love 2 see it

Our Obsession With Social Media Grandmas, Explained

It’s no wonder I’m a sucker for content created by and about grandmas, since I miss my own so much.

by Suzanne Zuckerman
Emma Chao/Scary Mommy; Christina House / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Lately, for reasons not entirely clear to my middle-aged mind, I’ve been flooded with memories of my grandmother. She was magic. She spoke multiple languages and lived all over the world. Once, in Egypt, customs officers confiscated her cigarettes. She was always flying off to visit her best friends in Portugal. Her nails were usually painted a deep, sparkly pink. Her rings were enormous— like Ring Pops, but real. Even her hands were glamorous.

She had ten grandchildren. Her life was BIG. Yet we shared an intimacy — a world unto our own — that I’ve found it difficult, in all my years and relationships, to replicate. We’d curl up and watch Remington Steele together (she had a thing for Pierce Brosnan). She made me an 8th birthday cake with a Barbie stuck in the center, layers of creamy blue frosting forming the skirt of her ballgown. Whatever I happened to be eating — pigs in a blanket, raw brownie mix, Cinnamon Toast Crunch — she’d pat me and say, “You enjoy, Cookie.” She’d tell me that when I was a baby, I’d sleep on her for hours and hours and just pee all over her, which made me laugh hysterically. She read Harlequin romances by the pile and only took baths, never showers, always with a shower cap. She had a signature perfume. She would have adored my kids.

I wonder what she’d make of sharenting. Of mom shaming. Of The Snoo.

It’s no wonder I’m a sucker for content created by and about grandmas, since I miss my own so much. Experts on influencer marketing point out that humans are hardwired to seek guidance and connection from those we perceive to be in our “pack.” And who better than grandmas — those primordial pack leaders — to project trustworthiness and offer a sense of belonging? But my feeds suddenly filling up with women who would love to feed me is also a symptom of a broader cultural trend: It turns out we are living in the golden age of grandfluencers.

On TikTok alone, accounts like @grandma_droniak, @excusemygrandma, @dollyday800, and @brunchwithbabs have a collective 18 million followers. Fold in their Instagram numbers and their audience swells by another five million. (For context, the official Golden Girls Instagram has fewer than 200,000 followers.) Whether they're delivering hard truths about marriage, urging us to finally clean our mattresses, or catching us up on their senior center shenanigans, these age-positive personalities are engaging an enormous number of eyeballs. And those are just the megastars. The Internet offers endless niches of specialized grandmas, too. There are fancy society swan grandmas and badass style icon grandmas. Buff fitness grandmas. French grandmas who cook simple French meals! “Younger generations benefit from the wisdom of grandmothers,” says Kim Murstein, the 28-year-old content creator behind @excusemygrandma, an account spotlighting her relationship with her 81-year-old grandmother, Gail. “It’s welcome advice they may not get from their peers or other creators on social media.”

The good news is, unlike so much sanity- and sleep-sapping material that drives us to doom-scroll, these posts feel refreshingly wholesome and nurturing. Thus we like them, and the algorithm keeps serving them up like chicken soup and Werther’s Originals.

Upon further examination though, their popularity may speak to something deeper than quick hits of homespun advice and hip replacement humor. It may be more profound, even, than Taylor Swift’s Marjorie, that sob-inducing pop culture pinnacle of grandmother worship. When retired teacher Barbara Costello, aka @brunchwithbabs, recently posted a lovely but generic video saying, “You are doing amazing and we are all so proud of you,” thousands of comments poured in, many devastating. Some followers said they had recently lost loved ones and found comfort in Babs. In many cases, Costello would write back with heart emojis and prayer hands. “I didn’t have maternal figures growing up and I never heard those words,” one commenter wrote on Instagram. “Welcome to the family,” Babs (or someone running her account?) replied. “I don’t think my parents have ever told me they are proud,” commented another follower, “but hearing it from my internet grandma has healed that part.”

Is this actually “love” being shared between strangers, or its simulacrum — an insufficient substitute approximating an authentically human emotional exchange? Is it actually helpful? Is it even healthy? Engaging with grandfluencers has obvious appeal, experts say. “Grandfluencers are are rarely posturing to look sexy or cute. They are less concerned about their image and more concerned about making connections,” explains Dr. Pamela Rutledge, who studies media and technology as Director of the Media Psychology Research Center. “We all yearn to be cared for, to feel safe. Grandparents represent a lot of those feelings. And online grandparents can’t disappoint us because their role is defined by being virtual.”

Experts also note that while parent-child or in-law relationships can be fraught, laced with resentment, expectations, and power struggles, the grandparent-grandchild bond is often less complicated, sweeter. “The quip is that children connect with their grandparents because they share a common enemy — the parents,” says Dr. Kathleen Stassen Berger, a veteran developmental psychology professor and author of Grandmothering: Building Strong Ties with Every Generation. “Parents consider restriction, punishment and restraint an essential part of their job, and grandparents think their role is to encourage and appreciate. Another quip is that grandchildren are the reward for not killing your children.” (Spoken like the mother of four daughters and three grandchildren.)

“Grandparents don’t have to get involved with raising kids in the same way that parents do,” agrees Murstein. “They are mostly experiencing the fun parts!”

But is spending your one wild and precious life consuming grandma content somehow deeply sad? (Asking for a friend.) Surely it would be better to pour time and energy into IRL relationships, even, say, by volunteering at a nursing home, to form actual intergenerational connections? “Yes, real life relationships — when you are close enough to cry on a shoulder or catch the twinkle or tear in an eye — is the gold standard of human connection,” says Dr. Berger. “For many reasons, humans in the 21st century are starved for this. Did you know that the United States has far more people living alone, and far fewer people — of all ages — having sex currently than in former times? That makes us hungry to connect in any safe way possible. Not ideal, but loving messages back [from a grandfluencer] are better than form letters from AI or, worst of all, silence.”

My grandmother would have been 100 on Valentine's Day. Like millions of others, I’m drawn to online grandmas because they almost offer what she gave me: unconditional love, a role model to provide a sense of both history and direction, excellent gossip, all that purse candy, delivered without judgment, tension, comparison or shame. “I loved my grandma and miss her greatly,” wrote one @excusemygrandma follower recently. “She’s still advising me in my head. You are a great reminder.”

Suzanne Zuckerman is a freelance writer, editor, and ghostwriter based in New York. She covers entertainment, fashion, mental health, and work — and loves to interview experts about how technology and social media impact them all. She’s a graduate of New York University, where she majored in Dramatic Literature but never worked up the nerve to pursue her Broadway dreams. Follow her on Instagram @ZuckermanSuzanne.