egyptian saying goes, “the dearest of your children are your grandchildren.”

* These names were changed to avoid family problems. 

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