No male child ever took better advantage of having a type 1, 1950’s mom than I did. My mother took care of me. She cooked and cleaned and did my laundry. She did all the things her parents, puritanical Victorian Protestants born in the 1890’s, expected a good mother to do. And I lapped it up. Long after I moved away from home, my mom still looked forward to my visits when she could feed me and clean up after me. It was important to her. Taking care of me was her best way of showing that she loved me. And it was awesome, even though I did not always appreciate that awesomeness at the time. I am sure that if I could continue to take advantage of mum’s caring, I would.
Mum is going to be 97 this year. She still lives in her own home. But she is very hard-of-hearing and has very low vision. It has been years since it was a good idea for her to cook me a meal. She does a fair job of keeping her house clean, however there is a growing list of things she cannot, or perhaps, should not do. And there are plenty of things she needs done for her.
Mum really does not like this. I did not realize until her capacities began to diminish how strongly linked her self worth was to her service and independence. And I do not mean independence in the sense of self sufficiency. I refer to not asking for or getting assistance from anyone. That would be a weakness.
Growing old and infirm is particularly cruel for someone who has lived for most of a century believing that their virtue and worth are inextricably linked to hard work and servitude, especially in taking care of children and male family members.
Needing help equals ‘lazy’ equals sin.
Failing to take care of others and serve them equals ‘lazy’ equals sin.
It cannot be said that I am too intrusive in my mother’s life. I visit her every other weekend when possible and I do what I can to help her stay in her home. There is always a certain amount of anguish as, for instance, my mum feels ‘useless’ when I cook her a meal. She wants to cook for me not the other way around. This is hard on both of us, but I understand the dynamics of the situation and I do my best.
So, I get quite annoyed whenever I get criticized for the way I deal with my mums age-related shortcomings. I am not stupidly unaware of my mum’s feelings. I sympathize with her frustration at not being able to fulfill the role she was raised for. I understand that she is unable to change her idea of what it is for her to be a good woman even if that idea was made ridiculous fifty years ago. I would be selfishly fine with letting her take care of me, but she cannot. This is upsetting for her and her situation is upsetting for me. No derisive commentary from third parties who think they know better is either helpful or welcome. In fact it is very irritating.