Grandparents and Politics by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan

It’s Saturday morning and I am reading, reading on my iPhone. My daughter is relaxing. I’ve written little here because I have had little to say, particularly on Wednesdays, the day I thought I could write unencumbered. This morning I realized I have things to say on Saturday and that I should go back to blogging on Saturdays. My brain has digested and regurgitated so much for the week that by Saturday I can pound out a blog post in an hour or two.

Today my reading started from an article on clothing recycling: “The Truth About Your Clothing Donations” that I sent to myself late last night from a brief surfing on Facebook. At the end of the article were more related articles on the topic at the BBC, NPR, and The Atlantic. [In all of the articles, a bigger analysis of why we have too much clothing was never really explored only that cheap clothing is increasing and impacting the world and landfills.] I finished all those articles and then I did my usual surfing on each site to see if any headlines grabbed my attention. I read a few things, but the piece that got me thinking about my topic for today was at The Atlantic entitled: “How Long Can Ivanka Trump Defend Her Father?”

Just to be clear, I have not decided on a candidate and frankly, I HATE all my choices. So this is not a political treatise about US Presidential politics. In fact it’s more a peek into the interiors of how my brain works. With regard to candidates my thoughts swirl around Trump, Clinton and Sanders and here’s what I keep asking myself: what are the candidates experiences with kids and will my own daughter’s life be better in her future if one of these folks gets elected?

First let’s start with Trump and the article I mentioned above. Throughout the article there are references to the ways in which Trump has made sexual comments about his daughter and I ask myself: “Is this guy a molester?” Or is he in fact touching on why we have laws regarding incest and molest? Is he really just a mirror into the psyche of patriarchy, which owns women’s bodies in much the same way as it owns cattle or other forms of property? Knowing a bit about the issue of molest myself personally, I surmise that Ivanka is probably not an incest “survivor” and in fact much of what is happening as with everything Trump states is an unveiling of thoughts that political correctness as banished from the everyday, but that bubble up to the surface in a simmering pool of anger as male entitlement is diminished. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Trump is an enigma and his daughter is a powerful voice of female complexity and ambition and motherhood. So really the question for me is whether Trump acts on the impulses he reveals or whether he is just venting. When I consider his daughters and all his children, their success speak to his probable contribution to their upbringing in positive ways. Perfect by no means, but he is not a monster and basically he has done probably as good a job at raising his kids as my parent did raising me.

So onto Clinton, who is now a grandmother. Clinton has epitomized the highly-educated working mother who has stayed with her husband for many reason, which could include for the sake of her daughter, for stability, for power, for love, for all the reasons I stay with my husband—because sometimes dealing with BS that you know seems easier than dealing with the unknown, because not getting divorce isn’t always about money. Chelsea in the White House was the definition of a good girl and she still is. Chelsea is essentially invisible on the world stage partly I suspect due to personality. I know she’s been a TV commentator or reporter, but at this point she is a mother. She married well; she has supported both her mother’s campaigns and again in personality she does not seem to need the limelight. So how did her mother do in raising her? Has she been detrimentally damaged by her father’s very public bad behavior? We will never know the conversations, fights, confrontations, forgivenesses between herself and her parents just like we won’t know about the Trump family dramas that have possibly played out behind closed doors.

And what about Bernie? Mr. Sanders’ children, who are they? Sanders has a family life that looks just like many Americans’. He is twice married, had a son out of wedlock, has some stepkids (three) and lots of grandkids (seven) and the third time around in his love life he found the right partner—he has now been married for more than 25 years. His biological son is married with three adopted kids from China and Levi has a good job. So how has Sanders done as a parent? Was he a good stepdad? Are there the typical resentments that come with blended families? Who knows? His parenting seems as unremarkable as the other two.

Interestingly, all three candidates are grandparents, which I think is a good thing. With regard to my own mother and even father, who passed away three years ago, I believe that becoming a grandparent impacted my relationship with my parents in positive ways. Both my parents expanded themselves—though my mother much more than my father. My mother and I have had moments of reflection about how I was raised and about how I am raising my daughter. I believe my mother looks at the world through my eyes as she considers my daughter and I know that I have come to understand my mother’s choices as a parent much more compassionately.

I so wish we still had GEORGE Magazine, JFK Jr.’s magazine that looked at the lives of politicians the way we consider celebrities. Sadly, the magazine was driven by Kennedy’s own celebrity and didn’t survive without him. But that magazine did interviews that shared the personal antidotes that illustrated how politicians came to have their beliefs.

Finally, it is the immeasurable, intimate experiences at the very personal level that create the beliefs of a person—or the President that will impact the country. All three candidates, for me, have a wildcard component, which is their relationship to their children and their grandchildren. All three candidates have thoughtful, complex children who are navigating the world of parenting as we all are. The world has changed in specifics, but not much in tenor. What are the ways that each candidate will hear the whispers of their own choices from the past or listen to the desires of their parenting children in the present or look through the eyes of their grandchildren and think of the future?

I think of a story my father once told me about his father. My paternal grandparents were against adoption, but my parents wanted another child after me so they adopted my brother. As my father told me, we went to my grandparents’ house for a visit one day and my brother crawled up into my granddad’s lap. After that there was never another negative word about adoption. In fact as my father said, my brother’s hugging and smiling at my grandfather on his lap melted that old school thinking as only an innocent baby could. In the 1960’s and 70’s adoption was still very taboo. Now, culturally, we consider adoption as a just one choice in the process of making a family…

Children are the great influencers of life and grandchildren are the change agents of the world. How each of these candidates will be impacted by the innocence of the grandchildren they love remains to be seen. That each candidate is connected to their grandkids is hopeful. That each candidate has connected relationships to their children and also to their grandchildren makes one wonder what statement, innocent comment, youthful insight will impact a decision that the country faces. Good or bad, it is our intimate relationships, which impact our personal beliefs whether we are conscience of this or not.

So let us remember that it’s grandkids that rule the world.

What one wants for them and what grandparents learn about themselves when they hold their grandkids can be expansive and also indefinable (hopefully in a good way). So here’s to gambling and the wildcard of grandparenting. We’ll see what happens after the voting ends.








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