My mother and I have always been close, even though I left home at 18 and have been blazing my own trail since. When my last relationship ended, she was the first person I called, sobbing and hiccuping over the phone. She’s never, ever not been there for her five children…the role of mother is essential to her existence. This is so important for me to remember now, as the struggle over “roles” becomes a daily puzzle.
Of course, when I left, I didn’t think I’d be back. I assumed, like most of you baby-boomers, that when I flew the coop, it wouldn’t involve a return trip. Or require such a huge paradigm shift…which came to light brilliantly on the day that my mother pulled her pants down while standing in front of me and said “Can you look at this rash?”
Gulp. Role over. On that day, I realized the diminishing of her parenting role as the expanding of mine. I realized that, in the not-so-distant future, my role will be to change this woman’s diaper. Put ointment on her rashes. Spoonfeed her. Wipe tears from her eyes, food from her lap, crumbs from her mouth.
And in that moment, and even through her brain fog, my mother was aware of this on some level, and struggling to maintain her control as well as her dignity. This is the heartbreaking part of being a caregiver to your parent. They don’t want to stop being your parent. They truly don’t. Even as they become more and more dependent on you, they still want you to see them as the strong, loving and caring parents they always were.
How does this change anything? Well, I used to admonish them when they were over-protective. I was in the habit of saying “Hey! Give me a break! I’m over 50, you know!” when either of them started meddling a little too much in my life. I used to brush off their parental advice, insisting that I had to learn through my own mistakes.
These days, when they want to be my parent, I take a deep breath and avoid that automatic response. I listen, agree, cherish the wisdom as it was intended, and tuck it away as a gift. “Yes, Mom, you’re right.” “Dad, you hit the nail on the head. Thanks for that.”
Those previously meddlesome moments have become golden ones, in the bright light of this loving journey.
“Caregiving often calls on us to lean into love we didn’t know possible.”
– Tia Walker, Author