“Everyone needs more than one mother. I borrowed that phrase years ago, and it’s proven true.
Many of us lose our mothers well before they die if mental illness, dementia or other diseases take away much of who they are.
“She’s just not the same,” many adult children say about the “new mother” who often seems like a different person from her former self. Her new behaviors–saying things that don’t make sense, forgetting, fibbing, being overly defiant or overly needy–seem confusing. Once in awhile, the mother her children remember from before her illness shows up and children may be pleasantly surprised. I’ve heard: “She recognized me. We had a short conversation and she actually made sense!”
Confusing? You bet. My mother was chronically mentally ill and passed in 2004. Toward the end of her life dementia also set in. When I grappled with her behavior and with my response, professionals would say things like, “Embrace the person your mother is now. And embrace the other mother, the one you remember.”
I tried. I didn’t totally succeed, but I gave it my best shot. And I also grieved the mother I’d lost years before. Now that I’m working with adult children who are making important, difficult decisions for their aging parent, I’m convinced that the grieving and acceptance go hand in hand.,
But my premise: “Everyone needs more than one mother,” still seems true. Many of us don’t have the “model mother” even in childhood. I know my children didn’t. But God often puts others into our lives who can make up the difference in filling that maternal role. In my case I had substitute mothers throughout my life including my youth group leader who taught me how to back pack, an elderly, wise woman who cheered me on as I began to write professionally, and a good friend who kept me afloat during my kids’ teenage years
Like many of you, I’ve ended up in the mothering role as well. For years I filled those shoes as I helped adult children find placement for their aging parents. It’s a difficult role, and it was my pleasure to help. A long time ago, in college sociology class, our working group named leaders. My classmates named me the emotional leader. Kind of like a mom.