Mothering roles change as we age

by Ruth Griffiths

As my mother and I get older, our roles are reversing in some ways. Being a daughter has quietly morphed into a mothering role with my own mother. Gradually my sister and I are assuming more responsibility for our mother.

My mother took care of everything at home and allowed me to grow up mostly carefree. When I produced children of my own, she was there to support me, but not smother me. She did what she could from a distance to help me learn how to be a mother myself.

But gradually, as she enters her 10th decade, I am taking on more of the caregiver roles: remembering the birthdays, organizing family gatherings, arranging her medical care, assuming financial responsibilities, shopping for her clothes. As my mother has become less mobile and less energetic, I have taken on the necessary role of mothering the one who gave me life.

We enjoy each other’s company, but it is difficult to discuss deeper issues with my mother, now. Her world has become smaller and her memory of recent events is short. So we chat about the things she remembers well… laughable moments from my childhood, such as the time we fed watermelon seeds to a mouse who lived under the bureau in the hall of our farmhouse. My mother seems to come alive when she discusses the events of her youth, so that has become a welcome topic during our visits. I love to hear about her growing up years and she seems to enjoy telling me her stories.

When I take my mother for a medical appointment, for example, I zip up her coat, remind her to wear her gloves and steady her as she gets into the car. I don’t mind going slowly with her because she was the one who held both my hands when I was taking my first steps. It’s my turn to be the helper.

Sometimes I miss being just the daughter. Sometimes I want to cry on her shoulder and have her tell me it will be all right. But I know that, as we get older, it is more difficult to handle stressful emotions, so I try to keep our conversations light. It’s my time to be the mother and I can reassure her that it will be all right.