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Now I’m the mama

Posted on Thursday, July 9, 2009 in Mom

Mom has always introduced me to her friends as her baby. Now intros are “This is my baby. But now I’m the baby and she’s the mama.” I’m not sure how to be mama. I’ve never been a mother before.

During my father’s aging, illness, and dying he required me only as daughter. I could comfort, bathe, and listen to him as a daughter. He didn’t need a mother. But Mom does. I don’t know if it’s because she lost her mother in her teens or her spouse isn’t living or if it’s because of her dementia. No matter the reason, this new role makes me a little uncomfortable.

Notes on a daughter becoming her mother’s mom

– New mothers usually know when they assume this role. There’s a pregnancy, birth, adoption, marriage, or other specific event. I don’t know when I took on the role.

– New mothers have events to look forward to and enjoy: first step, music recital, graduation, etc. I look forward to a first fall, loss of vocabulary, a funeral. Mothers get to watch their children learn, develop, and form attachments. I get to watch my mother forget and shrink and lose her appetites.

– Being a daughter attaches you to your mother in wondrous ways. So does becoming the mother to one’s mother.

– Daughters experience guilt. Mothers experience guilt. My mother seldom made me feel guilty as a child. But now I ask myself if I’m doing everything she expects of me or everything I should be doing for her. Am I messing her up somehow? Is this a daughter’s guilt or a mother’s?

– Literature and drama portray daughters in terms of obeying their fathers and fighting with their mothers. Or, less often, fighting the father and obeying the mother. Either way it’s about adolescence. The experience of the 40 to 80 year-old daughter is usually ignored.

– Filling the role of a daughter as an adult requires a shift in one’s self perceptions as to what it means to be an adult.

– Becoming your mother’s mother requires and even greater shift.

– Mothers of children easily form communities with other mothers. They run into each other everywhere. Daughters-turned-mothers are also everywhere but unseen. We merely nod to each other when passing in apartment, nursing home, or hospital corridors.

– For me, motherhood won’t last more than a few years. It’s not a lifetime thing. For others this daughter-as-mother role can last as long as childhood.

– Sometimes you return to being a daughter in order to be a better mother. This syntax is just as cumbersome and awkward in real life as it is in a sentence.

– This is the only form of motherhood I’ll ever know.

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