Are You Invisible?

A friend sent an e-mail attachment, entitled The Invisible Mother, an excerpt from The Invisible Woman by Nicole Johnson, about mothers being invisible as they raise their children and meet all their needs. It ends of course with the premise that a higher power sees the valuable work of the mother and therefore she is recognized.

I never felt invisible as a mother. In fact, there were times I wanted to feel invisible, unavailable, locked in the bathroom with a glass of wine and a huge bathtub filled with suds instead of the lead dog on a team of huskies racing to keep up with the demands of life.

However, I remember reading a magazine article on ageism about older people feeling invisible. And to that, I can relate. Once my children were grown and launching lives of their own without needing me, I gradually began to feel invisible. It doesn’t matter what your own personal achievements are; your most challenging and absorbing role is that of a parent. So when the job is no longer there, being invisible can feel really lonely.

Celine of Montreal can relate to that feeling of invisibility as well. “My grown children and grandchildren all come for Sunday dinner every week,” she says. “Pierre and I often feel we’re peripheral to the gathering because our grown children talk among themselves about their careers, their children and politics and we’re not asked for our opinion or included in the conversation. We feel excluded and useless, that we’ve lost our credibility as intelligent, engaged people.”

I think it’s Suzanne Somers who says women start to put weight around the middle once they pass the child -bearing years. It’s as if women have done their job and there is nothing left to do but gain weight. So not only invisible, but also fat?

How can we slide gently into this stage of our life with deserved self indulgence and a certain sense of peace, but still feel visible and valuable in our children’s lives?

Invisibility as an aging parent is a bit like losing a job and feeling useless, and there isn’t even a gold watch as compensation. It’s a challenging balance to accept the fact that our role as parents is over, but to still garner a modicum of respect from grown children and a sense that we are still capable of contributing in a meaningful way to their lives. Alternatively, we can just resolve to forget about it and get a life—one of our own.

Fortunately, I believe we are not invisible to our grandchildren. Sometimes, we have more in common with them than with our children.

The commonality is simplicity. They have it and we, hopefully, have returned to it or at least want more of it as we age.

When my dad, at 91 and very unwell, came for Christmas at my daughter’s house, my grandson, his great grandson, Hudson, was five and when my parents arrived, Hudson scurried to bring cozy blankets to cover his knees, a footstool and some books and stuffed animals to tuck in beside his ‘old grandpa.’ It was a lovely moment, because at that point, my dad just wanted comfort, and the simplicity only a small child can offer made him smile. He had more in common with Hudson that day than with anyone else.

Wayne of Thunder Bay scoffs at invisibility as a component of ageism. But he does agree there is nothing invisible about his relationship with his two-year-old grandson. “Having him in my life has given me a chance to be a kid again without the responsibility of parenthood,” he says. “When he comes over, we play with my toys and put on capes and play Superman. I never did that with my own kids.”

Maybe the visible and happy role of being a grandparent makes up for being invisible to our grown children. Not bad compensation.