Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop.


cancer blog

When Mothers & Daughters Role Reverse

Monday, March 01, 2010

When I was 12, my father died of cancer. People didn’t talk openly about cancer then except for occasionally whispering the “C” word and certainly not in front of the children.

While I knew my father was sick, no one ever told me what was wrong with him, or why he was in the hospital for prolonged periods of time. In fact, I never even visited him, nor did the issue ever come up. During the times he was home, I was rarely allowed in his room, and then for only short periods of time where I sat on the edge of the bed, and we made small talk, like strangers. <PREVIEWEND>

The day he died, I was at my piano lesson. I remember my piano teacher gasping into the phone and saying, “Don’t worry. She can stay here as long as you need.” Of course I knew it was mother, calling to say my father had died, but once again, no one told me anything. Several hours later, as I sat in the back seat, mother and a neighbor drove me home as they spoke in quiet shorthand.

After he was buried, and the friends and relatives had gone home, mother and I role reversed. She became the daughter and I became the mother. Almost immediately she retreated to her room, shades pulled, rarely getting dressed or coming out of her room, a zombie zonked out on grief and Valium. I was the one who went to the grocery store, taking small amounts of money from her purse, riding my blue bicycle down the street, past the bowling alley to the store, buying only enough food to fit in my bike’s small wire basket.

I rode to the hardware store, bought chain locks for the doors, used my father’s drill, just as I’d seen him do, and installed the locks because mother was afraid. I made sure the boy down the street mowed the lawn; I babysat for the couple on the corner to earn extra money and continued to get straight A’s. That is until periodically, mother would come out of her room and arbitrarily decided to parent me, knowing nothing about my life, how I was doing or that I was a great kid.

By my senior year of high school I had gained 20 pounds and was failing some of my classes.
Even so, I managed to get two college scholarships but accepted the one in town and lived at home because mother needed me. After the first semester of my freshman year, I gave up my scholarship, got a job and a tiny apartment—the only way I knew to get away from her.

Except for the six months I went through chemotherapy, our roles have remained the same. However during those months, she sent me books about prayer and clippings and tapes she listened to about God. She was uplifting and supportive, urging me to see myself surrounded by God’s light, whole, perfect and healed. She even stopped signing her cards with the word “Mother” in quotes and simply signed them Love, Mom, as though on some level she knew she was mothering me, not the other way around. As soon as I finished chemo, she resumed her all too familiar “Mother” signature, and if I mention having had breast cancer, she looks at me like I’m speaking Swahili.

Mother is needy, in ways I’ve never been able to make right for her, and as the parent in our relationship, I sometimes feel like I’ve failed her. She ruins every family gathering, getting up from the table, going as far as to fly home because she is not the center of attention or has gotten her feelings hurt about one thing or another. She has never wanted to know about my life, interrupting me in mid-sentence with "I thought we'd go to the tea room for lunch," as I’m trying to tell her something of major importance to me. In recent years, I’ve been able to blame her dementia for her lack of interest in me. Last week I tried, again, to tell her about my website and my Blog and all the wonderful women and families I am meeting from all over the world. She paused for a second and looked at me, then said, “the salad here is not as good as it used to be.”

So, I will continue to be the mother, this week moving her closer to me as she retreats further into her world of dementia. I am grateful God gave us those six months and hope she enjoyed being the Mother as much as I loved having one. Perhaps one of the reasons my website ministers to breast cancer families is that as painful as it is, I don’t want other children to be in the dark about their parent’s cancer; I don’t want adults to stop talking when their children enter the room.

Our children know more about what goes on in our house than we could ever imagine, but they are not mature enough to know how to put things in their proper perspectives. Regardless of the situations we find ourselves in, we must find ways to talk to our children. In some cases, children may not be comfortable discussing their feelings with us, or they may try the “tuff kid” route, but if we, or they, are having trouble coping, with anything, we need to find a minister or a counselor who will listen to every member of our family and help us work through it. Whatever we do, let’s not sit on the edge of the bed and just make small talk.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Previous Comments
Anonymous commented on 01-Mar-2010 10:47 PM
I just now came across your blog and I love this post. I can relate to it in many ways. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer this summer, I made sure to tell my youngest child everything and allow him room to ask questions. With a kid you don't do that by saying, "any questions?" but by being okay with it all and leaving openings, even with humor. I'm so sorry your mother wasn't strong enough to deal with the trauma of her husband dying and you had to pay the price. But, I'll bet that made you strong in your own time of need.
Anonymous commented on 02-Mar-2010 10:00 PM
Ann, Yes, like you, I am a strong woman, but unlike you, I don't think I've done a very good job of mothering (my mother) today. The movers are coming tomorrow, and because of her dementia, she doesn't remember things from one moment to the next. Nothing I say makes it easier for her to understand and be in the moment. If I am so overwhelmed, I can only imagine what it must be like for her. It's just like when I was a kid: She's in bed w/the shades drawn, not getting dressed, not being aware of what's happening around her. My heart breaks for her. Dear God, please give her strength and me wisdom to know how to help her. Does anyone have any experience with dementia?
Anonymous commented on 03-Mar-2010 02:46 AM
We're coming..... (Ew, sounded a little freaky huh?0

Have fun making new blogging chums. You are quite a lady Brenda.

Anonymous commented on 03-Mar-2010 02:49 AM
You have a wonderful site here, Brenda!
I'm visiting from Lynnette Kraft's blog. :)

~ God Bless You,
Anonymous commented on 03-Mar-2010 08:15 AM
What a beautiful post and a beautiful blog!
Anonymous commented on 03-Mar-2010 08:16 AM
PS I found you through Lynette's blog! {grin}
Anonymous commented on 03-Mar-2010 08:21 AM
visiting from lynette Kraft's site. Love ur blog and have learned much from reading many of ur posts! Be blessed!
Anonymous commented on 03-Mar-2010 08:23 AM
We experienced some rough times when I was in high school and I remember feeling a little bit like the "mother" at times too. I know my mom never wanted me to feel that way but I did. Thankfully, things are better now and I have a mom back but I did relate with your post.

I'm visiting from Lynnette's! God BLess!
Anonymous commented on 03-Mar-2010 08:34 AM
Visiting from Lynnett's and I am so glad I could come by. I have been roaming your blog and love what it's all about. You write well and I enjoyed my time here =]

Happy Wednesday!
Anonymous commented on 03-Mar-2010 11:03 AM
Hi Brenda! Stopping by from Lynette's Blog. What an amazing blog you have here. I am 32, last January I found a lump in my breast. After surgery, it was not cancer. I thank God for that every day. However, it has made me very aware of all of the women that don't get the same answer that I did. I am so glad that I found your blog today. I can't wait to read more of your posts.
Anonymous commented on 03-Mar-2010 11:20 AM
I came across your web site last week and I have read every blog. You make me feel like I can be normal and fight breast cancer at the same time. I was recently diagnosed with a met in my back at 61/2 years out from 1st diagnosis and I needed some humor and hope. Thanks
Anonymous commented on 03-Mar-2010 12:14 PM
Lynnette's Ladies, Thank you all for visiting and for your wonderful comments. They couldn't have come at a better time. My heart is so heavy and overwhelmed about my mother's condition. I just keep saying breath prayers, over and over that God comfort her and direct me to do the best I can for her. You have lifted me up. I'm smiling and crying as I write this. I have said "if you can get through breast cancer, or the loss of a child, you can do anything, but this is a bigger challenge than I dreamed. Thank you and God bless you all. Brenda
Anonymous commented on 03-Mar-2010 01:40 PM
I'm so glad Lynette sent us your way. I will be back when I have more time to read.
My mother and my sister both died of breast cancer. Time and time again people ask me if I'm not afraid that I too might get it with so much of it in our family.
I try to stay positive and know that I am older then either of then were when they found out they had cancer. So, I just want to Thank God thus far for my health.

Enjoy all the visitors Lynette sent over. And have a great day.
Anonymous commented on 03-Mar-2010 02:30 PM
Stopping by from Lynnette's "Getting To Know You" to say Hi! It has been fun meeting new people.

You have a great site with a lot of helpful information!


Anonymous commented on 03-Mar-2010 02:58 PM
Brenda, you have a beautiful blog. I am just stopping by from Lynette's to meet you and visit for a bit. Did anyone ever tell you that you look like Meg Ryan? :)
Anonymous commented on 04-Mar-2010 12:23 AM
Brenda! I just found your blog through Lynnette's. Thank you for this post. Although my mom did not suffer from breast cancer, she struggled with depression throughout my childhood. We had a switch in the mother daughter dynamic as well, me as a small child holding her and caring for her for days as she wept.
I cannot tell you how comforting it is to hear someone else's words about a similar dynamic!
Anonymous commented on 04-Mar-2010 12:26 AM
Brenda, thanks for sharing your experiences. I can relate to what you said in today's post. I'm glad Lynette highlighted your blog today!

Anonymous commented on 04-Mar-2010 01:54 AM
Hi Brenda! I'm visitng via Lynette's "Getting to Know You"... so nice to meet you! My mother died when I was 14 of cancer (breast, ovaries, uterine, pancreas)... so I can totally relate to the no one telling me anything. Yes, it was certainly hush-hush back then (1971). And my lovely stepmom was diagnosed this past year with cancer (breast). I've lost other family members to cancer over the years, also. Thank you for this post... so many people still don't talk about the "c" word, huh!


Anonymous commented on 04-Mar-2010 04:20 AM
Oh Brenda, my heart just aches for the little girl forced to take on the parenting role at such a tender age. In our email correspondence you have touched on your relationship with your Mom, but reading this, I have learned so much more and my admiration for you has increased ten-fold. Marie x
Anonymous commented on 04-Mar-2010 08:30 AM
All I can say is WOW! I am SO glad you are this week's Getting to Know You from Lynnette.
Thank you for being so open & honest; transparent. I can't wait to read the rest of your site. My paternal grandparents had breast cancer & I watched a best friend go through it too... Breast cancer hits very close to home for me.
Many blessings,
Anonymous commented on 04-Mar-2010 11:03 AM
Thanks for sharing. You seem so care free and together that your childhood story surprises me. I recently told my mother that my cancer had returned and she said "Oh i wonder if I need to be checked.My housekeeeper is quitting so we (get it) need to find me another one." I then did not hear from her for more than a week when I called her.Sorry your Mother has missed out on knowing you but my sorrow is for her. You are a lovely person
Anonymous commented on 04-Mar-2010 11:51 AM
I am visiting from Lynnette's Blog and I love your site. I have already read about 5 of your posts and plan to continue reading as many as I can in the time that I have. You have made them all so interesting and I need the info now. Thanks. It's nice to receive such a gift as you have given me.
Anonymous commented on 04-Mar-2010 12:52 PM
Visiting from Lynnette's blog. You are a courageous woman. Thank you for sharing your story. Cancer is not easy to talk about, I have it in my family.
Anonymous commented on 04-Mar-2010 04:56 PM
Here from Lynnette's. This is a wonderful post and so heartwrenching and moving. It is so important to tell children the truth, even if it hurts.
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 02:08 AM
I am visiting from Lynnette Kraft's blog. I enjoyed reading your blog today. This post was an eye opener for me in many ways. Blessings!
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 06:49 AM
Hi Brenda I am visiting from Lynette's Blog. my thoughts are with you as you care for your Mother as she lives with dementia. Such a difficult time and you put it into words very well.
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 07:14 AM
Wow, first of all I am sincerely sorry that it went down like that. I am thankful for your out look, the strength you have and the ability you appear to have to learn and do better yourself. I am excited God is using you the way He is. You are an inspiration. I have had to go through my own forgiveness process where family is concerned so it in a strength for me to see other people succesfully get through that process as well.
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 07:24 AM
Brenda - wow what a childhood you had. Praise God for how He has held onto you for so long and given you such a powerful ministry here! I'm thankful Lynnette introduced you this month!

Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 07:43 AM
Here through Lynette's. Thank you for sharing your makes me thankful for my mom! May God bless you!
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 09:32 AM
I just had time to read your post and I must say - it touched my heart for you. So sad when parents don't play their proper role and make life miserable and sad for their children. You've done an amazing job just rolling with the punches and making your life good anyway. That's what victory is all about - taking our circumstances and overcoming them.

Thanks for sharing this real and difficult story.
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 09:39 AM
Thank you for sharing your heart. I'm sorry you had to take on the roll of Mother at such a young age. God's work in your life is evident in your words that you write. You are a strong, talented woman. My thoughts and prayers are with you as you journey with your Mother. Thank you for letting God use you.
Lyn @ Southern Homeschool Journey
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 10:13 AM
Visiting from Lynnette's getting to know mom died when I was 12 yr. old I had to care for my dad, like you with your mom.I got married, he had went into a diabetic coma at the hospital after being hospitalized with pneumonia (the hospital gave him the wrong med. and it caused his coma i believe) and died aweek after I was married. I think it all made me a stronger person in a sense.So reading your posting was almost like someone wrote about my life...(((HUGS)))
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 12:58 PM
Visiting from Lynette's blog, and found myself engrossed in all you have to say. Spent quite a lot of time here the other night reading and getting to know you, what a great support you provide. I had thyroid cancer when I was 20, and the C word is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about, you provide so much to your readers.
Thanks, Pam
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 01:31 PM
This must sound like a broken record to you at this point, but I am also dropping by from Lynnette's "Getting To Know You" to say Hi! First and foremost, you're such a survivor. I'm so sorry about your relationship with your mother. I can't imagine if I didn't have my mom in her "motherly" capacity because. It's tough to try to see her any other way.

Kat @In Dylan's Memory
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 02:28 PM
Stopping by from Lynette's blog.

I am sorry for the role that you had to play and the reminder to all of us to mother our children. Thanks.
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 04:46 PM
Hi Brenda! I am visiting from Lynette's blog. God bless you and I pray that you have a blessed weekend. :)
Love in Christ,
Rachel M.
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 04:49 PM
Brenda, I'm so happy Lynnette sent us your way. Your story is touching and your strength is amazing. I've added you to my RSS feed and can't wait to follow your journey. Thinking of you.
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 04:50 PM
Hi Brenda,
great blog, I am visiting from Brenda's blog..
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 06:03 PM
Brenda, I am visiting from Lynnette's blog and really loved your post. Your writing is so well done, I think you should write a book. I got teary eyed as I imagined you as this girl/woman caring for her mother. Wow! I am glad I found your blog. I will come back. Blessings!
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 07:29 PM
Visiting from Lynnettes blog. Thanks so much for your honestly. This was a real eye opener for me! It really makes me want to have the best relationship I can with my own daughter! God bless.
Anonymous commented on 05-Mar-2010 11:18 PM
Hi! I just stopped by from Lynette's and I am sure glad I did. I have really enjoyed by visit. I am so sorry for your loss, of your father and of your childhood. Your message was very powerful. Your doing good by your blog. Best Wishes Always. I'll be back!
Anonymous commented on 06-Mar-2010 06:22 PM
Thanks for stopping by my blog. I sent your link to my MIL, who is also a breast cancer survivor (Diane Tefeteller) and she was so thankful. She joined your facebook page. So thank you for the work you do with breast cancer survivors and their family. Blessings!
Anonymous commented on 06-Mar-2010 08:33 PM
Wow, this is a really touching post. I'm so glad I found it through Lynette's blog. I am praying for you and your family.
Anonymous commented on 06-Mar-2010 09:21 PM
Stopping over from Lynnettes BLOG. Thank you for sharing your story.

Your sister in Christ
Janet Cowan
Anonymous commented on 06-May-2010 04:27 PM
Hi, I just found out about your blog from Lynnette Kraft. This is a touching post. I cannot imagine how hard that is dealing with a parent that acts more like the child. My mom had breast cancer two years ago. Thankfully it was caught very early and she only needed a lumpectomy and radiation. ~Heather
Anonymous commented on 18-Sep-2010 06:28 PM
Thanks for sharing what must have been a very painful transition.

I experienced a similar situation with my mother as my father was dying of Hodgkins. Fortunately, we didn't whisper about cancer and his illness wasn't hidden, but it was very hard. I also took on the parenting role for quite some time.

Anonymous commented on 18-Sep-2010 06:29 PM
How sad but unfortunately I get it.
When I got my PhD, I called my mom and she said ,”that’s nice, dear; your sister got her truck driving certificate today.”
My mom died Dec 8.
You are never the same – it’s good and bad both.
Anonymous commented on 18-Sep-2010 07:36 PM
Brenda, I just opened this email and have tears in my eyes. What inner strength you have had to endure first your father's illness and your mothers continued neglect. You have rallied your resources to focus on what is important and to do so much good for so many people. God obviously had big things in mind for you. I hope you realize what an important contribution you are making.

Go to Brenda's Blog homepage | Go to top of page
Testing area! Please disregard.


Terms and Conditions/ Privacy Policy/ Contact Us/ Site Map/ Press Room/ Ad Sales/ Special Offers and Promotions

Breast Cancer Sisterhood® is a registered trademark of Survivorship Media Network, LLC.  
All rights reserved.  ©Survivorship Media Network, LLC.  
©2009-2015 BREASTCANCERSISTERHOOD.COM  All Rights Reserved.