Slave grandfather syndrome

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Slave grandfather syndrome

The emergence of the phenomenon of the slave grandfather is due, to a large extent, to the changes that the family structure has undergone in recent decades

Written by Elena García

Last update: December 14, 2022

You may have never heard of it. Nevertheless, the emergence of the phenomenon of the slave grandfather is due, to a large extent, to the changes that the family structure has undergone in recent decades. With the integration of women into the world of work and the increase in life expectancy, more and more elderly people are taking care of their grandchildren. They often do it full time, as a kind of "profession". This, in part, greatly facilitates the famous reconciliation between work and family life.



But where are the limits? Couples should question the true role of their elderly parents and strive to respect their space. Grandparents have already carried the weight of life experiences, marriages, homes, work, children on their shoulders. For them, the third age should be synonymous with tranquility, peace and relaxation. What, then, is the slave grandfather syndrome?

Retirement is a moment experienced as a liberation. A moment of rest and fun. Thus, after a life dedicated to work, the long-awaited period of light-heartedness finally arrives. That of free time to devote to passions and hobbies set aside to give priority to obligations and responsibilities. Yet, situations of stress, anxiety, physical and mental pain can arise.

According to Colubi and Sancho (2016), the slave grandfather syndrome causes a number of psychological and physical symptoms that the elderly suffer due to strong social changes. This set of symptoms inevitably produces both physical and mental consequences.

Family conciliation on the shoulders of grandparents

How important is the role of grandparents in families today? Considering the turbulent times of crisis that have marked the last few years, the support of the elderly has been and is a fundamental pillar in enabling young couples to survive and move forward.



This support was provided in several ways:

  • Financial support: many of the grandparents were "forced" to support children and grandchildren. With the arrival of the crisis, many have taken on the expenses and needs of the extended family with their retirement and some savings.
  • Support for the care of grandchildren: it was the grandparents who took care of the grandchildren, as the children work outside the home for many hours. Extracurricular activities, visits to the doctor, sports, free time ... Without the support of grandparents, many times it would not be possible to do everything. This allowed the children to form their own families without giving up working life.
  • Help with housework: housekeeping, shopping, cooking ... Before the outbreak of the crisis, it was normal to seek help for housekeeping, perhaps by hiring a maid for a few hours a month. When the crisis began to weigh on the family economy, this "luxury" was no longer allowed. Many grandmothers found themselves doing heavy household chores, ending up spending the weekends cooking, filling the lunch boxes with grandchildren and children.

"Old age exists when you start saying: I've never felt so young."

-Jules Renard-

All this, on many occasions, has triggered a dynamic that has severely tested the health and stamina of these elderly people. This results in the slave grandfather syndrome. It is therefore necessary to know how to say "enough" and set limits in order to avoid abuses.


Symptoms of the slave grandfather

“What, a priori, could represent an effective and therapeutic enrichment formula for the elderly and parents, in many cases takes the forms of modern slavery. Where, instead of chains, strong emotional ties are used ”(Soldevilla, 2008).


On the other hand, Grandfather Slave Syndrome does not address the idea that caring for grandchildren and bonding has positive effects. In general, an older person who starts offering this support work can reap several benefits:

  • She feels useful and less alone.
  • Intensify relationships.
  • Feel happiness.
  • It carries out dynamic and new activities.
  • He receives affection from his grandchildren.

However, if this relationship is misdirected and becomes more the fruit of a tacit obligation, it will inevitably also allow decidedly negative consequences to emerge. As in the case of:

  • Tiredness and exhaustion.
  • Health deterioration.
  • Stress.
  • Excessive feeling of attachment.
  • Reduction of social life.
  • Little free time.
  • More opportunities for family discussions.

Don't enslave grandparents!

You have to keep in mind that grandparents don't have the same energy and ability as when they were just parents. In old age, physical and cognitive limitations can arise. It is therefore necessary to set limits and organize a routine in which there is a space that the elderly can manage independently from their grandchildren.


Grandparents have their own interests and needs. They cannot in any way be relegated to the role of "slaves", taking advantage of the excuse of free time and the deep feeling of belonging to the family. It is a selfish game that shows all the elements of exploitation.

Their aspirations, their expectations, their desires must be respected and taken into consideration: they cannot be canceled out! Their opinion, even if it may not seem current, will always be supported by the value of the experience. Especially with regard to human values, where perhaps the human being hasn't changed so much.


In any case, we reiterate it, helping the family must not imply any renunciation on the part of grandparents. Make your decisions with sensitivity and the right measure.

To avoid falling into the slave grandfather syndrome, two elements are essential: good organization and adequate distribution of tasks. In short, a planning that allows parents to organize themselves by relying on grandparents only when strictly necessary or when they want it.

SThey alone have the right to decide how they want to play the role of grandparents.

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