Grandparents Across the Ocean: Eastern European Immigrants Struggle to Maintain Intergenerational Relationships

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Many contemporary immigrants belong to transnational families-families that maintain significant contact with two or more countries. These families identify with multiple environments and deal with life-cycle changes over extensive geographical space. This paper has two major aims: 1) to better understand how today's immigrant families facilitate intergenerational relationships across significant distances; and 2) to learn more about the understudied population of recent immigrant professionals from Eastern Europe in the United States. To accomplish these aims, in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with 24 immigrant mothers and fathers from Eastern European countries residing in the United States. Based on grounded theory methodology, we identified four themes: (1) The definition of "family" and the importance of extended family ties: "The relationships are tighter knit than those in the U.S."; (2) The role of grandparents in childrearing: "Who else do you think is more appropriate?"; (3) The strategies of maintaining intergenerational relationships: "I want my son to know his predecessors' language"; and (4) The stress of being torn between two worlds: "I don't want to be happy at the expense of my extended family." Our findings suggest that, in spite of advances in communication and travel, and a strong desire for continuation of intergenerational relations in immigrant families, emotional transnationalism is not easily achieved.

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