I’ve been noticing that when I get caught in the undertow of feeling like a failure at parenting, it makes me really angst-y and hyper-controlling with my kids, especially my 15-year-old daughter, Grace. This happened last week when, mid-stream in spring softball tryouts, she suggested that maybe she wasn’t really all that keen to play softball after all. Turns out the practices were sort of grueling and boring and she’d rather be hangin’ with her girlfriends at Starbucks.
This made me worried. Inner dialogue: “Does this mean colleges will think Daughter is lazy? She needs to play softball! I’m going to talk to her. I am going to point out how to her how important it is to be involved in activities!” I love watching her play but I also love how it makes me feel — like a rock star mom — when I see her out there tearing up the field. And, if she’s just sitting around every afternoon, what does that say about my competence as a mother?
In my next life, I want to come back as Dr. Kathy Selvaggi, the palliative care doctor who appears in a new Frontline documentary series about how our health-care system handles end-of-life care. I think we should all idolize clinicians who escort people to and from life — midwives, labor and delivery nurses on the one hand. Hospice nurses, chaplains, and palliative care physicians, on the other.
Dr. Kathy Selvaggi and Dr. Atul Gawande (author of Being Mortal, the book on which the Frontline series is based) both say that it is really, really hard coming to the realization you or a loved one is dying. They tell us that, for most people, when it comes to dying: Fear Rules.
My best friend from college and I use a term “the hard professor,” as shorthand for situations where our heroic efforts haven’t felt good enough. It comes from an analogy I created to make a point. It worked like this: If you were in a class with a professor who, in 20 years of teaching, had never given a grade higher than a “B” and you earned a “B+,” would you be mad at yourself for not getting an “A?”
I’ve learned that when you lose perspective about the value of your efforts, it’s always nice to have a friend point out that you are in the hard professor’s class.
I was trying to explain to a male colleague why I am naming my new website “daughterhood.org.” He’s both an expert on aging and shares responsibility with his sister for their mother’s care. So, I wanted his advice on creating a resource that helps families care for their parents.
But when he heard the name of the website, his first reaction was: “So this isn’t for me?” A couple of other men were confused too.
The idea of “daughterhood” as a career-disrupter occupies little social media, blogging, and media real estate relative to motherhood. BUT, being a daughter can wreck a woman’s professional plans faster than anyone can say, “lean in,” or “play big.”
Taking care of an aging parent is the furtive, not-talked-about “de-railer” of women’s careers — not to mention their own health and sanity. I write and talk a lot about caring for the frail elderly. It’s what I have been doing for the past 20 years.
Here’s what I know about how this new life challenge takes the motherhood-career dilemma and makes it look like small time problems.