As more boomers become grandparents many different types of grandmothers are making their presence known in our modern culture.
At one end of the spectrum are the hands-on grandmas who provide regular or even full-time care for their grandkids, like Michelle Obama’s mom, Marian Robinson. She retired early from her job to move into the White House to help care for Malia and Sasha.
Then there are the glammas. Glammas are “glamorous grandmas” and they’re giving the concept of what it means to be a grandmother a makeover.
Think Goldie Hawn, or other celebrities like Sally Field and Susan Sarandon. They may have grandchildren, but these glamorous movie stars are not likely to fit the grandmother stereotype anymore than Mick Jagger’s anybody’s idea of a grandfather/great-grandfather (and he’s now about to be a father again).
Some observers see the “glamma” phenomenon as just another way older woman are trying to deny aging, like using Botox, dying their hair purple or getting a tattoo. (Oddly enough, you don’t hear about “glampas.” Either men don’t care about being glamorous or they don’t want to get confused with the luxury camping trend known as “glamping.”)
And certainly there’s something odd and even distasteful about the notion that there may be grandmothers who equate their important role in their grandchildren’s lives with being old and thus try to duck it somehow. Let’s face it, grandparenthood isn’t inherently glamorous, anymore than parenthood is.
At their best, grandparents nurture not only their grandchildren but their grown children as well, and that’s not especially glamorous. And becoming a grandparent is a milestone that comes with a time stamp, because you can’t be a grandparent unless you’ve been a parent. And being a parent generally means you’ve spent decades ushering another human being into adulthood from infancy.
But let’s pause a minute to give glammas a break. For there may be another reason why today’s new grandmas are rebelling at the traditional grandmother stereotype. It may go back to how those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 70s were influenced by what we saw on TV during our formative years.
We saw grandmothers like Granny Moses, Jed Clampett’s mother-in-law in The Beverley Hillbillies. Granny never used her first names (Daisy May) and was made up to look about 100 years old. She wore frumpy clothes from a bygone era. The woman collected road kill to make stew. I wouldn’t be surprised if she single-handedly birthed her grandbabies, Jethro and Elly May, by herself using her back-country skills and homemade remedies.
There was Laura’s mother-in-law, Clara Petrie, on The Dick Van Dyke Show. As far as I could tell, neither she nor little Ritchie’s other grandparents interacted with the boy in any way. These seniors were formal and remote – you couldn’t see Grandma or Grandpa getting on the floor and busting out a game of Candyland. The elder Mrs. Petrie sported dull dresses and brooches, and she wore her grey hair short and lacquered. Clara was another grandmother made to look old beyond her years.
And then there was Endora on Bewitched. A glamma before there was a name for it, Endora wore beautiful flowing clothes accessorized with fabulous jewelry, her dyed hair perfectly coiffed and her makeup dramatic. She jetted to exotic locations and popped in occasionally to her daughter’s house in the suburbs to bust Darren’s er, golf balls and remind Samantha that she could have done better. We never saw her change a diaper or feed a baby. She was not a particularly welcome visitor, but she was a force to be reckoned with and impossible to ignore. I loved Samantha but was fascinated by Endora.
Given the choice of role models between Endora, Clara Petrie or Granny Moses, which one do you think would most appeal to a little girl? Endora, of course. The image of little Tabitha’s glamorous grandmother was tucked away in the back of our minds as we became teenagers, young woman and then mothers.
And now that we’re grandmothers, we’re all too aware that the world sees and treats us differently than it did when we were younger. Any older woman will tell you that we can get increasingly overlooked as we get older.
If, in addition to our age, you tag us with the grandmother label we might as well return that special cloak we got from the Harry Potter wizarding store, because we won’t need it. We’ll already be invisible as far as many people are concerned.
No wonder some of us want to project a different image of grandmotherly-ness.
So, to glamma or not to glamma? If glamma is your code for “Get that poopy diaper away from me, I’ve changed enough of those to last a lifetime!” you’ll miss out on not only the muck and mess of caring for your grandkids but also their sticky-fingered hugs and jammy kisses.
But if you’re willing to roll up your designer sleeves and get down and dirty with your grandchildren, then what’s in a name?
A grandmother can love her grandchild wearing chiffon as well as denim. What counts most is not what’s on the outside of a grandmother but what’s inside her heart.
But before you get too carried away with sitcom role models, remember that glamma or not, Endora could be a real witch.