I have to get an article finished today, I told a friend recently.
Why dont you write one about women our age who have to deal with witchy mothers? She had just finished spending a difficult part-of-a-day with her mother, never an easy woman to get along with, but increasingly difficult in recent years.
She was being facetious but I recognized a near-universal truth in what she said.
The reality is that as we progress through middle age and our parents get older and older, there can be friction between even formerly easygoing mothers and their daughters. And if the mother has been a handful to deal with from the beginning, the problems are likely to become exacerbated, rather than easier as we both age.
What are some of the factors that make women increasingly cranky, witchy, or obstreperous?
1. If the woman has been widowed, she may be facing life alone for the first time in decadesand its not an easy transition.
2. Her health may be declining, or at least becoming more problematic. Even if she has nothing serious or life-threatening amiss, many of her parts dont work quite as well as they used to, and she may be experiencing pains and aches in a formerly pain-free body. She may be cross with herself, with God, with her doctors, or with the world at largeor all of theseover finding herself in this condition.
3. She is doubtless facing her own mortality. If her husband has died in the last few years or her health has declined, these factors only serve as reminders of her own inevitable end. Even if she is not a recent widow and still in relatively good and pain-free health, her friends have been visited by illness and/or death, and that, too, is a wake-up call.
4. She may have given up her right to drive, either voluntarily or at the insistence of a family member, or for failing the eye exam or otherwise losing her license. And this may leave her feeling incapacitated and dependentand not very happy about it.
5. Her health, diminished eyesight, or surrender of her drivers license may have impinged on her ability to engage in her favorite leisure time activities. If she can no longer knit because of arthritis, has trouble with the daily crossword puzzle because of her eyesight, can no longer drive to her bridge club, or is otherwise impeded from the activities she enjoys, she may be bored and frustrated.
6. She may be actively concerned about being put into a home or other facilityif not a nursing home then an assisted living facilityperhaps against her will, or perhaps in a place where she will not be well cared for. Even if she signs herself in voluntarily to a place where she gets good care, she will no longer be independent, eating what she wants when she wants and enjoying the privacy, comfort, and familiarity of her own home.
Why does she take her frustrations out on you? Perhaps for the same reasons you took out your tantrums and bad moods on your mom when you were a small childbut now the tables are turned. Now you wield the power. (Perhaps you already manage her money, and/or you were the one who engineered her loss of driving privileges, and she knows you are likely to be the one to find and coordinate her move into some sort of care facility eventually.) You wield the power, and she resents your authority. Youre also a convenient target. She wouldnt dare treat her friends that way, but as her daughter, youll likely put up with a certain amount of misbehavior on her partjust as she did when you were a pouting, whining, or screaming child and she put up with you because you were her baby.
She may also resent your (at least comparative) good health. Even if you have a few health issues, you are most likely in far better shape than she is.
You know the famous commercial tagline: Act now. Time is limited? Thats the situation you now find yourself in. That doesnt mean you have to put up with all manner of emotional and/or verbal abuse. But it does strongly suggest that you not turn your back on her.
Set limits. Be firm. Dont let her dump on you. But dont walk away from her, either. She needs you. And you needfor your own peace of mindto know that, when she does leave this earth, you two were on decent terms, still talking and, assuming you live somewhere near each other, still seeing each other regularly.
This does not mean that you have to move from Cleveland to Tucson because thats where she lives now. It does mean that, if you live at a distance from each other, you need to visit her as regularly as your work and family commitments, and your finances permit. And if she lives nearby, spend as much time with her as is realisticeven if you have to grit your teeth to do it.
Thats what my friend doesthe friend whose comment about her own witchy mother was the impetus for this article. She gripes to her friends that Sylvia (not her true name) is being Sylvia again. But then she takes her out to the movies or to dinner anyhow, because time is growing short, and my friend knows it and she knows when her mom is gone she will have nothing to reproach herself with. Dont you want to feel the same way?