When I was 17, I got pregnant. My family was not supportive, and I did not want to raise a child on my own. I placed her for adoption but never forgot about her. Twenty-three years later, I got in touch with the lawyer who assisted with the adoption and shortly after got a phone call from my long-lost daughter. We talked for a while, then e-mailed a lot. The more contact we had, the more I didn't like her. She seemed very immature and bratty—she still lives with her parents and had a child last year, whom her parents are raising. Several months later, we met. Also at the meeting were her mom, her baby, my mom, and my daughter, who is five years younger then she. This girl is rude and disrespectful to her mom, yells at her baby, dresses like a slob, and was a brat the whole weekend. My mom said this is the way she was raised, and we should be tolerant. I am all for tolerance, but this kid is awful. Still, for her birthday I sent her a great gift. I called and asked if she received it, and her response was, "Yeah, it was nice." I had put a lot of thought, time, and money into this gift, and that's all I get. I feel nothing for this girl, even though I know she is my daughter. This makes me feel guilty. How could a mother not love her own child, even if she didn't raise her? She is in school to join my chosen profession, which I think she will suck at.
—What Should I Do About the Daughter I Never Wanted?
It's sometimes easy when smacked in the face with issues such as abandonment, disappointment, loss, love, obligation, and guilt to focus on something more manageable. Something like, OK, so 23 years ago, I did decide I couldn't raise you. But now I've gone to the trouble of getting you a really nice birthday gift, and you're not thanking me properly, you little brat! I accept that this girl is obnoxious and immature—but maybe this isn't just a matter of nurture, but also of nature, because you are exhibiting those same qualities yourself. You must know that in regard to you, she has some big issues of her own. Surely she can detect how much you dislike her, which might set her to thinking, Hey, "Mom," the more time I spend with you, the happier I am that I was adopted. And how nice that five years after I was born, you decided to keep your next daughter—I guess you think she turned out better than me. Yes, she is your biological offspring, but her mother is the person who raised her—perhaps not very well—and who is there for her and for her child now. How disruptive of you to appear in this young woman's life and be so judgmental about how she isn't meeting your needs and expectations. For the future, a marginal relationship between the two of you is probably for the best. Or possibly you could learn to put aside your disdain and become a supportive, if peripheral, presence—someone who can give her guidance as she tries to make her way into your profession and help her so she doesn't "suck" at it.
Two years ago, my husband died in an accident. I was 27 years old and moved in with my mother and stepfather so I wouldn't have to be alone. (My father died years ago from lung cancer.) Then, six months ago, I got another shock when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain. We've been told she has three to six months to live. Mom is totally incapacitated. It takes a lot of time and muscle to provide for her care, even though we have hospice assistance. My stepdad is the primary caretaker during the weekdays while I am at work. When I get home, I take over this role. My sister and her husband come over and relieve us on Saturdays. The problem is that my brother refuses to help with our mom. My sister and I have asked him to come over on Sunday morning and stay until Monday morning, but all he does is give us excuses. When he does come over to the house, he does not help with lifting, cleaning, or feeding her, but just visits and chats with Mom. I'm so stressed about this that when I confront him, I either cry or blow up. How do I demand that he help out with Mom and share some of this responsibility?
—Who's Going To Die on Me Next?
Your brother may not be doing enough, but you may be doing too much. You will always be glad you were there to ease her last days, but you need to reach out and see if all of you can get more relief from the physical necessities of caring for your mother. Talk to the hospice caseworker about the possibility of more nursing help. You're overwhelmed and grief-stricken, but you may be taking out on your brother some of the pain you're feeling about all you've been through. It's understandable that you resent that your brother seems to be floating through your mother's illness, not even doing any of the literal heavy lifting. But consider that your brother is also suffering because of your mother's coming death from the same terrible disease that took your father. Not everyone can bring themselves to bathe or feed a dying parent. His simply sitting and visiting with her is surely a balm for both of them. Instead of being angry at what your brother's not doing, ask him for help with things he easily can do: pick up prescriptions, shop, handle paperwork. Your mother's life is closing painfully and too soon. But she must have lived a wonderful one to have her family be so devoted to her. Keep in mind how it would hurt her to know her death drove a wedge between the people she loves the most.