Why 10 children cannot care for 1 mother

Among the many gems I’ve gleaned from countless hours of listening to my mother is this: a mother can care for 10 children but 10 children cannot care for 1 mother.

Over the years I’ve pondered the validity of this statement, like I do my mother’s many other gems and in that time, have heard of many family situations that support this. 10 children cannot possibly care for 1 mother, even though 9 out of 10 will declare some desire to. Every one will “chip in” some time or money but ultimately the heavy lifting will come down to 1 very brave (or stupid, depending on how you see it) child.

Here’s why:

1) Mother will require a lot of support; from running errands to ferrying to doctor visits. While they are fit and healthy they can lead very independent lives but you don’t have to read Atul Gawand’s “Being Mortal” like I have (and I highly recommend the book) to know that at the end of our time on earth, we all go back to being as helpless as babies – except no where near as uplifting or endearing. Mother needs someone who can commit to this reverse babysitting.

2) Everyone Mother is linked to – siblings, cousins, total strangers – will have an opinion on how well you are caring for her. They won’t hear of the many hours you play therapist for many of her unresolved issues from 5 or more decades ago or the many ways you advocate and protect her interests. Instead, they will know all about how Mother disapproves of your parenting/friends…you fill in the blank. It’s okay if they keep their opinions to themselves but as is the nature of humans, they will feel compelled to give you a critique about how you are doing.

3) Mother meddles. She is proud of how she raised you but won’t trust you to make decisions for yourself. I once had a friend from school tell me WITH TEARS IN HER EYES how her wheel-chair-bound mother was ripping her marriage apart (because she disliked her husband), guilt-tripping her with stories about filial piety in Asian culture (even though she was already catering to her mother full-time), saying the most cutting things daily (because they are supposedly pearls of wisdom) and alienating her from her children (with the many demands on her time)… Meanwhile her brother was the “family darling” for doing absolutely nothing. How typical!

Understand this: I grew up writing many essays about why the West are degenerates for putting their old in nursing homes. You scored extra points if you wrote about how you are duty-bound to change their adult diapers because they once changed yours. You were criticised if you pointed out that adult poo smells a lot worse than baby poo and that adults need pulleys to lift them whereas the average baby weighs less than a sack of rice.

But this isn’t about the challenge of changing adult diapers or old parents vs cute babies. It’s about why those who put their hands up to caring for their old (as opposed to being bullied into it by kith and kin) deserve awards. It’s so easy to say one is busy. FYI with moving from West Coast to East Coast of Australia, home buying remotely, renovating a 90 year old building, refurbishing an apartment in an increasingly competitive market, attending to the prolonged vacancy in another (after refurbishment), working for HRH (I handle his admin and bills), caring for 2 children 24/7, 365 days a year, I can honestly claim to be bogged down with work. After all, I have no nanny, no Yati or Maria (insert your favourite maid names) to do my housework, no family around to give me a day off. I wake up several times a night to nurse my 20 months old son because it protects him and me from cancer.

This is about why 10 children cannot care for 1 mother. Only 1 (at this point I’m leaning towards “stupid”) child can. This is about enduring gems like “The young are only waiting for the old to pop off so they can get their inheritance”, in Cantonese, “the old are stopping the axis of young’s world from turning”, “they don’t want the mother now that they’ve USED her”, even though you have neither demolished your mother’s house nor attempted to shove her onto your brother after she has raised your kids (these people are both still “hero children” btw) and getting up to do it again and again. You get gang-bashed by family for simply standing up for yourself because everyone expects you to roll over and play dead. They want you to shut up about your hurt and your anger and your right to that hurt and anger. Gee, and you wonder why more people are studying psychology! There is an obvious societal need for it!

So what’s your take: can or can’t 10 children care for 1 mother?