Growing Up

My relationship with my mother has changed since we all moved. 

I knew about the phenomenon of role reversal that many adult children experience with their parents.  As the parent ages, the adult child becomes the caregiver.  The parent becomes more and more dependent on his or her child.  I have seen that happening gradually in my own relationship with my mother since my father died suddenly about twenty years ago.  The velocity of that role reversal has certainly increased since our move.  In our old home, my mother needed a lot of help with even simple physical tasks, but was very independent and competent when it came to arranging her own life and making decisions.  She always made her own medical appointments, decided on her own purchases, and even untangled problems like a glitch in her credit card billing on her own.  Up until a year before we moved, she was even preparing her own tax returns.  Since our move, she has had something of a crisis of confidence.  She is still perfectly capable of making her own decisions and arrangements, but seems reluctant to do so.  I am making her doctors’ appointments, overseeing her home improvements, monitoring her health insurance coverage, and, at her insistence, reviewing any research she does prior to making any decision. 

 At first, I was a bit disconcerted with this, as I thought it meant that her move across country had somehow triggered a decline in her general ability to cope.  After all, if she was doing all these things on her own and working full time for several months a year and doing substantial volunteer work while she was in her old home, why could she suddenly not trust herself to decide on a medical insurance plan once she moved across the country?  Then, a friend of mine suggested that it was very possible that my mother was managing all the routine tasks of her life the best she could simply because she had to do it herself.  My friend was absolutely correct.  My mother might not have been comfortable or confident in what she was doing, but didn’t feel she could ask for help because I was working fulltime at a very stressful job and lived 70 miles away from her.  Once I retired and we were living 15 miles from each other, she felt freer to show her vulnerability.  In reality, she has not declined.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  She is feeling well and her blood pressure is under control, even without medication.  She admits to feeling happier and less stressed.  Now, my challenge is finding the balance between helping her continue to feel well and making sure she retains her sense of independence and competency.

 So, the real change in the relationship is not the role reversal.  It is more related to that living 15 miles from each other thing. 

 When I was living 75 miles from my mother, it was easy to seem like a supportive, compliant daughter.  I talked to my mom on the phone a couple of times a week and saw her every three weeks or so. I’m sure she thought I was pretty close to perfect.   If I made a mistake or did something of which I thought my mother would disapprove, it was easy to just not mention it.  Once we started seeing each other four or five times a week, it was more difficult to keep things from her.  She knows when I buy something she thinks is frivolous.  She knows when I give a homeless person money just because I don’t want to deal with his annoyance if I refuse.  She knows when I agree to something that Max thinks we should do just because I’m tired of arguing.  She also sees me get snappish and sarcastic when I am tired or hungry.  I am pretty sure she knows now that I am nowhere near perfect.  Even though she only voices her opinions gently and occasionally, I know her well enough to know when she disapproves.  If I basked in the sunshine of her approval for 55 years before our move, I fear I am now in danger of sinking into the mire of her disapproval.  And I care way too much about that.

 It has been an uncomfortable transition.  When I first noticed the shift, I felt sad and empty.  I mourned that, in trying to do a good thing by taking on my mother’s caretaking, I seemed to have lost my relationship with her.  I knew my mother still loved me and appreciated who I am and who I try to be.  She probably has a much better grasp than I do on the fact that it is perfectly okay that she disagrees with some of my decisions. Still, I tended to become overcome by anxiety by the fact that my mother might not always agree with me. 

If I am not the “easy” daughter who is never a cause for concern, do I cease to be lovable?

Of course not.

As more time passed, I remembered that love is a verb.  And so, in some weird non-grammatical way, is “relationship.”  It moves and changes and grows.  As I went about my regular routine of helping my mother and trying to maximize the joy in her life, I realized that I was starting to enjoy the same closeness I used to share with her.  As my mom and I “relationshiped,” we surfed through the turbulence.  While we may not always pull in absolute tandem, we do respect where each other wants to go. 

I learned that parental disagreement, even disapproval, is not a catastrophe.  Growing up should teach a child that it is safe to disconnect from a parent and live her own life without losing the love of the parent.  This education happens to everyone.  It is just that, for most people, it happens at around age 15 or 16.  It took me until I was 56.

 As my mom and I continue to come face-to-face with disagreements and no catastrophe happens, I think our relationship is becoming more authentic again.  Perhaps even more authentic than it used to be.  We are both coming to terms with the fact that we are each complicated, real people and not just our respective roles- perfect daughter and perfect mother.  Or more likely, we are just redefining what our “perfect” means. 

So what do you think?  Have you taken on additional caretaking responsibilities?  Has it changed your relationship with your loved one?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

As a side note, we had a bit of a “power surge” of new visitors this past week.  Welcome to all! I hope you enjoy enough to continue visiting, reading, and sharing.  I have been posting every Wednesday.  If you would like to be notified when there is new content, please send me an email at terriretirrement@gmail.com. 

Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂

Moving on Up?

My mother says we have moved to a “stupid state.”  She bases this assessment on the following:

  1. The highway and traffic systems are wild, wooly, and weird.
  2. There are more counties, with infrastructures supported by the taxpayers, than seems strictly necessary for sound governance.
  3. The news broadcasts consist almost exclusively of predictions about when the rain will hit each particular city block.

I am aware that my mother is having some difficulty with the transition to her new living situation.  She tries not to complain, but I can tell based on her frequent mentions of the “stupid state” and her abject despair whenever she is faced with any reminder that she has moved (like getting a piece of mail that has been forwarded from her old address).  I suppose it is natural for anyone, much less an 84-year-old woman with chronic kidney disease, to grapple with the trauma involved with a change of this magnitude.  I know I have my moments, as well.  Still, I do wonder if I did the right thing in moving her to our new state.

The original plan was that Max and I were going to remain in the old state while my mother was still alive.  She had a very active, happy life there.  Despite her significant physical infirmities and limitations, she still worked full time during the summer.  She was the queen bee of the volunteer docents at the local reservoir.  She knows more about water than anyone not employed by some water district has any right knowing.   She had lots of friends and acquaintances there. She was driving, something she stopped doing before moving (see “stupid state” reason number 1).    My brother, who has physical and financial issues of his own, lived close by.  She had access to excellent health care basically for free because of the wonderful insurance plan she has been patronizing for the past 50 years.  Still, when I bought the house in our new state, there were a few things in her life that were starting to disintegrate.  I thought she might want to move and it didn’t make sense to postpone our move for her sake if she truly would just as soon go, too.  She surprised me by saying she thought she would like to move.

Although my mother talks about the “stupid state,” I think there are really three main reasons she has some regrets about moving.

  • Her health insurance plan does not operate in our new locale.  This has been a constant refrain since she contemplated moving.  After nearly 50 years with the same company, it is a jolt, especially since the old plan operated completely differently from any traditional health plan.  Basically, it was run sort of like a privatized socialized medicine system.  The insurance company actually employed doctors, ran hospitals, and staffed pharmacies and labs within their own facilities.  A patient makes an appointment, goes to the facility, pays her $5 copayment, and all needs are addressed in one location.  While inexpensive and very efficient, the health plan was also pretty paternalistic.  Patients didn’t have to worry about finding a doctor or lab or paying much of anything.  However, if a patient isn’t happy with the doctors or facilities provided by the insurance plan, she is pretty much out of luck.  My mother loved her care providers and the ease of the experience, so “having to go to their doctors” was a blessing, not a problem.  I’ve got her signed up for a Medicare supplement policy now, which should mean that she should not have any significant costs.  Still, she is worried about a myriad of scenarios, most of which are extremely unlikely… that she will have to pay the doctors and file claims for reimbursement, that she will somehow end up paying the maximum out-of-pocket costs every year, that she won’t be able to find a doctor who will give her an appointment, that she won’t know where to go to get lab tests.  I’ve got her scheduled for her first doctor’s visit next week.  Hopefully, she will like the doctor and everything will go smoothly.  If so, I think that some of “health insurance” objection to moving will fade.  If not, the upside is that she CAN go to another doctor.
  • If she was still in her old home, she would have been working in the accounting department of a school district food service department during the summer.  Although my mother officially retired from her job at the food service department almost 20 years ago, she has been going back as a temporary employee during the summer every year since.  She loves it.  She has always been a social butterfly.  At the school district, she visits with her old friends.  People make a big fuss over her.  She does an important job processing applications for free and reduced price lunches.  Everyone aids her and makes allowances for her physical limitations because they love her and she really is very good at what she does.  Now, she chokes up when she talks about how she would be working at the school district if she was still in her old home.  The sad truth is, though, I am not sure how much longer she could have kept up with the job.  When I bring up the possibility of volunteering now, she puts me off.  Since she has moved here and I am with her more, I am seeing that she is much frailer and more tentative, both physically and in making decisions, than I ever thought she was.  I’m sure she would have gone to work this summer, if she had not moved, but I’m not sure it would have ended well.  Maybe it was better that she “go out on top” and stop because she was moving rather than because she became incapable.
  • My brother remains in the old town. It is hard for any parent to leave a child.  My brother’s health and, with it, his reliability to assist my mother, has been diminishing for the past five years.  I know she worries about him and it was probably doubly hard to leave a child who “needs” her.  On the other hand, there really isn’t anything my mother could do for him ten miles away than she cannot do 3000 miles away.

On the plus side, my mother says she feels better physically than she has in years since she has moved across country.  I think she is secretly happy to have left her volunteer empire, as she expressed that it felt good to not have the stress of the timesheets and all the phone calls.  The mobile home where she was living (which she bought for $6000 in 1996) was falling apart around her.  It was filthy and decrepit.  She always said the mobile home bothered me way more than it bothered her, but the fact remains.  Now, she says she loves the new mobile home here in the great southeast and that she feels her living conditions have improved considerably.  I am at her place at least four times a week and take her out often, to run errands and to go fun places. I think she likes that, even though I can’t really compete with all the activities and interactions she had in her old environment.

There are arguments on both sides of the move issue. I truly don’t know if we made the right decision.  I am sure that, as Robert Frost pointed out, there is always the “road less traveled” phenomenon.  Whichever decision we made, there would always be “woulda, coulda, shouldas.” If my mother had not moved, my brother might not have been able to take care of her needs because of his own medical conditions.  The wiring in the old mobile home might have failed and caused a fire.  She might have gone to her volunteer job one day and been unable to get back in the car.

A friend of mine once said, when I was obsessing ad infinitum about some decision or action, “stop shoulding all over yourself.”  I guess that is the problem.  I want an answer that is guaranteed to be the right one, with no questions or regrets.  I don’t get to have that.  Also, people do get to feel the way they feel.  Ultimately, my mother was the one who made the decision and if she has wistful moments, that’s okay.  It doesn’t mean that she thinks it was necessarily the wrong decision to move.  I will do what I can to help her be comfortable and happy in her new home.  And if she ends up deciding to change her mind and move back west, she knows I have her back on that, as well.

So what are your thoughts?  Do you struggle with making the “right” decisions, too?  Have you discovered any successful strategies for living peacefully with the paths you take?  Share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a beautiful day, no matter which road you don’t take!

Terri 🙂