Monday, March 7, 2016

The Role of Mother

"You should write a book or something.  The imagery is real!" my son exclaimed after reading my blog yesterday.

I thought that was quite the compliment, coming from a 13 year old boy. While I was proud that he knew what imagery was, and more than a little flattered that he thought his mom's writing was good, I couldn't help but notice the astonishment in his voice.  Was it really so difficult to believe that I could write?

I'm not taking it personally.  I am, after all, his mother.  Truth be told, I think we all have a rather distorted vision of our mothers.  Or at least an incomplete picture of who she is.  My son may know things about me - what I do, things I like - and he may have heard some of the stories from my past, but to him I am simply Mom, the one who fulfills a particular role in his life.  Nothing more and nothing less. And I am perfectly fine with that.

I think things get more complicated, however, as you get older and roles begin to change.  My 84 year old mother recently moved into an assisted living facility ten minutes from my home and two and a half hours from hers.  While my brother, sisters, and I (and to a certain degree, my mother) all believed it was for the best, I can't imagine just how difficult it must be for her to make such an abrupt change to her life.  How do you give up everything you've known for the past six decades? What effect could that possibly have on your own sense of self?

The other day she told me that she had told herself that she wouldn't complain, but we had to expect there would be days when she would be depressed. While I get that, I have to fight the urge to try to make everything okay for her. Perhaps it's my own mothering instincts kicking in, wanting those I love to always be happy, even while I recognize the futility of that desire. When I was a kid I remember seeing my mother upset, but I don't think I ever really questioned what was upsetting her.  That didn't seem to be my job.  It was her job to take care of me. It was her job to understand me, not the other way around. Like me with my own sons, I suspect she was perfectly fine with the role, too.  It's a role she has played for over 60 years, and one she has played well.

And she continues to play it.

Which probably explains more accurately than any other explanation I could offer how she ended up in an assisted living facility.  There, she has people to take care of her.  People who are not her children.  People who did not grow up being taken care of by her.  She is there, not because her children don't love her, but because we do.  We love our mother, and this way, that is who she remains. Our caretaker. The strong and wise one who will listen to our problems and offer words of comfort or sage advice. 

Our roles remain intact.

I hope that my mother finds a measure of comfort in knowing that a core part of who she is remains even when so much of her life has changed.  As we all sat around my kitchen table last night for what has become our routine Sunday night dinner, I felt what a blessing this change is, for my children and me at least. My children get to spend more time with their beloved grandmother, and I get the opportunity to get to know my mother, the woman she is outside that role, a little bit better.


  1. This is a complicated post that touches on many important issues. First, it's true that our kids don't really know us. I think about this often w/ my grown children. For them, I'm frozen in time.

    I remember reading an essay by Erma Bombeck when I was a kid about growing old. In it she asks: "When does the parent become the child and the child become the parent?" The role reversal IS a natural part of aging. I had a sick father when I was a kid; I was his primary caregiver until he died when I was 16. The role reversal came early. Conversely, my mother died when she was 74, and she lived w/ my sister after being diagnosed w/ lung cancer. I have a step-mother w/ Alzheimers who went from assisted living to a nursing home, and my brother is responsible for her.

    All this is to say that these issues are complicated and that we have to evaluate each situation based on our families and our parents. No two situations are the same. But the roles do reverse. They do.

    1. Thank you for dropping by my blog again, Glenda. You are so right when you say that no two situations are the same. I certainly was not intending to say that my family's decisions are ones that everyone should make. We can really only speak to our own experiences.

      I can't imagine having to become a parent's caregiver at such a young age as you had to do. I am sure it was very difficult for you. I also suspect that it gave you a sense of purpose. This was the point I was making about my mother. She has derived her sense of purpose from taking care of others for 65 years. To take that away from her when she has essentially lost everything else seems pointless and cruel.

      All relationships change over time. Certainly the relationship I have with my mother is not the same as it was when I was a child. Our relationship will continue to evolve. I have no idea what it may look like years from now. But in order for our roles to completely reverse, I would have to treat her as if she were a child. I believe my mother deserves more from me.

      Thank you for adding to the important discussion of dealing with aging parents. It is a difficult one and one which not many are willing to have, so I appreciate your sharing your own experiences. I would love for others to share their stories as well so that we, as children confronted with a most difficult situation, can offer one another support.

      Take care.

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