What's Happening to the American Family : Interview with Dr. Margaret Mead, Noted Anthropologist

Dr. Margaret Mead, discusses the changed pattern of American home life.

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Q  "Ghettos"?

A  They are special preserves where only older people may live. In some, no one under 50 is allowed—like a maternity ward in reverse. As someone said of these places recently, "They're programed for death."

Instead of having the older people near the growing children and being part of the community, they're putting them away in these boxes.

Q  Could grandparents really contribute to a family?

A  I think older people know much more about change than young people. What children have to learn is how to live in a changing world.

These children that are born now think the world was made the way it is today—complete with transistors. They need someone who gives them some kind of perspective—someone who can convince them that you could be born in one world, grow up in another, and grow old in a third.

Q  And could grandparents do that for them?

Grandparents could give them an idea it's possible.

Q  Anything else they could do?

A whole lot. As people marry younger and have children younger, we have younger grandparents. They're healthier. They're more likely to be alive, vigorous, with lots of time. So I think we ought to fit grandmothers into the life of the community much more.

Q  What about grandfathers?

Grandfathers, too. But grandmothers are the ones that have the most time. Grandfathers are still actively working today, in most cases.

Q  Living apart as most of them do, what could these grandmothers do in the life of the family?

A  I think we could have G-TA's—Grandmother-Teacher Associations. Grandmothers should be still tied into the school, should be going to the school, helping the school, conferring with the teachers about Jimmy's spelling and Suzy's arithmetic. They should be doing a lot of the chauffeuring. They have the time—much more time than young mothers.

Furthermore, that way we would not be turning grandmothers into cranky, disgruntled taxpayers. Now we graduate mothers from the P-TA the day their last child leaves school.

We say, "You don't belong any more." And so they get cut off from the whole school life of the community. Instead of being an asset, they're often just a group of rather unhappy critics.