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Raising Kids While Caring For a Parent

What I Learned Watching My Mom Care for Her Own Mother


I was 10 years old when my grandfather passed away and my grandmother moved in. Before the tragedy of my grandfather's death, and the gift of living in the same house as my grandmother, she had been battling cancer. During that time, my mom split her days between raising her four children and nursing her own parent back to health.

For the next 13 years, my grandmother not only lived with us but was also actively involved in every aspect of our lives. She was a second mother, but I learned just as much from my grandmother's anecdotes and important life lessons as I did watching my mom dedicate her days to caring for my grandma's well being – both physically and emotionally. My mom had to make difficult choices daily, feeling pulled in both directions as she tried to care for both her children and her own parent. These are the 11 major lessons I learned from it.

  1. You're never just a parent or just a child: As you progress from one stage of life to the next, you don't leave everything behind. Even as my mom became a mom herself, she was always a daughter first and wouldn't let her new role completely overshadow the fact that she was also someone's daughter.
  2. It doesn't matter if you're a stay-at-home mom or a working mom, there are always compromises: My mom had a full-time job as a nurse before stepping away from her career when she had kids. She had just gone back to work for the first time in 15 years as her youngest entered elementary school when my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, followed a few years later by my grandfather's sudden death. From that point on, my grandmother moved in and my mom permanently walked away from her career in order to care for all of us. Even though she wasn't "working," she still constantly had to choose between her kids and her mom, make sacrifices over what events to miss in order to make doctor's appointments, and was always dealing with guilt about not being able to do it all.
  3. There's always something to be learned from your mom — at every stage of life: Everyone found my mom and grandmother hysterical because their natural form of communication was bickering. The older they got, the more similar they became until some strangers even mistook them for twins (much to my mom's horror). But through this friendship in their adult years, my mom always took my grandmother's thoughts and perspective into account. Despite being a grown women who was successfully raising four kids in her own right, she was still humble enough to recognize good advice, even when she didn't ask for it, and appreciate the value of a grandmother's experiences.

  4. Sometimes being a good child is when you don't put yours first: Some criticized my mom for putting her parent before herself or her family and constantly told her it was a choice they would never make. My mom did make an effort to prioritize my grandmother in the last years of her life and worked daily to make sure that she was supported, valued, and loved. Even if it meant that that we didn't have her undivided attention at all times of day, we gained something so much more: a strong moral code that doesn't turn your back on family.

  5. You go wherever you are needed mostd: Whether she was dealing with four kids or her mom, my mom's go-to motto was that she always goes where she is needed most. Like making a triage assessment, she learned early on that she can't be there for every person at the exact same time so she had to constantly reprioritize who needed her most at any given moment.

  6. A relationship with grandparents is one of the best things you can ever give your child: I didn't grow up with just one mother, I was raised with two. Although I always used to joke when my grandma was giving me a hard time that I wished I had the adoring grandparent who made me cookies and told me how perfect I was, I'm beyond grateful for all of her advice. I had a grandma who was completely involved in every aspect — including the bad — and wasn't afraid to tell me when I was wrong in order to help shape me into the person I've become.
  7. You might not always agree with someone but you always show respect: The generation that my grandma raised kids in was drastically different than the one my mom was raising us in. Many times my grandma didn't agree with or even understand the decisions my mom was was making but we were still taught to listen and show respect for her dissenting opinion and value her perspective.
  8. The time you spend with someone is more valuable than any gift or bouquet of flowers: From doctors' appointments and hospital stays to just helping pass the time playing cards, my mom was there for my grandma. While other loved ones sent a card on Mother's Day or stopped by with the occasional box of candy, I was able to see first hand that time is way more precious than what you spend on someone.

  9. It isn't about what you cook, it's about who is around the table eating it: When she was raising kids, my grandmother would spend hours cooking dinner before setting the table for a nightly family meal. When she moved in, my mom carried on this tradition – only she despised cooking. But she still worked to ensure that we always had a family dinner every night, even if it came from Costco's prepared food section.
  10. Find a spouse who not only supports you but also supports your extended family: When my grandmother moved in, it didn't just affect my mom or us kids but it also changed my dad's day-to-day life. He put her first, just like my mom did.

  11. The world doesn't revolve around you — and that's a good thing: My mom and my grandmother's relationship showed us kids that life doesn't center around the children in the house. It was just as important to help when was needed as kids and do things for others — including spending a Saturday night watching black-and-white movies instead of going out with friends in order to cheer someone up who we loved the most in this world.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Lauren Levy
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