Most of the family caregivers I work with are adult children of aging parents. Sometimes, as our parents age, changes are gradual so that we can meet them head-on and with intention. Other times, adult children are suddenly thrust into the role of caregiver for their parents.

My job is a strange one, when you think about it. As an Aging Life Care Manager®, most of my clients are aging adults. Many of them do not want 一 and often do not believe they need 一 any help or care. Put another way, my clients do not want to work with me. My job is to help them remain as independent as possible for as long as possible, and to help them understand what is happening to them.

The truth is that society does little to prepare adults for aging transitions. For the adult children I work with, the toll of caregiving is unexpected. They feel blindsided by the duality of their situation: they are at once mourning the loss of their relationship with their parent while their new relationship of becoming part or full-time caregivers, creates regular interactions that can be emotionally draining in a different way. No two people are the same, of course, but it is not uncommon for adult children to experience emotions like anger, regret, frustration, helplessness, and guilt.

If this sounds like something you can identify with 一 or if you know someone who might be in this situation 一 I recommend reading Mothercare: On Obligation, Love, Death, and Ambivalence by Lynne Tillman. This book offers a relatable and honest portrayal of the emotional complexities and practicalities involved in caregiving for a family member.

Mothercare is a memoir that explores the complexities of caregiving for a parent with a declining health condition. The book centers around Tillman’s experience caring for her mother, who develops normal pressure hydrocephalus, a condition that causes cognitive decline. This responsibility forces Tillman to confront a long-standing ambivalence towards her mother.

Tillman grapples with feelings of obligation, love, frustration, and even anger as she navigates the challenges of caregiving. She doesn’t shy away from portraying the emotional complexities of the situation. The book delves into the practicalities and emotional toll of caring for a sick parent. Tillman describes the daily routines, navigating the healthcare system, and the strain it places on her life.

Beyond caregiving, the book explores themes of mortality, aging, and the complicated dynamics of family relationships. Tillman reflects on her own life choices and the evolving relationship with her mother.

Tillman’s writing is honest and unflinching. She doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulties of caregiving or her own ambivalence towards her mother. Despite the challenges, the book offers a sense of empathy and guidance for others facing similar situations. It acknowledges the universal struggles of caregiving and loss.

Whether or not you read this book, it is my hope that caregivers understand that their feelings are valid, and that the emotions you’re experiencing are all normal 一 even the not-so-pretty ones. Caregiving is a demanding journey, and acknowledging these feelings is crucial for maintaining well-being. Please reach out if you need extra direction, support, or just a listening ear. You are not alone.