Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Older Mothers, Younger Daughters

Today at Slate, I published an essay that I had been writing in my head for at least a year. It's about my relationship with my mother and my experiences of being a twentysomething and dealing with my aging mother's declining health and ability to care for herself. She had me at 42, which is still relatively advanced for childbearing (though without the aid of any drugs or fertility treatments), which makes her a lot older than my peers' parents. Throughout most of my childhood, her was nothin' but a number (as Aaliyah sang). She seemed as energetic and "with it" as my friends' parents if a little more wrinkled.

I'm very close to my mother, having been raised solely by her since the age of 6. We have a fairly intense relationship and have each relied heavily on one another over the years, especially after my sister married. We became each other's support network. This fact has made her aging process all the more difficult. She relies heavily on me and I fill ill-equipped to deal with it all. For the longest time, she has been "it" for me, the one person who has always had my back and even though she is still there for me, it's not quite the same.

I recognize (and worry) that this sort of story might be used in the "having it all" anti-feminist discussion. The reason my piece is about my mother and not my father is because he left when I was seven. Though he is even older than my mother, I don't feel the same sort of affection and responsibility to him. This would never be a story I could ever write about him.

In an earlier draft of the essay, I wrote the following, which got cut due to word count concerns:

I don’t want to add to the women blaming literature on the subject. And this topic really shouldn’t be gendered at all. In considering the decline of older parents, we actually find ourselves in egalitarian terrain. This is not about age of eggs or the ticking of the biological clock, but about the mortality clock, which runs out on both fathers and mothers at roughly the same time, if a couple years sooner for men.

Anyway, while most of my stories contain some humor or snark, I really don't find any part of this experience to be amusing. It has been quietly and deeply devastating. But writing this story has definitely helped me feel better and put things in perspective.


kassi said...

Dvora, I hope you know your story, your circumstances are heartbreaking. Unfortunately, many hostile and senseless people have been extremely rude/cruel regarding your situation. I would just like you to know, I understand. Care taking is a lonely, difficult experience, and you seem to be alone in this. There are many places that help w/respite care takers to find solutions. Please do not take the Slate readers to heart. I rarely, if ever, comment on those sights, but felt compelled to respond to the critics and also, to try to find you so I can send you a personal note of understanding. Wishing you the best during this difficult time...and keep writing...

Dvora Meyers said...

Kassi thanks for your comment and support. I really feel that this is the sort of situation when there is really no "right" answer. As for the Slate commenters, I haven't looked. I've been out all day, on a semi-vacation in the Bay Area, hiking. And I have no plans to read what crazy internet commenters have to say. I've been writing and publishing long enough to know to stay away. But I do appreciate people such as yourself who have taken the time to reach out to me.

As for the situation with my mother--we're working on it. I didn't recount what had happened during Hurricane Sandy but it was difficult and I finally demanded more help from my sister and we're trying to work on it. (It involves getting my mom's home nursing policies to pay out, which they are reluctant to do.) Anyway, I hope it turns out better. My mother really is a great person.

Christina Beisel said...

Thanks so much for writing such an amazing, personal story. My 60 year old mother has many health problems and requires quite a bit of care, time, and attention. Like you, I am 27 years old and trying to build my career, date, and explore my life, like most twentysomethings. After my dad and grandmother died two years ago, my mom experienced deeper depression, more illness, and just underwent a serious back surgery. And on top of it, I've always been fiercely independent, while my mom has always been a bit of the opposite. I love my mom - and do feel responsible for her. In short, it is exhausting and I often feel trapped, resentful, and frustrated. And I almost always feel guilty for not being enough for her or for not doing all that I thought I would do for myself in my twenties. I can't tell you how comforting it was for me to read your story. Thank you for voicing the challenges and emotions. In my experience, it is hard to express the love, the guilt, and the many other complex emotions that go along with a younger daughter caring for an older mother. Many thanks, again.

Dvora Meyers said...

Christina, thank you so much for reaching out and writing this amazing note. Like you said, it's such a wild mix of emotions. You look around at your peers and they're still being taken care of when they visit home. For me, every trip back to my mom's house means I worry and clean. And yet you don't want to leave her without the help she needs. The balance is almost impossible to find.

~Isabel said...

I am one of those older mothers that you wrote about....and i very often sit in deep thought about the things you wrote about. My husband and i adopted in our 40s (i had just turned 40 and my husband was 42) and our daughter, well, i just can't put into words how much we love this child.

Because of my older age (i am 45 now), i do my best to keep in shape and as active as i possibly can. I have routinely done the math in my head, playing the "How old will i be?" game in relation to where my daughter will be in her life. While i know things can happen at the drop of a hat, i hope that my daughter won't put off her life because of me....it does scare me, though. She is an only child....i am trying to put things in place so if something should happen to me, she wouldn't be the one responsible for me.

Any suggestions for somone like me? I want this child of mine to spread her wings always and not feel that i am clipping her wings should i ever get sick.

You are a fantastic writter.....i hope to see/read more from you!

Dvora Meyers said...

Hi Isabel--

Thank you for your wonderful comment. My intention in writing wasn't to make older parents (not just mothers) question their life choices. We all make the best choices we can make at the right times--or at least try to. My first and main priority was to give voice to younger caregivers who may be in that position because their parents had them later in life. Typically, this sort of writing has been the domain of middle aged folks caring for aging parents. And while that's also difficult, it's a different sort of experience. You don't really hear the younger people speak out much so I really wanted to add that perspective to the conversation.

It sounds like you're a wonderful mother who is doing the best she can to plan for the future. I really can't think of anything else you should be doing. I think we all recognize that no one (or very few of us) get the perfect/optimal setup for the future. We just do our best.