Accepting the role of matriarch

I wonder if the role of matriarch or patriarch in a family ever shifts from one person to another gradually, like a sky changing its expression. My guess is no. New matriarchy and patriarchy are often accompanied by dramatic change: a family member’s passing or otherwise not being able or willing to fulfill the role.

I have come to realize that I am the matriarch of my family at 43 years old. I am the eldest, competent female of my bloodline. I’ve written about this before, but can see that on some level I was still leaving a space for another matriarch – my mother – to fill the role. I had only one foot in. I balanced on the fulcrum. Part of me was waiting for someone else to swoop in and take the reins to guide me. Someone to be my shining light and show me the way. I kept my mother’s things packed as she had left them, although she recently said she no longer wanted them. It really is up to me to tame the wild horses.

Long-time readers know that my mother is mentally ill and unable to care for herself. She’s not the figurehead of the family nor will she ever be. The longer I cling – even subconsciously – to that idea, the longer until I embody the role. The acceptance of a reality can be slow and difficult, but denial is a heavy load to bear.

So I borrowed confidence from another fine matriarch:

African Bush elephant (source: Wikipedia)
African Bush elephant (source: Wikipedia)

Today I unpacked and organized. I set family heirlooms aside for care. I separated family history from the things I will eventually discard. I discarded some of it. I clarified my life. I am the new family historian. I am the figurehead. It doesn’t matter that I feel under-qualified to be the penultimate maternal touchstone. My crown is unsteady but it is mine. Look at me. This is what you get.

I’m only beginning this process and it’s not easy, but I am finally removing the weight of so many unpleasant things that do not belong to me. Sometimes we carry a weight for so long we don’t realize how weary we’ve become until we finally put it down. Time to use the energy for something else. Not surprisingly, it feels empowering and good.

7 thoughts on “Accepting the role of matriarch

  1. It must’ve been so hard for you. However old we get or however independant we are, just knowing that we have our parents — older, wiser to guide us, is like a child’s security blanket that we don’t want to let go of.

    1. So true, and it’s something we all eventually deal with… I’m just younger than most who deal with the transition. We don’t always notice life changes until well after they’ve occurred. In my case, I became the matriarch after my grandmother died years ago. I just didn’t realize it yet. Thanks for your kind comment.

  2. I am 68 and of sound .I have five sons , one died. I have concidered myself the matriarch for years , such as handling Christmas meal with assistance .I have a daughter in law that is taking over this and my son is allowing it . I truly look forward to this.It is sad but she has no respect for her own folks. This and other things said has really hurt my feelings to the point of calling it all off.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your hurt feelings…I wonder if there’s a way you can do this together. It sounds like she wants to fit in, but doesn’t know the best way to do it. In my case, I had the role of matriarch forced upon me…everything was in ruins, and, as an only child, I was the only one to pick up the pieces. I am sending wishes for peace, particularly in that place inside that none of this can touch. Merry Christmas!

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