Many of us are experiencing this – Mom’s getting older, and she’s “failing.” Perhaps she has crippling osteoporosis. She’s hard of hearing. Maybe she’s frustratingly tentative, where once she was bold. Are you impatient with her infirmities? Angry, even? It’s natural; but get over it. You may be there yourself someday…
What’s your earliest childhood memory?
If you’re like most of us, it involves your mom. She’s the first person you knew in this world; your critical touchstone, from infancy on.
In one of my earliest memories, Mom is hanging laundry on the clothesline. The white cotton bedding, though wrung out, is still heavy with water; a brisk March wind whips wetness into my face and across my legs as I run down the row of billowing sheets.
Each time I turn, there’s Mom. All I can see is her legs; she’s big, I’m small, and pillowcases and washcloths obscure my view. But I remember thinking, she’s my home base; if I stand next to her, if I just hold onto her, nothing bad can ever happen to me.
As we grow, we move from thinking Mom is the moon, sun, and stars; to Mom is the one who makes supper and lets us stay up late if we’re good; to Mom is hopelessly out of touch with the world, and it would be better if she’d just hide in the shadows till I’m 18, thanks very much.
Once we grow up, we gain some needed perspective: Mom is human. Maybe she made some mistakes along the way, but hey, don’t we all? You’re an adult; she’s an adult; you can have a mature relationship, with forgiveness and understanding on both sides.
But she’s still your mom. And, in the deep recesses of your heart, she’ll always be the one you turn to. When there was a monster under the bed, and when you didn’t get asked to the prom, and when you got turned down for The Perfect Job, hers was the shoulder you cried on.
Thus it’s both scary and heartbreaking when Mom is suddenly unable to take care of herself. The caregiver mantle passes from her, to you – sometimes over the slow course of years, sometimes in just a few devastating moments. She becomes the helpless child; you, the strong one, the one who’ll make everything all right.
And you know what the worst part about this shift is? The tendency towards anger and resentment.
WHY can’t Mom just [be more careful] [wear her hearing aide] [stop driving]?
Why didn’t she ask me to take her to the doctor when she felt that lump in her breast? How come she cancelled the physical I scheduled for her?
Why won’t she take her Fosamax? I mean, does she WANT to become crippled from osteoporosis? Have a widow’s hump? Break her hip and become bedridden?
Why won’t Mom take care of herself?
Well, because she can’t. Everything is old and wearing out – and that includes her memory, ability to make decisions, and willpower. She needs help – your help.
And that’s exactly what’s causing your anger. Your visceral belief that she should take care of you is colliding head-on with reality: you need to take care of her.
It hurts to finally leave that last little bit of childhood behind, doesn’t it? To grow up, all the way. And from that hurt comes frustration and anger, a desire to lash out, to push back. You’ve lost someone you love – the mom who kept you safe. She’s been replaced by the mom who needs you to keep her safe.
So, here’s the deal; it’s OK to feel angry. It’s OK to resent change, to wish things had stayed the same, to want to push back the hands of time and get your old mom back.
Validate your feelings. Tell yourself you’re entitled to them, no matter how disloyal they may feel.
And then – let go. Put those feelings behind you, and move on. Vow to find that balance between treating your mom with the respect and trust she’s earned, and giving her the direction and care you know she needs.
Whether it’s calling every Wednesday to make sure she took her Actonel, or suggesting you do your grocery shopping together (in your car), or helping her find a hairdresser she likes: just do it.
And do it with love. Love is the answer, to so many of life’s biggest challenges. She loved you and cared for you when you were young and needy; now you’ll do the same for her.
This is the true meaning of Mother’s Day. Beyond the flowers, and chocolate, and cards, today we honor the loving mother in all of us – whether our “child” is 6, or 96.
Published On: May 13, 2012