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Will Hillary as Grandma Change Perceptions of Age?

What Chelsea Clinton's news means to the baby boomer generation

posted by Linda Bernstein, September 29, 2014 More by this author

Linda Bernstein has written hundreds of articles for dozens of magazines and newspapers, writes the blog GenerationBsquared and teaches social media at the Columbia University School of Journalism.


This weekend, Chelsea Clinton and her husband Marc Mesvinsky announced the arrival of their healthy baby girl.
 
Back in April, when Chelsea announced that she was expecting at an event where she was appearing with her mother, Hillary garnered more attention than her daughter.

When the former First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State — and possible future President — tweeted: “My most exciting title yet: Grandmother-To-Be!” her status update went viral, and the talking heads spent more time discussing how Chelsea’s baby was going to affect Hillary’s political future than about what lay ahead for the pregnant mom. 

(MORE: Grandparents' Gifts That Keep On Giving)

With Friday's birth of Charlotte Clinton Mesvinsky, the discussion about how being a grandmother might affect Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid is back in full swing.

One thing is clear to me: Being a grandmother will not make Hillary Clinton seem “old.” Indeed, it may have an opposite effect.

Our pioneering boomer generation — we who went to Woodstock, invented the technology used by today’s so-called “digital natives” and had the guts to wear miniskirts or jeans to school at the risk of being sent home — are eagerly accepting our role of grandparents, proudly parading what used to be an indicator of old age.

Prince of Wales Is Part of the Trend
 
The trend seems worldwide.

Prince Charles and his wife have appeared more frequently in pictures with their new grandchild, Prince George, than Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip did three decades ago after the births of Prince Harry and Prince William (father of Prince George).
 
Hearing a baby cry while at an award ceremony in March, the Prince of Wales joked to the crowd, "I think that baby needs something, a bottle perhaps. I know these things, I'm taking lessons in grandparenting."
 
Whether we’re British royalty, American pseudo-royalty (i.e., the Clinton or Bush families) or plain old everyday folk, boomers are fully embracing this new phase in our lives.

(MORE: Are Grandparents Being Too Generous?)

True, since the beginning of human kind, grandparents have played significant roles in raising their children’s children.

Until recently, households frequently included three generations or more. People have made jokes for years about how grandparents whip out photos of their grandchildren at the slightest provocation. It’s been a long-held truth that our own grandchildren are smarter, prettier, better athletes, cuter, more clever and sweeter than anyone else’s grandchildren.

Tackling This New Role
 
What seems to have changed in the past 50 years is the way we are perceived — and the way we view ourselves.

My grandmother would never have been called into active service to chauffeur my cousins or me to various after-school activities. (She was managing a small family grocery, which is impressive enough. But, still, we came to her; she did not come to us.)

My friends who are grandparents, by contrast (and if geographically possible), coach grandkids’ t-ball leagues, volunteer in classrooms and rush in to provide a much needed extra set of hands when a daughter-in-law gives birth to twins.

My own daughter has made clear that when she has children (no news, folks, and nothing expected for awhile), she anticipates that I will magically appear by the cradle, no matter what is happening in my own life.
 
She’s probably right.

Boomers, Babies In The Limelight
 
A lot has been written lately about women of 50 feeling ignored in the workplace and the world. “Invisibility is found in the small daily cuts. When the radiologist no longer asks if there’s any chance you’re pregnant. When the cashier at the movie theater, glancing indifferently at your gray roots, suggests you might want the senior discount (years before you might qualify),” Tira Harpaz observed (cutting to the quick), a year ago in Salon. 

Men past 50 also feel expendable — ask any of them who lost a job in the most recent economic downturn. Will embracing our “grandparentness” make us more of a force to be reckoned with? Will the PR execs finally start gearing brand ads to us, their largest demographic?
 
Perhaps. Yes, perhaps.
 
Because whatever people may think of her, Hillary Clinton is far from invisible. And although I expect that American newspapers will emulate the British press in creating a cornucopia of information about the newest member of an American royal family (for an amazing look at the coverage of Prince George’s life from conception on, page through this Flipboard magazine), I think this particular pregnancy and birth may focus more on the grandma and grandpa than on the mama.
 
And to that — no matter what our politics — let us boomers say, “all right!” World, call us “grandma” and “grandpa,” but we own you! (Insert fist pump!)