When my husband and I brought my Dad to live with us in May, I knew I was in for some big changes. I’m the primary caregiver and the one who gets up with him at night. Which is not a complaint, more to paint the picture.
After about a week had passed, I thought, “oh wow, this is just like bringing home a baby. No wonder mothers are tired.”
I’m writing here today to say, nope, nothing could be further from the truth. Bringing a parent home to live with you is nothing like bringing home a baby.
The fact that you brought the baby into the world is what makes being a mother different that daughtering your aging parent. I did not bring my father into the world. He lived for 25 years before I was born. For the next 20 years, he was a close part of his children’s lives, helping raise us with ideas of how we could be confident and capable adults if we had certain lessons. Then, my parents divorced and from the age of 38 onward to 77, he lived mostly alone listening to his own muse as to what he did with his time.
Then, a few months ago, he suffered a stroke and came to live with me.
Now, he needs someone to cook for him, someone to help him get dressed, someone to bathe him, and someone to walk with him in case he loses his balance. He also needs a cheerleader and recreational therapist. On those fronts, he’s in good hands. We get him out and about and involved in our community. We live on a street with close relationships to our neighbors and they love visiting with him. My brother visits as often as his out-of-town job allows.
Within all those parameters is a space in which my father and I navigate the past, the present, and the worry for the future. Indeed, I could lay down some sort of house rules that might work for me, but he is an adult and though he’s had a stroke, he isn’t incompetent. He isn’t confused and he isn’t demented.
Earlier, I was setting up his computer in his room and thinking about what podcasts he might enjoy since he can’t read any more because of stroke-related vision problems, I could feel that I was in danger of once again deciding how something for him.
And that is the moment the whole issue became relevant to being a stepmother. Bringing my father home and helping him has turned out more like being a stepmother than being a mother.
Working with my father to encourage without pushing, offering opportunities to exercise without over-controlling, providing healthy meals without being boring, and establishing a daily routine without dictating have all been a delicate dance. I am so reminded of my concerns that the kids weren’t getting enough sleep, or that they were eating too much sugar, or that I wanted them to pick up after themselves. It didn’t matter how sensible my ideas were, they met with the evil eye of who do you think you are to tell us what to do?
So, today when my dad was finishing the lunch our new caregiver had made for him, he was telling her that sometimes he wanted to sleep in and around here that was impossible.
“What about this morning?” I insisted.
“Oh, that? That’s not sleeping in.” He exclaimed. “I’m talking about sleeping until I wake up.”
Ha, helping him navigate his new life is exactly like being a stepmother. Except it’s not.
Today, as I headed out to the store, he reached out and beckoned me close. He bestowed an earnest hug and told me he loved me and appreciated me.
Right there, the similarity to stepmothering ended.