Playing a Role(model)

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They say death and taxes are the only certain things in life, but I’d like to add caring-for-an-aging-parent to the list of sureties. More specifically, my certainty is applied to adult daughters caring for aging mothers; a bold pronouncement, supported by a stack of legitimate but boring statistics, and stated by a student of this status.

Nothing in my childhood made caring for an aging parent look like a probability down the road. Mayberry RFD, My Three Sons, The Real McCoys, Bonanza … Lots of single fathers caring for their boys, (surely not because of d-i-v-o-r-c-e) but nary a one with a daughter caring for her mother. Probably an unintended omission. Death came earlier in those days, and “caregiving” wasn’t really a thing.

Without the prerequisite role modeling or training, I entered this realm somewhat unprepared. For 52 years, I was just the daughter, and Mom was just the mother. Although pretty straightforward, Mothers and daughters are complicated – maybe because by the time we become a mother, we’ve already been a daughter and we know too much. We have childhood experiences that tarnish the varnish of our own mothers, yet we see ourselves in them - parts of which we want to foster, and parts of which we dream of discarding.

Some of us are given an even more confounding arrangement; like being a 60 year old woman caring for a 92 year old mother (next door),  with a 28 year old daughter living above her. This arrangement makes me a mother and a daughter simultaneously which, let’s just say, provides an abundance of opportunities for growth (OFGs?).

Being a mother to my daughter is not the familial status that confounds me; what I haven’t experienced already, I can deduce from TV and social media (this particular twosome being of great interest in the media these days). There’s no shortage of those who came before us when it comes to mothers-caring-for-daughters.

Daughters-caring-for-mothers is an entirely different story. With every passing day, the OFGs I experience with my mother would have better outcomes if I viewed them as opportunities for love (OFLs?). More often than not, I don’t recognize an OFL when I’m right in the middle of it. Devoid of appropriate role modeling, I forge ahead with familiar behavior that reflects my dearth of understanding about the delicate relationship between an AARP-daughter and an aging mother. I just haven’t seen enough of this particular dynamic modeled in my lifetime.

Apparently, I am stalled in the learning curve, my daughterly expectations overriding my ability to drop my bag(gage) at the door when I enter Mom’s apartment. After all, she still looks like the mother I had when I was just her daughter. I forget that her parts don’t work like they use to, and she can’t move as quickly as I might like… or that she may not remember if she took her meds this morning, despite the fact that I placed them right in front of her… or that she actually enjoys going through all the scammy junk mail she receives daily… or that she needs a little help with lunch now, as well as dinner… or that she really doesn’t want to have another kidney procedure… or that she’s tired of getting old.

In these moments, I often forget to be patient… to be gentle… to lower my expectations…to be more loving… to remember that my moments with her should be about her. Instead, I plow ahead with my desperate daughterly demands and find myself drowning in guilt when I sense how much my words have wounded.

Bad me.  

But I also cut myself some slack; with no former footsteps to follow, it’s inevitable - and excusable - that a darling daughter would misidentify an OFL as an OFG and just step in it… I’m only human. The best I can do is try harder next time.

Passively or actively, my daughter living upstairs from my mother is (hopefully) taking it all in. She’s watching how I treat her grandmother, and she’s learning how to be with me when I’m 92. By modeling the ins and outs of caring for an aging parent, I may actually be contributing to my very own sweet spot in life. God, I hope she’s paying attention.


Emily Gaffney10 Comments