Laura Tropp, Ph.D., Professor
Marymount Manhattan College, New York
Communication and Media Arts
Specializes in media and politics and representations of
pregnancy, motherhood, and families in popular culture.
Dr. Gramma Karen:
Dr. Tropp, it is a pleasure to have this opportunity to interview you and introduce you and your work to my readers.
I’ll begin by pointing out that your list of publications numbers over 20, so I will highlight just your most recent two books (the titles themselves are interesting!): A Womb with a View: America’s Growing Public Interest in Pregnancy and Deconstructing Dads: Changing Images of Fathers in Popular Culture.
Okay, a book about moms, a book about dads . . . it makes perfect sense that your next book, coming out this spring, focuses on grandparents: The Third Act: Grandparenting in a Digital Age.
Hmm. To me, your choice of title suggests that grandparenting is in some kind of transition. Tell us more about your focus and how you arrived at it.
Dr. Laura Tropp:
As with much of my work, I was inspired by my own experience. Three years ago, my husband and I decided to move in with my parents to a new house with our children and all live intergenerationally. My parents, who were already active grandparents, became even more involved in the day-to-day lives of my children. They would help pick them up from school, take classes with them, and participate in their everyday lives.
I began to notice increasing roles and activities for grandparents. I met grandparents who were taking their grandchildren on fantastic vacations, to grandparent-grandchild camps, including some who had retired so they could become caregivers for their grandchildren.
The more I looked, the more I saw grandparents everywhere, with new names such as “Glamma,” and the image of the grandma or grandpa becoming hip, even used by companies to market products. For example, Jdate, an online dating service aimed at Jewish singles, was using grandmothers in their advertising.
It was clear to me that as people live longer, they may be immersed in this stage of life longer and they are adapting new lifestyles and rituals to embrace this period. I became increasingly interested in the emergence of grandparenting as a stage of life.
So, how did you translate all this new and emerging grandparenting you’re observing all around you into social and cultural relevancy?
Since as a scholar I have always been interested in changing media environments, I was also curious how living in a digital age might be shifting how we grandparent. When I use the phrase “digital age” I’m not just interested in how people use technology, although certainly that’s changed and been interesting to watch, but how living in a period of time that has different priorities, notions of time, and ways of thinking of the world, might change how we see grandparenting, and aging more broadly.
For example, with social media, you can extend your grandparenting beyond just your family to the larger world. We see people using their grandparent image for social causes, such as the Raging Grannies movement that has both national and international organizations.
Just a side comment about your point about Raging Grannies . . . another activist group of grandmothers is Grandmothers Against Gun Violence. They participated in various cities for the March For Our Lives. They carried posters and banners proclaiming, “We Have Your Backs” and “Enough!” They are definitely grandmothers on the march, in more ways than one.
Grandmothers Against Violence join March for Our Lives
in cities across the country.
Point taken. Other grandparents find themselves the center of national attention when they surprise people with their involvement in newer media, such as gaming grandmas or even with their rejection of new technology, such as the now-deceased Charles Marvin Green Jr., a popular YouTube star better known as Angry Grandpa.
For my research, I have spoken with grandparents all across the country, marketers of services and products directed toward grandparents, and studied representation of grandparents across popular media. It has been a fun exercise to notice areas where the grandparent image has become more “hip” and places where older people, including grandparents, still remain less visible.
Did you come across any surprises as you did your research for this book?
I did. One surprise I have found is how many people have adapted their lives to grandparenting, such as retiring or rearranging their job schedules when they found out that their children were expecting.
I’ve also found intriguing conversations with people who aren’t grandparents but want to be. I find this “grandparent biological clock” interesting, where many people long for a grandparent-type relationship with a child.
Yes, efforts to make those connections are important. What’s been most surprising to me, though, is that there are also so many people out there that do not have the idealized grandparent experience, and they remain invisible to the public. I’ve talked to many grandparents who, for various reasons, are not allowed to have relationships with their grandchildren. I’ve spoken with others who assume full-time care of their grandchildren and do not have access to the resources they need. While a certain type of grandparenting has been celebrated by society, I’ve been surprised by and concerned for the grandparents who remain invisible.
I can certainly relate to your points about invisible grandparents and those who are denied access to their grandchildren, as they often share their heartbreaking situations with me in my columns.
In the interest of ending our interview on a more upbeat note, I want you to know that it will be my pleasure to let my readers know when your forthcoming book, The Third Act: Grandparenting in a Digital Age, is available. It promises to be relevant and informative. We thank you for this sneak preview of it!
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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