Too Old to Parent?
Parenting: The Sequel
Mother of 13 -- and Still Not Off Duty
Like Grace Pipkin, Annie Snow (not her real name) thought she
was done with her parenting duties. Snow had raised 13 children. The first was
born in the 1940s, the youngest in the 70s.
Then came the startling diagnosis: Mary Ellen, her eldest
child, now 53, had invasive breast cancer and required a modified radical
mastectomy of her left breast, including removal of nearby lymph nodes.
Annie moved in with Mary Ellen prior to the mastectomy and
ended up staying for three months after a nurse trying to install a catheter to
administer chemotherapy inadvertently punctured Mary Ellen's lung. Annie
coached Mary Ellen in deep breathing exercises as directed by the doctor and
helped in many other ways, large and small.
For each chemotherapy treatment, Annie made the drive from her
home in Augusta, Ga., to Atlanta and stayed with Mary Ellen a week at a time.
One of her other daughters, Margaret, accompanied her on the majority of these
trips. But it was Annie who set the schedule and tone of the day, keeping
everybody moving like clockwork, assigning tasks and duties.
Mary Ellen's illness hit Annie hard, and she rearranged her
entire life to care for her. Still, she will say little about how much she has
contributed. "I'm not cleaning up Mary Ellen's vomit to be a hero," she
Dealing With the Stress
Psychotherapist Marianne Hunt, who works with seniors in her
Los Angeles practice, says, "It's critical to acknowledge the illness and
not to minimize the incredible amount of stress, on a practical and emotional
level, for both the parent and the adult child. The parent must also walk a
fine line to honor the child's way of coping."
"But don't be afraid to ask for help," she says.
"Make sure you get enough support."
When Sophie Pipkin was further wiped out by the six months of
tetracycline treatment, she needed meals, laundry, transportation, snacks at
odd hours, and help to accomplish even the smallest of tasks. Since, she has
slowly regained some of her energy.