The 3 Unexpected Stages of Daughterhood

I have spent the last few weeks talking to new Daughterhood Circle leaders. And, even though they live all over the country – from New Jersey to North Carolina to Texas and Minnesota — it’s AMAZING how many of the things they experience are exactly the same.

I mean it’s uncanny how similarly our leaders talk about their lives! Just within a couple of days, (I swear this is true) I talked to two women — both caring for their mothers at home and simultaneously raising kids — and they each talked about how much it means to them to be taking care of their mothers. And, then… each one of them, separately used these exact words:

Sometimes, though, I have to go out to the backyard and scream.”

You can picture women all over America standing in their kitchens coaxing teenagers to do homework, trying to get their 85-year-old-moms-with-dementia to eat, and, in their calmest voice, they’re like, “excuse me a minute everyone” and off they go outside to just have a Moment.

And, here’s where it gets even more crazy — these amazing, powerful, beautiful women tell me that …to top it off…. they feel guilty for being so frustrated.

Can we all just agree that it’s okay to sometimes HATE taking care of kids and parents? It doesn’t mean we are bad mothers or bad daughters. It doesn’t mean we don’t love our family and aren’t devoted to them, and most importantly, it doesn’t mean we’re betraying the people that we love.

Guilt is the issue I hear about the most, “if only I had known that this facility was going to be bad…” or “I should have fought harder with the hospital discharge planner… “ or “I should never have sent my mother to the ER to begin with.”

Fortunately, most caregivers eventually figure out they’re being asked to do the impossible. One of our leaders beautifully articulated the view that caregiving veterans come to eventually about all of the decisions they have to make and all of the challenges they have to navigate,

I kept thinking that I must be missing something and after awhile I realized….it’s not me. It’s just a crappy set of choices.

The women even further into their journey express an acceptance tinged with resentment about how the experience has changed their lives, “It changes everything.”

After having so many of these conversations, I realized that there are three common and distinct stages that every daughter passes through on her journey. That within each of these stages, there’s a very consistent set of themes and experiences. I want to share them with you because identifying the stage you are in can make you feel much less crazy…..

After all, you’re among millions who are going through the very same process you are.

The 3 Stages of Daughterhood

Stage 1: Disbelief

I work with a lot of aging experts…. And even they experience disbelief when the time comes that their parents need care. But, at least they already know our country has a terrible system for delivering and paying for care.

For everyone else, it’s utterly shocking. It’s hard enough to adjust to having parents who need care without coming to the horrifying realization that there’s no insurance or program to pay for it, no easy way to find services even if you have money, and that hospitals and doctors are very often working against you not with you.

This is the phase where you need to focus on getting oriented. Don’t make any really big decisions until you get the lay of the land. Here’s one starter kit that can help: Connie Chow’s Caregiver Beginner’s Guide at Dailycaring.com.

Also it’s time to start adjusting your identity to the new reality. That is, recognize that you are now a caregiver so that you can begin to get the help you need. Our San Diego Circle leader said to me, “I was two years into caring for my aunt before I realized…. I am a caregiver. It was only then that I could begin to really get the support I needed.”

Stage 2: Grudging Acceptance

One of the biggest differences in how individuals experience Daughterhood is in how long it lasts. The problem is that once your parents cross the threshold of needing care, you can’t really know how much care they’ll need or how long they’ll need it.

This is a big part of what makes this all so scary. You know you have to make a limited pot of money last but you don’t know how long you’ll need it to last!

One of the things that you eventually end up accepting is that there’s no cruise control to set here and everything will continually shift and change. There is more disruption — on a regular basis — than it feels like there should be. My favorite blog from last year is the one I wrote on how navigating change and uncertainty is now part of your life.

The good news is that you can learn and adjust, especially if you know where the best resources are. Check out my posts on favorite books and websites — they can guide you in knowing where to turn when each new challenge arises.

Stage 3: The End

One of the emotional contradictions of caregiving is to feel simultaneously grief-stricken and relieved when your parent dies. There are many women in our facebook community who regularly comment on how much they miss the parent they cared for. When it’s over, you lose not only a loved one but also the role to which you’ve adjusted.

This phase is also where you’re potentially making some very hard decisions about end of life care and facing the really dysfunctional part of American medical care. Knowing that this caregiving stage is inevitable, I recommend that you do some research ahead of time, and get your legal ducks in a row.

There are two resources I’m going to recommend here. The first is The Conversation Project’s Starter Kit. Because before you fill out advance directives or medical forms, you’ll need to talk to your parents – and this will help get you going. The second is the last section of the book How to Care for Aging Parents by Virginia Morris – starting with Chapter 26. This is one book you can almost certainly find at your local library.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that despite all of these shared experiences, there is also a lot of diversity among caregivers just like there is in any other population. How you go through this depends so much on individual circumstances. And, like any of life’s challenges, there is always an opportunity to grow and change for the better. Knowing this CAN help…. But so can finding a solitary place to just let off a little steam!