Motherly Collective

My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease just before she turned sixty. When I became a mother myself last year, I officially joined the “sandwich generation”, a metaphor that manages to insult both caretakers of elderly parents and young children, as well as the classic American lunch staple. 

I’ve always been independent, a skill that I (no doubt) learnt from my mom. She was a feminist before it was en vogue, bringing home buttons from work for my sister and I that said, “Behind every successful woman is herself”. The thing that surprised me the most about becoming a parent was how needy I felt, mostly for my mom. I wanted to ask her everything about my body postpartum. I was desperate for her advice the first time my daughter got sick. And secretly, I wondered if she could’ve possibly been as overwhelmed with love for me as I was for my little girl. 

I’m lucky that my mom’s still here, physically anyway. But the person next to me can’t help me change diapers. She can’t babysit. She can’t even tell me funny stories about what I was like at that age. Instead, she needs me to feed, bathe and clothe her, the way my daughter needs the same. 

Once, I was helping my mom dry off after a shower when I caught a whiff of her breath. I loaded her toothbrush with paste and suggested she brush. When she gave it back to me much faster than she should’ve, I said, “Are you already done?” I cringed hearing myself, knowing my mom would despise such a patronizing question from her own child. But instead, she just nodded and said “See!”, baring her soapy teeth like a toddler would.

In moments like these, it’s like an alien has invaded her body. Like someone else is wearing her skin. Gone is the fiercely independent woman I knew and in her place, depending on the moment, is someone infantile, or silent, or worse, downright mean. Throughout my childhood, the strongest language I ever heard her use was when she called my high school boyfriend a “friggen’ idiot” after he dumped me. But these days, I hear all forms of expletives from her mouth, unfortunately (and unfairly) mostly hurled at my dad. 

Our roles have shifted. No longer is she the one looking out for me, but me for her, supervising her as closely as I do my wobbly daughter. I cut her food. I clip her nails. I remind her how to wash her hands. I bought her a smart watch intended for kids, its built-in GPS locator a tiny safeguard for the inevitable wandering to come.

But in a way, I have this horrible disease to thank for my daughter. Even though I had been married for four years and together with my husband for twelve, I kept putting off having children. It was only when I saw how much my mom’s disease had progressed that I felt smacked with the realization that I was late. I had waited too long, and had risked my future children never getting to know their Grandmother. Within a week, I was in my doctor’s office to have my birth control implant removed. 

The pain of watching my mom deteriorate is worse, in ways, now that my daughter is here, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from them both, it’s that joy can, and should, be found in the little things. My heart swells when I see my daughter discover her hands, or watch her attempt to put on her own socks, or hear her call me “mama”. It’s the same with my mom. If she happens to make a well-timed joke or say something that actually makes sense in a conversation, I’m ecstatic, cheering her on as if she’s just won Olympic gold.

When times are toughest, I close my eyes and wonder what my mom would do. When my daughter got Covid at only three months old, I stayed up all night with her, remembering how my mom had done the same for me countless times. When I took my daughter to her first day of daycare, I thought of how my mom peered through my preschool class windows just to make sure I was alright on my first day. And when we hosted my daughter’s first birthday party, I remembered more than 18 birthdays of my own where she went above and beyond to make me feel special. To make me feel loved. 

So while she may not be able to coach me right now, I know I’ll be OK because she’s already answered all my questions about motherhood in the way that she mothered me.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.