Oliver: Caring for Mom comes with on-the-job training

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

Motherhood is a hard job. Not that I have any experience in it, since my husband and I decided years ago not to go that route.

Sure, we’ve raised a couple of cats, but it’s really not the same. Closer, though, is the caregiving adventure we find ourselves on with my 86-year-old mother with dementia.

Like a lot of people who find themselves thrust into a parenting role, it’s a lot of hit and miss. Good thing I listened when my friends and colleagues regaled me with stories about their offspring. It would have been easy to tune it out, since, hey, I wasn’t going to need it.

Yet, here we are. Where once it seemed to be impossible to me to have to deal with another person’s messes, I find I no longer blink an eye. No sense getting upset or grossed out; it’s just something that has to be done. After all, she can’t help it any more than a small child can.

Then there are the inevitable challenges that come with mealtimes and bedtimes. Any parent knows what that means.

Sometimes it’s the “last bite” syndrome, when Mom doesn’t really want to finish what’s on her plate. It’s not much, but she is soooo full she just can’t eat it, or so she says.

Hmmm … I remember trying that when I was a little kid and getting absolutely nowhere. I wasn’t allowed to leave the table until that last bite was finished. These days, I’m too old to want to fight that battle, so when she’s done, she’s done. That last bite or last sip just isn’t a priority.

Of course, sometimes it isn’t just one bite. Sometimes it’s half her lunch, and I swear she’s just trying to be difficult. This inevitably occurs when I’m out and my husband has Mom duty. So not unlike a child trying to pull a fast one on the baby sitter, Mom will try to manipulate him into not having to eat what she’s supposed to eat.

This is when the tried-and-true, universal lessons of motherhood really help. Mom has a nutritional “milkshake” each day that her doctor has recommended. Mom looks at it as a treat.

So when she plays games at lunchtime, I remind her that she won’t be able to have her milkshake if she doesn’t finish her lunch. I have to stifle a giggle when she immediately returns to the table to finish her lunch. Thank you to whoever came up with that trick!

Similar tactics must be employed at bedtime when Mom is reluctant to put on her pajamas, take off her shoes or remove her eyeglasses. Any number of “Mom-isms” can be employed to varying levels of success. And believe me, I’ve tried quite a few.

And just like a toddler, there are tantrums. Oh joy. But instead of hearing “I hate you, Mommy,” I get “Why don’t you just shoot me?” and “I wish I was dead.”

Then there’s the universal, “I’m just going to walk away and not come back.” I think the toddler set resorts to that one, too. Usually this occurs when she knows she has done something she shouldn’t and is trying to shift the blame, usually to me. Good times.

Of course, there are times when we laugh together and sing and get silly, too. Those are the times I savor.

Motherhood is hard, and I still don’t have any experience in it. Yet, I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve picked up from those who have.

Caregiving is a hard job, too.

• Joan Oliver is a former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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