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I have no idea what I’m doing.

This is the thought that has run on a loop in my head since my mother got sick six months ago, and I suddenly became responsible for her wellbeing. It feels eerily similar to how I felt right after I had both of my kids, now 13 and 8 years old.

I remember looking at these beautiful perfect little humans, and thinking…who thought it was a good idea for me to be in charge of them? What do I know about this?

Never mind that I had worked in education for 13 years by then, since before I graduated high school. Never mind the sociology of the family classes. Never mind the education classes. Never mind the years of working with other people’s children

I have no idea what I’m doing.

I was terrified I would mess it up catastrophically. That something would happen to them on my watch. That I would drop their squishy soft little selves. That I would sleep through their cries in the night, and they’d smother. That my milk wouldn’t be able to sustain them, and neither would formula. That I would not have enough energy reserves to help them. That I would get lost in the crush of it, who I am subsumed by their needs. Fear had me on constant high alert. Nervous at best, hyper-vigilant at worst.

But I got through it. I looked to the women who I had watched do it before successfully and emulated them. I looked to the Moms I admire, and paid attention. I learned to swaddle a baby, to figure out what made them comfortable, to create a routine. To feed them when they were hungry, put them to bed when they were tired, to make good choices for them, and to adopt all the responsibilities that come with motherhood. Willingly. And to willingly adopt the responsibility for myself. A little space for me, the needs I have to be the mom they need. To balance my needs with theirs.

And they thrived. Most days they were healthy, happy babies. Most days they are the same as big kids.

They say nothing can really prepare you for the moment you become a mother. And you know what? It’s much the same with when you become responsible for your own parent.

I have no idea what I’m doing.

When the doctors said, “This is what’s wrong with her,” but it was clear to us that it wasn’t even close to all that was wrong, I was scared. I didn’t know how to fix it, and somehow, I was responsible. Who thought it was a good idea for me to be in charge of her life? What could I possibly know about this?

Problems I didn’t know how to fix piled up. She was refused the right care from doctors within her (awful) HMO, and they refused to do the one test that I was sure would diagnose her. My family was incredibly stressed. My kids watched their once fun and loving grandma become someone else. I was sure that there was something that had to be done to help her, and I didn’t know what it was. I was scared my kids were going to be irrevocably scarred by the process, the pain of watching her fall apart. I was scared my family and I would fall to pieces under the strain. And I watched her care subsume my life, much like what happened when I didn’t know how to give myself the balance I needed when the kids were tiny.

But I didn’t give up. I did the same things I did for my kids, and eventually myself, when they were small. I trouble shot. I kept trying to get the right care. I got her out of her awful insurance, and finally got a diagnosis. I learned that she is not the same that she once was, and she never will be again. In truth, I won’t be either.

I have no idea what I’m doing.

And it’s okay. I’m learning that the best I can do is rely on the things I learned about balancing caring of myself and caring for my family when the kids were little. I’m taking the advice and modeling of those who’ve come before me. My Mom’s cousin’s wife, who has been taking care of her mother for years. My good friend whose father fell ill years before his passing and her family learned to live with his lingering terminal illness. My friend who came to know so much from caretaking for her father that she literally wrote the book on Dementia Home Care. I’m learning to make the best possible choices I can for my mom and adopting the responsibilities that come with caretaking someone who once cared for me 24/7. Willingly. And again, willingly balancing the responsibilities for my family and my own care at the same time.

Most of all, I’m learning that though I have no idea what I’m doing, it’s alright. None of us really do.

As mothers, and daughters, we’re here to learn from each other. And I know that is the absolute best we can do.

Connect with SE Zeller on social media:

On Instagram @pnwriter

On Twitter: @pnwriter1

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