College Polish

06.08.134:45 AM ET

The Mother-Daughter Role Reversal

When your mom falls seriously ill, it feels like Freaky Friday.

A few years ago, my mom nearly lost her life. After a botched surgery, complications in her digestive tract made it impossible for her body to absorb any nutrients or fats from food. Everything she consumed was immediately rejected and regurgitated by her body. She lost 335 pounds in less than six months.

As her condition declined, the caretaker role was reversed and I was overwhelmed. The idea that her responsibilities were simply going to work and preparing dinner was quickly torn at the seams, revealing that my mom tackled countless errands, obligations, finances, and personal tasks that the rest of us never even considered.

This made coming home from college on breaks difficult, to say the least. The tireless, strong, dedicated mother I’d always known was suddenly a malnourished, weak skeleton of who she once was. I remember being unable to hug her, afraid she might snap into a million little pieces. Much of the laughter that once filled my home was replaced with tears or silent worry.

My dad, younger sister, and I did our best to pick up the slack left behind, but even with her duties dispersed among three capable individuals, we struggled. She knows where things go, who to call in certain situations, how to drive places without the GPS, and she cooks a mean green bean casserole that I’m not sure she knows I enjoy. It’s unfortunate that it took a serious illness to show me, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to see beyond my mom’s superficial labor and experience the deep commitment that is necessary to keep a family thriving.  

While I thought being home was hard, I discovered that being eight hours away at college was an even greater challenge. My dad would call with updates on my mom’s health and it was clear that she was getting worse. Feeling helpless, I did what little I could to help mend my family’s broken state. Money was tight after my mom’s disability leave expired, so I worked two jobs and sent my paychecks home. Prayer had never been a large part of my life, but asking for a miracle became my only crutch. And after doctors told us that Christmas of 2009 would likely be her last, I spent a lot of time distracted from my studies and focused on making it the best holiday we would ever have.

When summer break came, I found it hard to maintain the doting daughter status. Though my intentions were good, we still battle that typical college student/parent tension. At school, the only accountability I had was to me. I decided where I wanted to go, who I wanted to go with, and when I was leaving. None of my motives or actions were challenged by a looming older adult figure and, if I wanted my room to be messy, so be it.

So unfortunately, even after almost losing my mom forever, I still find myself falling into a trend of bickering, fighting, and sometimes even intentionally hurting one another’s feelings. I all too often forget the lessons I learned in those difficult times and neglect all of the care and concern that accompanies her actions. My mom works hard and supports us financially, mentally, and emotionally through her immense devotion and raw, true love.

I am at times guilty of being a selfish, inconsiderate, and hurtful daughter. I’m still a recent college graduate, and she’s still my sometimes over-bearing, well-meaning mom. But recognizing that disheartening behavior is a first step in becoming a more thoughtful, supportive daughter to a mom who deserves to have the love she gives so unconditionally to be returned to her ten-fold.  The next step? Letting my mom know how much I love her green bean casserole.

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