I'm driving now
On "role reversal" with our parents and the fine line between helping and mothering.
This comes to you via hotel wifi in the town of West Yellowstone, MT. Mom and I are currently on the second of two mother-daughter road trips. We’re out here to visit Mom’s old friend in Salt Lake City, but while we’re in the neighborhood, we decided to spend a few days in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
(To my Mom, anything under 500 miles qualifies as “in the neighborhood.”)
I’m doing all the driving. Mom loves — and I mean loves — long-distance driving and drives well, but she gets tired easily now. My driving was a non-negotiable when we started talking about these trips. She was furious about my insistence and tried to put her foot down, like when I was a kid. But on this matter, I wouldn’t budge.
I hated having to pull rank on my Mom. Even now I’m a listen-to-your-parents “good girl,” and she’s always had strong opinions. Saying no feels like breaking the One Rule to Rule Them All. But that’s part of growing up, isn’t it? Stepping up to adulthood, making hard decisions and trusting when to stick to them?
I didn’t think that at 54 I’d still be growing up, but here we are.
There’s more to my discomfort, though. People talk about “role reversal” as aging parents become more dependent on their adult children. Mom and I are experiencing this to some degree. But she’s still my Mom. She’s an adult with a wholly different temperament from me and opinions based on a lifetime of experience. Yes, she needs help now, much more than she wants.
What she doesn’t need is my mothering.
These road trips are helping us figure out our new mother-daughter relationship. I wouldn’t call this role reversal. I’d call it role redefinition.
(A few days into our first trip, she said, “you know what? I’m glad you’re driving. You were right.” But that hasn’t stopped her from back-seat driving or arguing with the GPS.)
The last time I was in Yellowstone, I was nine years old. Many summer vacations were spent camping in national parks. One of our family cars was a small Toyota pickup fitted with a Snugtop camper shell. “Camper” is overstating it — it was just a fiberglass cover for the cargo bed with sliding windows and a hinged back window. The truck also had a padded, carpeted insert which turned the back into a comfy place for a kid to lie down and listen to her cassette tape collection.
I spent several summers traversing the Western interstates like this: packed in the back of a truck with a pillow, my sleeping bag, some books and puzzle magazines, and a hand-held tape player. And all the camping equipment, of course.
(This was parenting in the 70s.)
Now I’m in the driver’s seat (and wearing a seat belt). I’m following Siri’s directions while Mom fumbles with the AAA paper map. I’m filling the gas tank after Mom checks to see if there’s a Costco nearby so we can get the best per-gallon price, even if it means driving a few more miles. I’m on the constant lookout for drive-through coffee while Mom’s satisfied with the free stuff at the motel (“What do I care as long as it’s hot,” she says).
We’re finding our way out here, and, eventually, we’ll find our way home.
I’m posting pictures of our trip on Instagram (check the Road Trip 2 highlight).
If you missed the travel tips I gathered from our first road trip, here you go:
And, as always, I’d love to hear your comments. I’ll read them next time I have wifi!