I have two young boys, ages seven and two. I am their momma.
My own mother is not well, and I am her momma too—not in name, but in responsibility.
I am two moms.
I’m sure this role reversal is a familiar story in many homes—moms taking care of their own littles as well as their aging parents. At some point, we went from being cared for, to caring for everyone else. It’s a transition you don’t really notice until you are knee-deep in tasks. Washing sippy cups and navigating dementia.
My mother is 59 years old. An age when she should be living full and free with an empty nest. Babysitting on a whim and marking her wall with the heights of her grandchildren. That is not the case.
Multiple Sclerosis, which impairs neurologic function, robs her of the ability to manage her life independently. She depends on me for almost all of her decisions—from finances to driving around the block. Walking is precarious. Small things like deciphering if a phone call is spam or making a frozen lasagna, are serious challenges for her. It’s as if the wires are crossed somewhere in her brain, and although she knows she should be able to do these things, she is in a frustrating state of fogginess.
These days, her phone calls to me are out of need.
Not selfishly, but out of a true, I don’t know what to do anymore nature. It seems she has forgotten how to be.
I orchestrate holidays, doctor visits, bills, taxes, and appointments. Sometimes, I just can’t get her where she needs to be, and I depend on my husband to pick up the slack. Or she just doesn’t go.
I know so many young mothers are longing for a mom they have lost. Some have parents who live with them, and some have no relationship with their family at all. Most families have complicated and messy dynamics. Many have situations much more dire than mine, yet still, I long for normal.
I see moms and grown daughters out with small kids and wish for that reality. What would it be like for a mom to check on me? For someone to call me and ask what they can do today? For her to ask how my night went with my sick toddler? For her to even know my toddler was sick?
For a mom to stop by and lend a hand or a listening ear. A mother.
Most days I push through with a determination to get all of the things done. With the acceptance that I just won’t have that relationship in my life. It’s easy to let bitterness seep into your thoughts, especially when many of your efforts go unnoticed. If the person you are helping doesn’t appreciate or even acknowledge the help. The help is expected.
I spent a long time being upset with my mother. We’ve never had the loving relationship I have with my own children—which makes this role reversal even more challenging. I could probably use a good couch session with a therapist, honestly. I, like most folks, could benefit from someone getting all of those feelings up and out. I am like a drain that won’t empty from all the years of junk stuck to the sides.
I know logically that she cannot be who I want her to be. But still, my heart aches.
I don’t share this out of pity. I have a full and busy life, and I’m grateful for the relationships I have. I share this in the spirit of solidarity for someone going through the same.
I see you, balancing all of the plates and picking up another.
I too wonder, what if I just didn’t do this? Your feelings are valid and shared by so many others. I share this to encourage anyone who does have a conventional family dynamic to cherish it. To thank your lucky stars.
And I’ll continue to be two moms. For as long as it takes. Because I am needed. Which is both a blessing and a burden at times. I am immensely grateful to be a momma to my own boys, and I know that deep down, my mother is grateful for me. And I’ll do this because one day, I may need someone to mother me—to guide and assist and remind me how to be.