Extreme Caregiving 7: Mother’s Day

I’m a Nine on the Enneagram of Personality: the Peacemaker. I won’t bore you with the details, but if you are interested, go here. The Helper, or Caregiver (type 2), is in no way connected to a Nine on the wheel. Yesterday I took the unvalidated quicky version of the inventory, just for fun, and discovered I do have a score on type 2, where I think other times I’ve taken the test I did not. I guess that’s not surprising. Maybe I am living into my role as caregiver to my mother—who will be 99 next month—and my 15-month-old grandson.

I suspect my mother is also a Peacemaker, and it is our similarity of personality that causes conflict. I must say, without prejudice, I think I am on the healthier end of the type than she; to the point of appearing, on the surface, to have completely different personalities. Wanting her to move up on the spectrum toward good mental health when she can’t, frustrates and irritates me; and we clash. As I have written here recently, I am reading letters my father wrote to her more than 70 years ago. I can see, in and between his lines, that her unhealthy patterns began long ago. There is no hope that I can change her now.

Elliot—and I will not predetermine his type by his red-headedness—is his own person. It’s too early to tell, but I think he’s a bit of a 4: The Romantic, or The Individualist. He is sweet, cheerful, generous, and gregarious where he feels safe; and reserved and cautious in a crowd. And he is given to (very brief) fits of screeching and flinging whatever is in his hands—food, toys, bricks—when he doesn’t get what he wants. Oh, wow. That sounds familiar, too; I’m a strong 4 on the brief test. I’m too old to stamp my feet and fling things, but I am so doing it on my insides when I get frustrated with Mama. (Maybe it does sneak out a bit, too.)

It’s Mother’s Day. I no longer “mother” the two amazing adults I gave birth to, but I—rather surprisingly—find myself mothering these other two generations. I did not give birth to my grandson and I did not choose to be born of my mother, but they are the bookends of my life right now. They are both wells of neediness and fountains of determination to be impossibly self-reliant.

A good bit of my desire for independence and autonomy is inhibited by life in my mother’s house. I am both more the Peacemaker as I try to, well, keep the peace, and more the Individualist—sometimes in the inhibited and foot-stomping unhealthy direction—in my struggle for self-determination. With Elliot, I let go of inhibition: we dance around the living room to the music on our favorite Songza stations, shake rattle ‘n rollin’ like no one is watching. I accept his need for autonomy and his neediness for my care as completely as I reject Mama’s. He teaches me to try to accept her.

When I struggle with this caregiving role, as in “how the hell did I get here?” I pull up Heather Lende‘s words. She is an author living in tiny Haines, Alaska, whose blog I enjoy. She writes this about caring for grandchildren:

Caring well for a child, even a very small little boy who won’t remember anything we do today, is a better way to make the world a better place than anything else I will ever do.

I wonder, is the second best thing to usher a parent, the one who loved me and my sisters best of all, out of this life? If all the world had the opportunity to care for a tiny person at the beginning of life and an old person at the end, would it be a better world? I am a lucky person.

Happy Mother’s Day to all who mother, to all who teach, to all who love, to all who are open to learning and loving.

Elliot and Mama

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9 thoughts on “Extreme Caregiving 7: Mother’s Day

  1. Very thoughtful and a lovely Mother’s Day message.

    I’m thinking the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Inventory (http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/), may explain the dichotomy you write about at the beginning.

    All professional staff and 10th graders in my school district took the M-B when I was counseling. It points out (quite well I think) our preferred way of doing/thinking/acting (http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/preferences.htm/) and we all found it useful.

    –A new follower

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    • Thank you for your comment, Susan. I am a strong “I” on the MBPI, as is my mother, though she’s never done the inventory. It has become problematic for her, as she still craves solitude, but needs caregivers around much of the time. And as she craves the company of friends because of the inherent loneliness of old age, but can’t bring herself to seek it out (partly because, being blind and deaf, it’s hard to be with people). It’s a problem for me because I want to be alone, but she needs me! I’m a “J” and she’s a “P,” and I have to live with her. She would like to be a “J” I think, but she doesn’t know how and won’t let me help her; and she’s old and can’t learn new tricks. 🙂 It’s what happens when we don’t choose who we live with. Clashes! It does indeed explain a lot.

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      • The comment and response about M-B was very interesting to me in that people don’t usually think about relationships broken down and analyzed that way to see the “why” behind the dynamics.

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      • Oops! Yes indeed! FYI: I’m an ESFP married for decades to an INTJ but he sees and hears and we chose each other. He reads a lot. You no doubt know audio books, including just-released ones, for every technology are now available. If your mom can press a start button (a new trick?) might they occupy her and give you some solitude?

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      • She has a special tape player from the library for the blind, one she can slow down the speaking voice on, and replay when she misses something–which happens frequently. But there is not a huge selection of books. I got her a CD player, and she listens some, but it doesn’t have the features of the tape player, of course. I try to tell her just “get what you get and let the rest go,” but it frustrates her. Some voices on both devices she just can’t understand. Male voices are easier than female, and she doesn’t understand any accent. It’s a low blow to be deaf and blind both. If not for that, she would be more amazing that she is. Physically is pretty great!

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  2. I too saw that beautifully written episode! If we can see beauty, a beautiful life, anywhere, we can see it everywhere…it is, is it not, in the eyes of the beholder, a task complete though never done.

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  3. Your post got me to thinking again, and you have referenced this at other times, what we do and don’t do in our society, compared to other societies, to have a healthy frame of reference for caring for and honoring the elderly. It seems to me that part of our struggle, your struggle (and here I’m inserting stuff in your situation I’ve no right to) is the way we are programmed about all this stuff in American individualism and youth orientation(obsession?). Of course, that works on both sides of the equation, meaning the elderly, your mother, might have a different paradigm for independence and care-taking than they, she do. And I suspect that not so much do people in many other cultures struggle with doing it alone.

    There was an absolutely fabulous episode of Call the Midwife Sunday night one story line of which was a gypsy caravan where the gypsy midwife in her 40-50’s, herself pregnant had recently helped her niece give birth and whose grandmother, now in her last days, had been the midwife before her. The scenes of the generations giving birth, with the help of a sister from the House, and the interactions between the old woman, her grandaughter, the niece, the Sister and the two new babies was just beautifully done. .

    You are living a story that is all your own – your being plural. From where I sit, in spite of your struggles, it is beautifully done.

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    • Maybe I should try to watch that episode. I tried the series once, and couldn’t get interested. Maybe this summer…

      Yes, she does definitely have a different paradigm. I have written about it. I think people in other cultures see their lives as interdependent throughout the lifespan. My mom has a dependent/independent paradigm going on, and she does not want to be dependent. She doesn’t know the work “interdependent.”

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