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Holes in the Family Tapestry

What is “The Lacuna Effect?”

According to the dictionary, a “lacuna” is a “hole,” a blank space or a missing part.  How does this term apply to grandparent/parent relations?

In  our book “Grandparents-Grandchildren- the Vital Connection,” we explained that most grandparents and parents that we spoke to in our research study had a lacuna– a lack of understanding–  about the importance of the grandparent-parent-grandchild relationship.

The New Social Contract

Why?  The reasons we uncovered led us to formulate the “new social contract.”  The contract states that there is an unwritten agreement between today’s parents and grandparents; that grandparents play no meaningful role in the family; that the nuclear family is the contemporary family’s primary structure, and that grandparents are no longer directly involved with their grandchildren.  Social institutions and paid strangers will pick up the slack left by the grandparents’ who no longer are able to serve as the family’s emotional underpinning.

The lacuna effect and the new social contract are interwoven.  Because of the contract, many parents and grandparents have a lacuna in how they view their family.  They no longer think of themselves in terms of generational continuity.  They do not see themselves as emotionally, genetically or spiritually attached to one another.  Too many people define their self image not by their emotional attachments, but by their work, status, title and income.

The lacuna has become a black hole where feelings are repressed, frustration with the contract is stored away and loneliness smolders.  The new social contract has isolated us from one another. The lacuna afflicts a great many people – from parents who push loving grandparents away from their children to grandparents who move far away to retire when their children and grandchildren need them desperately.

Even the professional community is effected.  Too many mental health and legal professionals espouse the nuclear family as the standard family structure, ignoring the health and support the 3- and 4-generational family offers. An esteemed anthropology professor in a recent review of “Grandparents-Grandchildren, states the social sciences case:

Nuclear vs. Multi-Generational Family

“The nuclear unit is structurally and organizationally isolated from those outside the household unit and, as a result, the influence of elders.  Any intervention of the older generation is a serious violation of the norm of noninterference that regulates the relationship between the generations.  Any actions the grandparents take is mediated and often constrained by the parents.  Whatever the fallout from these realities, few family scholars would suggest that these social facts could be changed by reform movement…”

The writer’s observation of the predominant family state of affairs is correct.  But the comment, “few family scholars would suggest that these social facts could be changed by reform movement” is less so.  For many of today’s families, these “social facts” are not facts at all.

On a national tour to discuss my book, “The Grandparent Guide,”  I met many people of all ages who were well aware of the emotional price they were paying for adhering to the new social contract.  Troubled by this, these people were actually exploring the depths of the lacuna in their lives.  There are a growing number of people who realize the “social fact” of the nuclear family system is not etched in stone.  They realize they have the power to change their own family structure.

I’ve had grandparents tell me they met with their family and planned a mutual future together.  Parents report they have called the elders together in their family for the same purpose.  I had a grandchild tell me that he “parked himself” at his busy grandparents’ house to get closer to them.  Every time a new baby comes along, families have a chance to start all over again.

So it seems society is making headway into this problem, but complete change will not happen overnight.  The lacuna must be filled before people take action.  Remember that elders can set the tone for their children and grandchildren.  They are the oldest and most experienced members of the family.  They are an asset to their children and grandchildren if they use their gifts wisely.


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  1. Cathy Smith January 11th, 2013

    I am a single woman without children. Even though I never had children, I would like to be a grandparent. I have a lot of time and a lot of love. I need involvment with family. Mine is VERY small at this point and I am looking to be “adopted” by a family. I have found one US website called Surrogate Grandparenting which allows people like me to “advertise” our availability and families looking for grandparents to do the same. But the site is new and there are few people who are using it. There are no families in my state, let alone my area. Do you know of any other sites that would give me more of an opportunity to find a family in need of a grandparent?

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