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Grandmother, mother, daugther

A Mother’s Day Tribute to Caregivers

With Mother’s Day approaching I want to pay tribute to the 13 million women in the US who are living with Alzheimer’s disease either as a patient or a caregiver. The majority of these caregivers are daughters—but not only daughters: many of them are mothers themselves, and wives, and professionals. They are sandwiched between huge responsibilities. Their commitment and dedication are seemingly endless.


There are few things more distressing than competing responsibilities. Many mothers today find themselves in a position where they are ready and willing to sacrifice their own time and energy—their leisure and even their career—the sake of the ones they’re taking care of. They’ll take on any burden to see their children thrive. But they also feel their obligation to their aging parents very deeply. Caregiving for multiple generations feels logistically impossible. And then along comes the popular idea that taking care of yourself is also critically important. In this way, even heroic self-sacrifice begins to feel like a failure.

What to do? How can a mother who is caring for both her children and her parents function in a way that is both responsible and balanced without sacrificing her own physical and mental health? You can find many tips on the internet for managing stress: ask for help, seek out support groups, hire assistance. But here I would like to address a problem that all the mothers I know have in common but that’s not talked about as much: the discouragement of feeling like however much you do, it’s not enough.

Being present counts as an activity

If your time with your children or aging parents is limited, you’ll feel the pressure to make every moment count. Mothers in this position are tempted to plan elaborate activities—crafts for the kids, outings for the parents—to make up for what’s lacking in time. This sort of pressure creates so much stress that no one has a good time. Understand that just being together counts as an activity. Even if you are doing something commonplace—cooking dinner for your kids, cleaning for your parents—being present in the moment offers more of an opportunity for real connection than the cutest Pinterest craft or a harried cultural experience.

Think of wasting time as a micro-vacation

Focus on what you both enjoy

Again, when you have a block of time to actually focus on your loved ones—kids or parents—for a bit, you feel the pressure to make the most of it. So you choose their favorite activity, even if you’re not much of a fan of it yourself. This feels generous. But everyone will be happier if you’re happy. If you hate crafts but love reading out loud, give yourself permission to skip the crafts and simply read to your children. They’ll pick up on your happy mood. Similarly, if you and your parents have a television show you both enjoy, watching it with them counts as quality time even if it doesn’t stand out as something special.

Think of wasting time as a micro-vacation

We all know that “taking time for yourself” is a virtuous thing to do. Find time for a walk, take a spa day, make time to read a novel. But for a mother with too many responsibilities, these activities don’t just feel often out of reach—they often are. Life begins to feel like a fitted sheet that’s just a bit too small for the mattress: you can always get three corners on, but when you try to put on the fourth, something’s going to pop off.

Understand that a person who simply doesn’t have large blocks of time to spend on self-care will find tiny bits of time wherever she can. This means (are you sitting down?) that browsing social media — if that’s what you enjoy—counts as self-care. If spending hours in the spa is a virtue because it refreshes you, then so is ten minutes on Facebook. 

Making it work at work

It’s taken some effort, but many professional mothers are becoming more comfortable talking to their bosses and colleagues about the need to balance work with childcare. In the same vein, it’s important to seek work-life balance around caring for aging parents as well. Many businesses, especially now, are working to make flexible schedules so that employees can care for family members, no matter what age. 

Understand the connection between guilt and love

Mothers with competing responsibilities can feel guilty even when they know they’re doing their best. Understand that the distress you are feeling comes from your love for your children and your parents. It’s a bad feeling, but it comes from a good place. It’s part of the burden you are carrying for the sake of the ones you care about so deeply.

You are not alone!

Most importantly, reach out to others who understand your experiences from the inside so that you don’t feel isolated. Today more than ever there are great resources to help you find support, including The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and Hilarity for Charity. The AARP has a list to help you find local resources, too. Find a local support group if you can, or connect with others through social media groups