Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

The Grandmas Are In the House.

by Meredith O’Brien


Move over “mommy wars.” The grandmas are in the house. Baby Boomer grandmas -- being described as “glam-mas” in some circles – are forewarned to be on guard. They seem to be in the media’s crosshairs.


This past week, the Boston Globe [1] portrayed today’s grandmothers -- in a story entitled “Nana vs. Nana” -- as locked in cut-throat competition with one another for the affections of their grandchildren. “Oh, Grandma of yore, you sweet little old lady, where have you gone?” the Globe asked. “To the mall, it seems, to score just the right toy to outshine the other grandmother. Or online, to book an unstoppable grandparent-grandchild trip to Disney.” Saying that the number of grandparents is “increasing at more than double the rate of the overall population” – at roughly 70 million -- the article continued: “One cutthroat grandfather who asked that his name not be used calls it the ‘grandparent wars – it’s a game you play for keeps.’”


And it’s not just control freak grandmothers (and occasionally grandpops) who are being stereotyped as trying to buy their grandchildren’s love. Grandmothers who decide they don’t want to be the default, unpaid caretakers for their grandchildren are likewise getting grief. A recent New York Times article snarkily entitled, “When Grandma Can’t Be Bothered [2],” depicted Baby Boomer nanas as exceedingly self-involved. “Thoroughly modern grandmothers, so-called glam-mas, ‘feel they’ve put in their time,’” the paper quoted a gender studies professor as saying. “They were devoted to children to the exclusion of their own freedom, and they’re not looking to repeat the mothering process with their grandchildren.” As if not wanting to cede their whole lives over to their grandchildren is somehow narcissism. Funny, I don’t recall people expecting Gramps to forget about his life and change diapers.


Citing the avid coveting moms like me have been experiencing over Michelle Obama’s set-up -- having her mother live in the White House [2] and pinch-hitting for her in taking care of the Obama girls -- the Times said, “For every Marian Robinson, who retired from her job to take full-time care of her grandchildren, Malia and Sasha Obama, while their parents were busy with other things last year, there is a Judy Connors, who loves her two grandchildren but has no interest in Candy Land, peek-a-boo or bedtime stories.” So clearly, Connors should be flogged for her distaste for board games.

Even Robinson, the nation’s most high-profile grandmother, hasn’t been portrayed as completely angelic and selfless. Even though the media reports say she accompanies her granddaughters on their way to school, and sometimes to playdates, as well as helps them with their homework, the New York Times noted last month, that Robinson’s own personal social calendar [3] has been so packed that the Obamas have had to find other babysitters. And pay them. “[Robinson] entertains visitors from Chicago,” the Times reported. “She attends White House dinners and concerts hosted by her daughter, the first lady, Michelle Obama. She dines at local restaurants and delights in events at the Kennedy Center, where she often sits in the president’s box and chats with performers . . . Mrs. Obama likes to joke that her mother has been to the theater more than she has.” How ungrandmotherly of her, to carve out time for herself [4] and make her daughter hire a babysitter.


For the parents of grown children who, in these tough economic times, allow their offspring (and sometimes their grandchildren) to move back home, there’s more public scrutiny and ample expert advice in store for them. In another Times piece this week -- “Caught in the Safety Net [5]” – Baby Boomer grandparents were warned by therapists and “experts” not to attempt to parent their adult children when they return to the nest, but to behave, instead, as though their offspring are roommates. If the parents of adult kids don’t mentally step away from seeing the relationship as of the parent-child variety, trouble will brew, the experts said. “If [the adult children] go into the home and feel like a child again, that’s not going to help,” a therapist told the paper. “. . . A client might come in and say his mother was up at night when he came in and angry because he was so late, and he was 35.”


It’s no easy feat being a grandmother today, what with all the negative depictions and scolding articles telling you how you should behave. They’re saddled with hideous nicknames like “glam-mas.” (I haven’t heard anyone use the term “glam-pa.” “Sugar Daddy,” yes. “Glam-pa,” no.) The media have begun peddling “nana wars” stories – apparently that’s what comes after the “mommy wars,” after the kids have grown – where grandmothers are portrayed as in mortal combat with one another over who’s the best grandma. When they’re not being caricatured as trying to buy the biggest stuffed animal or newest iPhone for their grandchildren, they’re characterized as shooing their adult children and grandchildren away because they’ve got better things to do than child-rearing, ‘cause seriously, they’re so done with that. In the event that they open the doors of their once empty nests to the adult children (whom they thought they’d already launched into the world), along come the experts telling them to treat their offspring like roommates.


You know it’s bad when even the patron saint of modern grandmothers, Marian Robinson, can’t seem to cut a break. “. . . Mrs. Robinson, 71, is so busy these days that the Obamas hired a babysitter to watch their two daughters one evening because the nation’s first grandmother had plans,” the Times reported. I can only hope I’m so lucky when I’m 71 and, by that time, the term “nana wars” has been relegated to a quaint, historical reference.

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