Hillary Clinton is receiving attention again for weighing in on the current vaccine debate. She tweeted, “The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let’s protect all our kids.” However, the attention she is getting is not for her vaccine views but her hashtag: “#GrandmothersKnowBest.” Political blogs are discussing her use of the grandma role as a political maneuver for the upcoming Presidential election.
Apparently, Clinton has taken to referring to her granddaughter Charlotte regularly during political appearances. After the birth, she even claimed a “grandmother glow.” While Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard finds her grandmother comments “creepy” and others joke about a “Granny State” (though I wonder whether they would say the same about a man in the role of an elder statesman), her use of her role as grandmother doesn’t surprise or disturb me. Sure, you can describe it as a political maneuver to try to make her appear more warm and human. She may also just enjoy talking about her granddaughter (my own mom rarely makes an appearance without referring to her own grandchildren), but I think she recognizes the power of a potentially new political force: Move over soccer mom, make way for grandma.
I’ve talked about grandparenting before in my previous posts and, as I myself embark upon the adventure of intergenerational living, the subject is certainly on my mind in a most personal way. However, I’ve also begun research in this area. Contemporary cultural notions of grandparents are changing. Cultural, economic, technological, and social factors are giving rise to a new generation of grandparents as baby boomers age. Thanks to rising percentages of longevity, grandparents have more time to develop relationships with their grandchildren. Apps like FaceTime and Skype allow my parents to spend time with my sister’s children, even though they are across the country. Language itself is shifting, as children have adopted new words to refer to their great grandparents on a regular basis (“gigi” is becoming a popular endearment for the great grandmother). Children more often have opportunities to establish relationships with grandparents that last long past their adolescent years.
Clinton and others should recognize this emerging group, which comes with not just voting power but also wisdom and the ability to connect with and influence two generations of their living descendents. If politicians are known to pander to political constituencies, it should be no surprise that grandparents can become a political force. Do Clinton’s critics harbor an innate bias that the elderly are more vulnerable? Are grandmas supposed to be all nurturing, with no political motive to act publically? I’m glad Clinton is acknowledging her inner grandma. I hope I get the chance one day, too. Maybe “grandmapPhD” will be my future?
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