• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Don’t Anger A Grandma

The travel ban.

July 5, 2017

The Trump Administration’s latest travel ban is yet another controversial move to limit entry to the United States. Last week, the Supreme Court, which will wade into the issue in the next year, left clear that for now the ban could not be imposed on people who “…had a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

The meaning of this “bona fide” relationship is vague and now the subject of great debate. As detailed in the New York Times from a diplomatic cable, The Trump Administration has decided that “close family” includes a parent and parent-in-law, spouse, child, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, and sibling. Missing from this list are grandparents and grandchildren. The administration says that it has based this new travel restriction on existing law and diplomatic guidelines. I’m certainly no expert on immigration law, but I have been studying something that clearly the administration doesn’t get and they would be wise to think about: the evolving roles of grandparents.

I’ve been working to understand how the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren in the 21st Century has changed. What the Trump Administration may not get is that this relationship often is much more connected and closer than ever before. First, there are simply more of them. As this New York Times piece illustrates, as more people in wealthier countries live longer, a larger group will reach the grandparent phase of life. Second, they are often in an intertwined relationship of care. As studied by the Pew Research Center, grandparents are increasingly playing important roles in helping their children with childcare and more families are beginning to think about how to help their parents with future senior care. Third, the grandparent world is becoming a stage all of its own, with products and services marketed to them. Many people in the middle and upper classes have reinvented their roles as newfound nurturers. However, for those in more vulnerable positions, grandparenting is necessary for survival of the family. 

One thing I’ve also discovered while talking to grandparents around the world is that the connection to their grandchildren is often a visceral one, and the bond that the grandchildren have towards their grandparents is filled with affection but also a real commitment to each other’s success. A travel ban that ignores the influence of this group is a dangerous one, in my opinion, not only for the integrity of the family but also politically. As the Baby Boomers continue to age, this is the group that is now identifying themselves as grandparents. This generation has proven time and again that, when they are motivated and recognize their power, they can change the world. When this group is told that a family connection that is so valued to them does not matter as much as other family relationships, it may motivate them to action. I imagine that a group with the only thing to lose is a meaningful connection to their grandchildren, would be a fury unleashed. Declare grandparents as not a bone fide connection, and you risk mobilizing this entire generation of active grandparents against you.


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