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How I'm Dealing With My Mother

And why I hope my kids are watching.

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Woman standing in a kitchen at the sink looking out a window
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I’m Mothering My Mother, and I Hope My Kids Are Watching

I packed my suitcase and hopped a plane cross-country to spend a week with my mother. I would not leave for another 100 days. In the middle of our visit, my mother had a brain aneurysm that left her disabled. So I lived out of my suitcase, literally, for 100 days. I gave up everything — time with my husband and kids, holidays, my fitness routine and sleep — to care for my mom. I didn’t do this consciously; it was simply what I had to do. It was my calling at the time.

I’m very close to my young adult children. We talk almost daily. They call me for advice and consolation (and money), and I tend to be a doting mom. But for those few months, and for a year following my mom’s illness, I was a daughter and less of a mother. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was modeling a behavior for my children.

Every now and then when I’m doing some menial task, I catch myself thinking, “That’s how my mom did it.” It’s totally subconscious, but I realize this task was among the behaviors I learned from watching my mom — such as dozens of cooking techniques, how to properly repot flowers by tearing away old roots so new ones can form, how an early morning phone call sent her rushing to the airport to catch a plane as her father died. And how she rearranged our house to accommodate her mother when she became ill and moved in with us. I wasn’t paying mindful attention most of those years growing up but, apparently, I was learning. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was watching her mother her mother. It’s almost like those hypnosis apps where you put in the headphones at night and fall asleep while a soothing voice makes suggestions that your subconscious mind files away for another time.

Now, as I visit my mother daily in a nursing home, putting her above the rest of my family’s needs, I often wonder if my kids are watching — if they will treat me this way. If they will put me first. If they will give up their own families, their own careers, their own lives, temporarily, to care for me when the time comes.

Do they know that I sit for hours and hold her hand, just so she feels human touch? Do they know that my treat to her is to be there when she wakes up with her favorite flavored coffee and a donut? Have they seen me read to her or show her the pages of her favorite food magazine?

My kids are young adults and have their own lives. They’re busy. But they call often and ask about my mom, and I tell them about our days together. Yet I can’t help but wonder if they’re listening. Really listening — and absorbing.

According to AARP, as many as 41 million of us are caring for our adult family members, and that number could increase as life expectancy continues to grow. Chances are, my kids will be my caregiver someday.

Sadly, I know too many families in which adult children become disconnected from their aging parents. The parents are stored away in nursing homes (warehoused, as some call it), with an occasional, and begrudging, visit from their kids. I’d like to think I’m not going to be one of those lonely, and alone, mothers.

I hope my kids are watching.