Can Grandmothers Have It All?

POSTED ON Apr 21st 2014 BY LESLIE LOFTIS UNDER Daughters, Feminism, Politics

Until the flurry of stories about Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy, like this one at Yahoo!, I’ve never seen a ‘Can grandmothers Have It All?’ debate. I’ve seen women of a certain age discussing regrets or memories of motherhood and perhaps wanting to do grand-motherhood differently—both ways, either shunning it or participating in it—but never the Have It All problem that plagues current mothers.

A ‘Can grandmothers Have It All?’ debate is a new, and completely manufactured, debate to feed into the Hillary Clinton as poor burdened, discriminated-against woman narrative. (The original Have It All debate was also manufactured, but that’s a post for another day.) It will expand the Mommy Wars to grandmothers so she can reuse “what was I supposed to do, bake cookies?” messaging. I’m with Sean Davis that the baby won’t have an effect on the election, at least not in any straightforward way. Hilary Clinton’s grand-motherhood, however, will inflame the Mommy Wars, which moms are desperately trying, in vain*, to stop.

An intergenerational rift

Of course grandmothers can ‘Have It All’. Without the physical limitations of childbearing and more so the time demands on primary caregivers for young children, balance is easy. Grandmothers only have a problem if their daughters need or want them to participate in regular childcare so that they can try their own hand at Having It All. In this case, if her mother runs for President then Chelsea Clinton has fewer options for balancing her own life after the baby arrives, as her mother won’t be available for regular childcare. This is a recurring problem for younger women, the lack of a family village, but Chelsea at least is wealthy enough to be able to afford even a highly credentialed nanny for in home care. Needing family care is more critical for poorer women.

Regardless, Chelsea might balk. The more Hillary plays up her grandmother status—which is likely the humanizing Hillary plan—the more mother coverage Chelsea will endure. Her childcare choices will be vetted in the news just like the Duchess of Cambridge’s even while there is no danger of Hillary Clinton as granny-nanny. Additionally, as mothers know, what we think we know about how protective we will feel towards our children often changes once the baby is in our arms. Theoretically, attending events with the little one in tow doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when the logistics get difficult and the little one’s needs for sleep and routine get low priority, Chelsea might resist having her child used as a campaign prop.

Between the increased coverage and defense of her child, Chelsea very well may begin to identify with mothers of her generation who are defensive about the intensity of motherhood and let down by their own mothers’ lack of involvement.

I don’t think putting this conflict between mothers and their grown daughters in the news is a wise campaign strategy for Hillary Clinton. She needs lockstep solidarity among women. It would be hubris for her to assume she has it, especially among younger women who seem to be growing tired of being used as props in their mothers’ plans.


*Why are the attempts to stop the Mommy Wars “in vain”, or why will Chelsea face more scrutiny if her mother invokes her grandmother status for political purposes?  Mothers fight the Mommy Wars out of insecurity born of inexperience. The often seen proposal about expressing support for each others’ choices will not solve the problem that we feel judged by other’s choices and need the endorsement of copycats. Until mothers feel secure in their choices, they will continue to seek the supposedly scientifically verifiable, credentialed expert opinion over experience and the follow-the-rules comfort of unified theories of parenting, as well as continue to obsess over imagined avocado aiming. In this environment, anything that high profile mothers do differently is seen not only as judgment but also social pressure to lure away mothers who do it your way.

1 Comment

  1. edge_of_the_sandbox said:

    I guess where Hillary had it easy is getting her daughter to get pregnant on demand. Ordinary mothers of adult childless daughters are often shy to broach the subject of gandparenthood.

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