The purpose of this study was to explore the following research question: “What is the experience of Korean immigrant grandmothers in their relationships with their adolescent, U.S. born grandchildren?”
In the United States, the situation of Korean immigrant grandparents is complicated because they live in two cultures. Immigrant grandparents face struggles not only with their own families, including their grandchildren, but also with the American culture which is considerably different from their Korean traditional culture (Kim, 1997). These foreign-born grandparents tend to be marginalized and have been underrepresented in the research literature (Treas & Mazumdar, 2004). The experience of Korean immigrant grandparents’ relationships with their grandchildren has not been a major focus of the research community, and, thus, their experiences merit further research.
The hermeneutic phenomenological method was employed for this study because this study focuses on Korean immigrant grandmothers’ everyday lives and their own perspectives of their world. Hermeneutic phenomenology is associated with interpretation of experience via some texts or via some symbolic forms (Van Manen, 2003).
The participants in this study were 14 Korean immigrant grandmothers living in Atlanta, Georgia. All of the grandmothers had lived or currently were living with their children and grandchildren. At the time of this study, all the grandmothers had adolescent grandchildren who had been born in the United States. Phenomenological interivews were used to create textual data. The interview texts were analyzed using procedures specified by van Manen (2003) and Dahlberg, Drew, and Nystrom (2008). In addition, songs and poetry were identified to amplify the grandmothers’ experiences.
Six themes were revealed. First, Korean immigrant grandmothers experience profound pain and despair as they lose their connection with their grandchildren. Among the several reasons for this disconnection, the lack of a common lanugage is dominant. Second, the grandmothers experience a longing for social interaction which they do not have with their grandchildren. Third, the grandmothers experience a spatial seperation from their grandchildren—whether or not they are in the same space. Fourth, the grandmothers pine for the past when they had close and caring relationships with their grandchidlren. Fifth, the grandmothers struggle to accept the reality of the changed relationships with their grandchildren. And, sixth, the grandmothers live as Koreans and persist in instilling Korean values and identity in their grandchildren.
The results of this study could be the basis for developing an immigrant grandparenting education program which would ultimately enhance the quality of Korean immigrant grandparents’ lives in the United States.