Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers! Some of us have kids who are adults now, and they have kids and we are grandmothers and grandfathers and even great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers. It’s very satisfying to watch the generations unfold, to mix with all the new personalities, get to practice even more unconditional love and nonjudgment and know perhaps little pieces of us will be carried on after we die.
I’ve been noticing little shifts as the years go by, from being the ever-present, decision-making and strong, active mother I was, to the less influential head of the family. The shifts started subtly.
At 50, I realized my kids, in their 20s, were physically stronger than I was. We were in the Grand Canyon, and I just couldn’t keep up with the 60 foot cliff-jumping and the near-death march hikes. It made sense, though; what 50-year-old mother could possibly remain as fit as her 26- and 22-year-olds? However, it was the beginning of the shifts that may happen to all parents and their children as we age.
When the boys married, made their wives the important women in their lives and had children of their own, things shifted again. They felt the challenges of having kids and discovered a new respect for me. It was a deeper feeling, but it was also a refocus from being my kids to being the parents themselves. Their newfound relationships put me more in the past. It was an appreciation along with a distancing.
Recently, we all had some serious conversations about my future, and that really hit me. This shift from the boys being the kids to starting to think about me as a responsibility really shocked me! Maybe it’s because I live alone. They both asked if I “wouldn’t rather move to be nearer them and their families?” The image of Sunday afternoons with them in some nursing home flashed before me: yikes!
It’s good that our kids are thinking about helping us as we age, and it’s probably an important developmental stage for them, but it’s difficult to accept. I like their new maturity and thoughts of protection, but my fierce independence rears up before me. My generation has always rebelled and done things our own way. I’m thinking aging is no exception. This autonomy will be with us until the end.
And, the end is looking different, too. We don’t want nursing homes, extended illness and medical interventions or reliance. These kinds of conversations about what we want are taking place with many of us and our kids now. For me, it gives me a sense of empowerment to try to control my later years. Of course, things change, and it’s impossible to control anything, but for now anyway, I want to make the decisions about what happens.
This balance of power from parent to child is becoming real, little by little, step by step. Where is the grace here? How can we appreciate that this maturity of our kids caring for us on some level is an important responsibility for them? It’s a chance for them to open to a deeper level of compassion and respect and possibly model the richness of it all to their kids.
For us, it can help us surrender and be more present to what is happening now. It can help us grow ourselves by accepting and being open and communicating honesty with our kids about the aging process and what we need. We can let go of the control we’re used to in our families.
Being on the side of the receiver teaches us another layer of love, a time to practice gentling the mind and trusting the truth. It can teach us patience with ourselves and help us realize that nothing is permanent. It’s so difficult, yet I know it’s a humbling and powerful time in its own right.
Martha McClellan has been a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus now to the other end of life, and has written the book, The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.