Motherhood: The Endless Give And Take

woman with older mother

Raising kids and helping aging parents is sometimes a circle of strife.

Some family stuff is just plain hard. Like now. My mother is 84, lives 2,700 miles away, has been in and out of the hospital due to illness, and is now in a rehabilitation center. I've flown from New Jersey to Nevada to relieve my brother, who lives down the block from her. I'm now navigating conversations with doctors, figuring out what isn't being said and working out what happens next.

I'm staying for several weeks and, since I've done this a few times, I know the terrain. I'm not complaining. But I am keenly aware of what such separations and circumstances do to my own family, to my marriage and to me as a mother.

I could write some pithy piece about the circle of life, and about how seeing their mom caring for an elderly (grand)parent strengthens my kids' sense of family. Or I could write some wise-and-not-too-whiny piece about how belonging to the sandwich generation has hidden benefits (empathy, for one). Or I could write something serious, but not too sad, about how facing these issues together strengthens a couple. After all, these things are all true.

But I won't.

Because, due to living across the country, lagging time zones and the differences in how my on-the-scene brother and I approach Mom's care, this situation is mostly frustrating, sad and stressful. My sons, 12 and 16, understand what's ahead, and sense the toll it's taking on me and, by extension, our household. And while my husband's parents, at ages 90 and 88, are healthier than my mother, there is still an element of their aging that weighs down on us all.

Frank and I are both the youngest child in our families, both born when our mothers were 34 years old. Our siblings have finished raising their children. Some are grandparents themselves. But we are in the thick of it, raising school-age kids, and working like mad to raise some future college funds. Doing both—helping my kids prepare for more independence, and helping my mother accept that independent living may no longer be an option—is exhausting, mentally and emotionally. No matter how much Frank and I listen to one another, no matter how much my sister (again, from long distance) offers support, no matter how much my own sons assure me that I’m doing a decent job at both, I sometimes want to shirk it off to someone else—someone smarter, kinder, less selfish, more objective.

But we are all stuck with me.