Ditch Those Old Grandma Stereotypes

I hate stereotypes — especially those old grandma stereotypes that portray us baking cookies and knitting in our rockers. Those stereotypes are so antiquated!

Why do we even have stereotypes? I’ve always said that grandmas are like snowflakes — every grandma is completely unique. I’m so inspired by the grandmas I know. They’re intelligent, energetic, tech savvy, creative, and committed to making the world better.

Olivia Gentile, author of The Grandparent Effect blog agrees that we need to stop pretending grandparents just bake cookies. In a post she wrote to mark Grandparents Day, she said:

A growing body of scholarship suggests that over the past few decades, the role of the American grandparent has undergone a significant transformation. While the grandparents of yesteryear mainly doted on children, grandparents today make indispensable contributions to their upbringing.

Grandparents are healthier and wealthier than they used to be, allowing them to lavish more resources on their children’s children. They are providing more childcare than any previous generation, more of them are raising their grandchildren and they’re spending mountains of money on their grandchildren’s education.

Nearly 25 % of American preschoolers and 14 % of grade-schoolers are watched by a grandparent at least once a week, according to the Census Bureau. Similarly, many grandparents are spending more money on grandchildren than their forerunners did because older Americans are far wealthier than their predecessors were, while younger Americans—the parents of little kids—are far poorer than their predecessors.

More and more grandparents are taking their children and grandchildren into their homes. Ten percent of American children live with a grandparent, compared to 7 % in 1992, according to a Census Bureau study released last year. In most of these homes, at least one parent is present, too, but the household is headed by a grandparent.

4 Reasons Why Grandparents Are Stereotyped

Gentile gives four reasons why so many people still regard grandparents as “sweet but peripheral — the bakers of cookies rather than the writers of tuition and rent checks.”

  1. The contributions of grandparents tend to be overlooked by the media. There are countless news stories about the help that older Americans are receiving from their grown children, but precious few articles about the help that they’re providing. Meanwhile, television shows, movies, and advertisements keep ignoring grandparents and play them for laughs.
  2. Many of us cling to the myth—disproved by scholars—that the extended American family was decimated by modernity. Americans tend to associate grandparents with old-fashioned families, and many think that grandparents have become less important as the nation has become more modern. In reality, modern advances in medicine, transportation, and communication have all made it possible for grandparents and grandchildren to enjoy longer and more rewarding relationships than they did in the past.
  3. People don’t realize how much grandparents are helping parents these days because many parents don’t like to talk about it, especially when the help they’re getting takes the form of cash. The subject of grandparent subsidies is taboo, perhaps because  parents worry that they’ve failed if they’re not completely self-reliant.
  4. Research shows that ageism is still pervasive in the United States, which likely prevents some parents from conceptualizing grandparents as productive and useful. Older Americans are often stereotyped as “doddering, but dear,” writes Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard: “kind as can be, but feeble, inept, and out of the game.”

10 Grandmas Who Broke the Mold

Here are just a few examples of grandmas who broke the mold:

  • Hilary Clinton, former Secretary of State and presidential candidate
  • Goldie Hawn, actress and founder of MindUP, a research-based training program for educators and children
  • Alison Gopnik, university professor and author of 4 books on cognitive language development
  • Paola Gianturco, documentary photographer and author of 5 award winning books, including Grandmother Power
  • Christine Crosby, founder of GRAND, the leading Digital Magazine for Grandparents and their Families
  • Emmylou Harris, 12-time Grammy winner and legendary country-rock singer/songwriter
  • Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives for the 114th Congress
  • Jane Fonda, Academy award-winning actress, author and supporter of young people for 20 years
  • Martha Stewart, businesswoman, writer, television personality and founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia
  • Donna Karan, designer, philanthropist, yogi and author of a new memoir, My Journey

Let’s stop perpetuating those old stereotypes of grandmas and show more examples of what real, modern, grandmas are doing.

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