Making Momma Happy
How to love an aging parent.
Published: July 2, 2012
A daughter learns to let go.
The last straw in the quest to make my mother happy actually happened only a few months ago. Ever since my father passed away, my mother had been looking for the perfect home. She was under the impression that new living quarters would solve all her problems and give her the happiness she was looking for.
Her first move was out of the house she and my father shared to a lovely retirement village. It was an idyllic location, and she had a patio home all to herself. We all thought this was the perfect place for her. After a few years, it didn’t turn out to be the paradise she’d envisioned. So as her discontentment grew, my mother decided to move once again.
One aspect of my mom’s personality that my siblings and I discovered only recently is that when she makes up her mind to do something, it has to happen yesterday. Luckily, my husband had recently found a lovely senior-citizen apartment for his father, and we were able to get my mother an apartment in the same building. She went to visit and loved it, insisting that if she could have her way, she’d move in that very day.
My sister and I, along with our families, did all the work preparing for this move. Of course, my mother didn’t so much as put a can of beans in a box. Instead, she was like a general directing her troops, and we jumped to her orders. It was a daunting job, but we finally got her settled into her new home, even though there were still things we had to dispose of in the old house.
A few days after the move, I took her out to lunch and sensed something wasn’t quite right. I was exhausted and my intuition told me not to ask this question but before I could stop myself, I said, “Mom, is something wrong?” (Never ever, ever, ever say those words to an aging parent. I can tell you the answer is Yes! every single time.)
She began with a tirade about why she shouldn’t have moved: This was a terrible place with terrible people. She was so unhappy. How could I have allowed this to happen to her?
I just looked at her and burst into tears.
My mother was shocked.
I sobbed and sobbed and couldn’t seem to control myself.
“How can you be complaining already, when this move isn’t even complete?” I cried.
She just sat there, stunned. For once, she was speechless, so I continued to cry (our waitress was kind enough to bring me a box of tissues), and as I released those anguished tears, I felt something shift.
Something released. I truly could not do this anymore. I realized that after five years of serious work and guilt, I couldn’t make my mother happy—nor was it up to me to do so.
From that moment on, I gave myself permission to do things for her when I wanted to rather than because I had to. My resentment began to subside, and I was able to find a more compassionate outlook. My dad—her best friend—had died, and my mom was lost. She was demanding and trying to fill this void, but it was an impossible task. I also understood that the times in my childhood when I felt that she’d let me down had to be released. That was an absolutely freeing feeling.
Now I take her “issues” with a sense of humor. The other day, Mom told me that she was going to run away with the maintenance man whom she was sure had a crush on her. I told her a kindly good-bye, saying that I wasn’t sure if he’d clip her toenails. I could laugh at the situation. I’ve learned to let go.
My advice is to realize that, above all else, our parents are human. Trying to get by day after day in the best way they know how is a tough job at age 70, 80, or 90 and worried about the future. As grown children, we can find all the ways they failed us and allow those missteps to haunt us for the rest of our lives. Or we can attempt to make them happy, when in truth, it’s impossible. The best option is to release them—to let them follow their own paths and be who they are—and in so doing release ourselves as well.
Susan Dintino is an author, motivational speaker and radio-show host who embraces the opportunity to reach out to a multitude of people in a way that blends humour with the life lessons she's learned along the way.