When a Solo Mom Becomes the Sole Caregiver
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A conversation about family, love, laughter, and letting go
Rebecca Jayne knows how to take care of people. She became a Solo Mom when she was 20 years old. She is the owner and sole technician at A Nail Affair, a boutique nail salon in upstate New York. She was by her mother’s side through her mother’s battle with uterine cancer. When her father was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2014, Jayne knew that, as an only child, it was up to her to see her father through his ordeal.
As the baby boomer generation continues to age, more and more people find themselves in the role of family caregiver. A significant number of these caregivers are part of “the sandwich generation”—adults who are caring for their own children and their aging parents at the same time. What is it like to be sandwiched between our young and elder charges? And what are the unique challenges for Solo Moms in the sandwich generation?
Jayne and I sat down to talk about her experience. What started out as a conversation about balancing solo parenting with solo caregiving ended up as a conversation about family, love, laughter, and letting go.
Q: Tell me a bit about your Solo-Mom journey.
A: I became pregnant when I was 20 years old. I was living with my boyfriend, and when I told him I was pregnant, let’s just say he was not game. He left. I was a Solo Mom for three years, and then I got into another relationship, and he lived with us until my daughter was eight. But that relationship wasn’t good, and I’ve been a Solo Mom for the past 10 years.
In a way, I think that being a Solo Mom is easier. We make our own rules. She wasn’t a hard kid; we had an easy flow. The hardest part for me was all of the “dad questions.” The answers weren’t always easy.
Q: Who raised you? What lessons did they teach you about the kind of parent you wanted to be?
A: My mom and dad both raised me. My mom and I were very close; we were best friends. There were no secrets between us. I think that’s why I’m like that with my own daughter. Yes, I’m her mother, and there are definite boundaries. All I need to do is give her one look and she knows, “OK, Mom means business.” But there’s also a deep friend connection.
Q: How did you come to be the solo caregiver to your dad?
A: My mom died in 2010 of uterine cancer, so when my dad was diagnosed [with a brain tumor], I was it. The doctors gave him three to six months, and he didn’t want to do treatments. He saw what my mom had gone through, and he didn’t want that for himself. I backed him 100%. He lived 14 months from the time he was diagnosed, and he lived life to the fullest until the very last month. When we realized things were getting worse, I closed the shop and went to take care of him.
Q: How did your experience as a Solo Mom prepare you to care for your ailing father?
A: Solo Moms are prepared because we do everything. There’s nothing we don’t do. We are caregivers. Solo Moms are tough ladies.
Q: What challenges did you face as you tried to balance parenting with caregiving?
A: Well, it was the worst timing ever! When I went to take care of my dad, it was my daughter’s high school graduation and her 18th birthday. My dad was dying through all of these major moments for her. She was upset, she wasn’t eating, and she had a lot of fear about something happening to me. So I’d say the biggest challenge was supporting her and being there for her emotionally, and, at the same time, doing what needed to be done for my dad.
Financially, it was a huge challenge. When I realized I’d have to close my shop to care for my father full time, I had no idea how I would pay the rent. But I knew that my clients would support me, and when I told them, they said, “Go, do what you need to do.” When I opened again, they all came right back.
Q: What are some things that you learned while caring for your dad?
A: Patience. Even as a solo mother, this was a level that you don’t usually need. We’re usually not the most patient with our parents, but, in this case, I needed to be. Also, I learned about the importance of laughter and having a sense of humor.
Q: What did you learn about the aging process? About life, health, and illness?
A: [That] 71 is young! It was too young. He really hadn’t aged yet; he just got sick. So really what I learned is how important preventative medicine is, how important it is to take care of ourselves when we’re healthy. I also learned that you have to live and have no regrets. For me, I always put my daughter first, but maybe [I] let a bit of me go. I try not to do that anymore.
Q: What words of wisdom would you like to share with other Solo Moms caring for a loved one who is ill or aging?
A: First, breathe. Be patient. Don’t snap. I would snap and then I would ask myself, What if he died right now? So be patient. [Second], I’d tell them that somehow you get through it. You don’t think you’re going to, but you do. Third, don’t drive yourself crazy trying to decide what to do. Talk to them about long-term planning—let them guide you. My dad told me that when he couldn’t “wipe his own ass,” it was time to go to the hospital. I listened. I have some guilt that my daughter is an only child and will have to do this for me one day, so it’s my job to plan ahead as much as I can.
Q: How do you think the experience of caring for your dad made you a better parent?
A: Since my dad died, I’ve made an effort to enjoy the moments with my daughter. We do little extra things; we go and have a good time. My dad lived life to the fullest until he couldn’t anymore. That’s what I’m inspired to do.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
A: My dad and I didn’t have a lovey, touchy relationship, but one day, toward the end, he said, “Would you lay down here?” I was surprised, but we just lay there and held hands. I asked him, “Do you feel better now?” And he said, “Yes, as long as you are holding my hand.”
Ever since then, I find myself thinking more about love.
Words of wisdom
Here are Jayne’s words of wisdom for the Solo Mom/caregiver:
- Be patient.
- Live life to the fullest.
- Have no regrets.
- Know your boundaries.
- You will get through it.
- Respect and support the wishes of the person you are caring for.
- Don’t drive yourself crazy.
- Let go of guilt; you can’t do it all.
- Don’t snap.
- Take chances.
- Trust that things work out.
- Take care of your health.
- When someone asks you to hold his or her hand, hold it.
Do you have a question for other Solo Moms caring for elders? Sister Chat provides a confidential space to ask other Solo Moms the hard questions.
Allison Gould, ESME’s Caregiving Resource Guide, is a licensed clinical social worker. For many years, her work focused on adolescents and their families. She currently provides outpatient counseling services to people aged 65 and older, as well as to their caregivers, at the Center for Healthy Aging at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck, New York.
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