Lost Control

Young girl in kitchen doing homework with woman in background

When I was little, my mother would make excuses for the A’s on my report card as though I hadn’t earned them. I explained to a friend not long ago that because of this, after third grade I stopped showing the grade report to my mother. Being a mother herself, this appalled my friend. “Didn’t she ask to see it?” she asked. “No,” I said. “I just didn’t tell her when we got our report cards. Since a parent had to sign it through sixth grade, I would ask my father to do it. He gave my sisters and me fifty cents for every A and a quarter for every B. So I liked showing it to him.”

In the days after the conversation, I thought a lot about my friend’s question. Why didn’t Mom ask to see my report card? There was the time in fifth grade that she jumped on me for not making my own breakfast. In seventh grade, she berated my sisters and me for not adding glasses and mugs to the dishwasher from the back forward so that she could easily add more mugs without having to reach to the back. In eighth grade, she got exasperated that I hadn’t started doing my own laundry.

I would have done all these things had she asked me and explained to me how difficult it was for her to do them, due to her multiple sclerosis (MS). But rather than ask, she just got angry that I couldn’t see what she needed.

Mom noticed her first symptom when I was about five years old. The diagnosis, a few years later, was cushioned by time, but it still left its mark. As her symptoms progressed, she gradually became self-absorbed.

Prior to her MS, she was planning to divorce my father. But the diagnosis made her realize how dependent on him she would be for the rest of her life. Not knowing the future, she latched onto anything that was stable. I was her youngest child and emotionally very close. She never said this, but I believe that she imagined me taking care of her as her MS progressed to the point of dependence.

I can’t imagine the fear that might have penetrated her soul when she was told that her disease would slowly wear away the myelin sheath around her spinal cord, causing neurological messages to become lost when sent from the brain to some parts of her body. Her doctor informed her that her muscles would atrophy over time and that there was no cure.

Being her youngest child, I can see why she held on to me. One of my teachers told her I was slow at absorbing information, and she held on to that statement for dear life. I still claim that my teacher said that because he didn’t like me. (Maybe the jury is still out on that one.) In her desperation though, my mother wanted to believe it because if I didn’t already have a promising future, she didn’t have to feel guilty for robbing me of one.

Her independence had melted into a desperate need to survive. And the only way to survive was to depend on other people to bring her food, take her to the bathroom, and even laugh with her once in a while.  But asking for help meant accepting her dependency.  Eventually, my mother moved herself to a nursing home.  There, I saw her transform into a woman who put other people’s concerns before her own.

Today’s Tip

Loss of control and hopelessness can lead people to selfish behaviors and hurting others.

Questions for Thought

How would you handle a handicapped parent who requires constant attention? Would suggesting a nursing home to them sound harsh? Why?

Post By Peggy McKinnon (5 Posts)

Peggy has worked in the healthcare industry for 38 years, yet has gained her greatest insight into aging, illness, and the benefit of nursing homes as a caregiver for her mother, who lived with multiple sclerosis for over 40 years. Now a grandmother herself, Peggy is furthering the conversation about the challenges and joys of caring for loved ones—and how nursing homes can help. Challenged by a professor to write for publication, Peggy published her first article in 2010 and her mother’s memoir, Life in the Slow Lane, in 2017. She learns daily from her writing coach and is currently writing her own book, which will tell the triumphal story of her mother’s struggle with MS, from a daughter’s perspective. Peggy and her husband Steve live in Florida with their dog Kaci. She can be reached at misurpa@gmail.com or twitter, LifeintheSlowLane



  1. Kelli Sallman says:

    As a mom who struggles with a chronic pain, I find this article very encouraging. I know my stress and anxieties caused by lost physical ability has spilled over onto my kids. I expect a lot out of them and can’t always communicate why I get angry (fear and feeling vulnerable/helpless). I love the fact that, looking back, you understand that fear and that you were able to witness your mother conquer these emotions that cripple us even more than the illnesses themselves. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  2. Thank you for sharing your own experience, Kelli. It’s nice to hear from the “parent” experience, as well.

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