I Never Experienced Parenthood Until I Became My Mother’s Caretaker

“Who’s Your Mama?”

By the time I was 20, I was sure having children wasn’t for me. It was a conscious decision, but to fully understand the reason why, not so simple. To this day, I cannot fully answer why my desire was to live my life childless. I have no regrets with that life choice or any others I have made along the way.

How could I have known at 54 years old the essence of a child would enter my life in the guise of a mother challenged by Alzheimer’s? I did not ask for this, but it is the current chapter of my life. What this flip-flopped role of daughter becoming mother has shown me is what a wonderful mother I would have been… what a wonderful “mother” I am!

My role reversal with mom is nothing short of amazing. The dynamic of being thrust into this “parental” role is life-changing. I have learned to embrace this frail being whose existence has become dependency and helplessness. Her emotional tantrums that seem to flair up when things don’t go just as she expected. No fault of her own, of course, just another result of the disconnect in her thought process from her disease.

How could I have known at 54 years old the essence of a child would enter my life in the guise of a mother challenged by Alzheimer’s?

Preparing healthy meals and snacks and administering medications are daily affairs. Gently cleansing her 86 year old body in lavender suds as she clings to me in the shower. Pulling her outfits out for the day and often getting vetoed by her for my blouse or trouser choice due to color or fabric. Transporting her to appointments and engagements to keep her healthy. Scolding her for mishaps, only to later embrace her with warm hugs and apologies. Washing her clothes, paying the bills, cleaning our home to make her feel safe and secure.

It is truly like raising a child.

There is only one difference and it is a very big one. As our parents did all these wondrous life caring tasks for us as children, we learned just how truly fortunate we were. As we aged, we gained a deep and loving appreciation for them that would grow as we grew. We learned how to reward their efforts by making them proud of us with our journeys in life.

With the Alzheimer’s “child,” the “parent” and their care are usually forgotten in the flash of a moment. They live in the moment, but as it slides past, they have no recollection of the delicious dinner or the warm towel wrapped around them after their shower. They don’t remember who the gift was from at Christmas or that the cake was in celebration of their birthday. They cannot be thankful for their caregivers attention to the administering of medication because as soon as they swallow the pills they have forgotten they have been given them.

Looking into her sweet, sunken eyes and knowing she is safe is enough reward for me.

It certainly is not that they don’t appreciate you as you place their dinner upon the flowered placemat or apply the moisturizer to their dry winter skin or clean the lenses on their eyeglasses. It’s just as soon as you finish this caring gesture, in their afflicted mind, it is gone. They don’t remember any of it.

So my “child” does not strive to make me proud with good grades or personal accomplishments. She just needs me. She needs my mind for hers is failing. And my “child” does not need to make me proud, for my pride comes in knowing I am doing the best I can for her. I do not need accolades. Looking into her sweet, sunken eyes and knowing she is safe is enough reward for me.

And as I tuck her into bed this evening and kiss her on the forehead, I will turn out the light knowing I was the best “mother” I could be.

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