“GUILTY!” they screamed… Not actual people, but the voices inside my head (thankfully, not actual voices either).

My nagging guilt about being a bad mother has been replaced with my current guilt about being a bad daughter. With my kids, I worried about doing things right. With Mom, I fret about doing things at all… asking myself every day, am I doing enough for Mom? (In therapy-speak, am I enough?)

When my kids were young, I wondered if they’d turn out alright. With my aging mother, turning out is the end game. Our relationship is what it is and we’ve run out of time to “work on our relationship.” All options for do-overs have been exercised.  

What does not-being-enough look like as a caretaking daughter? It looks like a big blank spot on a piece of white paper… it’s an absence instead of a presence. It’s a look of awe and expectation on Mom’s face when I enter her home… a look that says “I’m so happy to see you” and, even though there’s not even a whiff of snark or sarcasm in her voice or eyes, her welcome lands on me like a 747 of guilt.

The guilt comes from knowing what Mom’s face means. Before I started working and we spent unfettered chunks of time together, Mom’s smile meant a heartfelt “I have so much to tell you.” But now, my days consumed with writing and real-estating, Mom’s facial expression is more tentative… it says “I know you can’t stay, but maybe you’ll just sit for a minute?”

So I do.

But as I sit, ostensibly giving Mom the minute she wants, I also scroll… my eyes wandering down to the cell phone pinging in my lap; was that the email I’ve been waiting for? Did I just miss an important call? Did they leave a voice mail? Should I interrupt Mom and - will  she even notice if I do?

It all feels very innocent in the moment… like I’m just glancing down at my phone while being fully attentive to Mom’s conversation. But I’m not. I’m neither ‘innocently glancing’ nor ‘fully attentive’. No one is winning in this situation; clients aren’t getting what they need, and Mom’s not getting what she wants. In short – I’m not being enough for anyone.

A big-picture assessment clearly indicates that I need to prioritize… to take stock in what’s really important in life. And what could be more important than making my 92 year old mother’s remaining time on earth more enjoyable and meeting her every need? Right? Kind of...

The pixels of my big picture say something entirely different… After a 20 year child rearing gig, it’s my turn. I’ll be 60 in a few months and my own clock has started ticking… It’s my turn to live a little and do some self-serving me-things… to grab my own Golden Years bull by the horns.

It happens that my bull likes to work (who knew?), and I look forward to seeing what each day holds in  my business endeavors. But, I also look forward to seeing Mom. It’s a conundrum.

Perhaps, as with virtually everything else in life (…she said, 60 years in…) it’s about balance and boundaries. Mom has Sheila on Mondays and Cory on Fridays. Maybe she should have Emily on Wednesdays for that missing ‘chunk of time’ we use to share. I could leave my phone at home and just be present for Mom.

Sounds like a plan… Wait a minute – I just have to put it on my calendar - on my phone.

Emily GaffneyComment