Mom Always Liked You Best

As Mother’s Day approaches, images of how best to treat and thank Mom spring to mind. Beautiful bouquets, buffet brunches, and perfume gift sets top the list. But what if all Mom really wants is to know that her children not only treasure her, but each other?

Clearly, the title of this article is an uncomfortable sentiment. Whether you’re on the receiving end of that comment or the one who is saying it, chances are it’s not one of the most uplifting conversations of your life.

More likely, it’s one of the most difficult.

It’s funny how we inherently know that, without needing the details. If you have siblings, even just one, then you get it.

One of my favorite quotes about siblings is from author Pam Dugdale—“Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring – quite often the hard way.”

In my work as a certified caregiving educator (CCE), I hear my fair share of stories about battle scars among siblings. Inevitably, I hear everything from little quips to long winded stories about family dynamics.

One in particular comes to mind as Mother’s Day draws near. It was from a middle-aged woman, let’s call her Barbara. I clearly recall her striking green eyes that popped in contrast to her overly tanned skin. She had brassy bleach blond hair tied back in a loose pony tail. On an overcast morning in November, she stopped by the vendor table in the hospital lobby where I was selling caregiver gifts.

We chatted easily as she perused and sniffed various scented soaps and sampled lotions. I learned that she took care of her Mother for two years, moving in to live with her at the very end.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what was her illness?”

“She had progressive *COPD. She managed it just fine, until the very end. Then she needed the portable oxygen everywhere she went.”

I knew well that distant expression. A half smile but warm eyes, where I imagine a bittersweet memory is playing out.

“I can imagine how hard it must have been for you both.”

“She would have loved this lemon soap though, it’s so bright. She loved anything citrus or floral. Her whole life she had such spunk, you know? The disease stole that from her and she was forced to be more sedentary than she wanted. Oh, but she loved to laugh.” And with that she looked up from the bars of soap she had been considering with smiling eyes.

Without having to prompt, I could tell she had a story waiting to spill.

“We had one of the best laughs decorating our last Christmas together.  I had just finished snapping in all of the branches on the tree, you know the fake kind that looks so real?”

I nodded in encouragement but got the sense it didn’t matter, Barbara was on a roll.

“I asked her to hold the tree while I fussed to add another string of lights, and then I hear her say, panicked, I feel like I’m going to fall.”

Laughing now, she manages between breaths, “So I told her— well go ahead, you don’t have far to go.”

Not actually seeing the humor, I couldn’t help but chuckle from her infectious laughing. Seeing my confusion she managed to get out, “You know, the joy of holiday decorating?”

“Well, turns out Mom wasn’t kidding. Literally, in ridiculously slow motion, the tree and my Mom did a slow downslide to the couch. So sloooow.” She could barely get the words out, hysterically laughing and bent over with tears streaming.

Caught up in her hilarity, I could picture the scene playing out and laughed along.

“She didn’t get hurt at all. The tree and couch cushioned her fall. When I scrambled to help her, shouting, “Are you all right?!” I tripped over a cord and landed on the floor. After a stunned moment of silence, we both roared laughing.”

As Barbara’s fit of giggling passed, she regained composure. “But, you should know, even laughing is not easy with damaged lung function. She went into a spasm of coughing, so I set her up with the nebulizer**. Wouldn’t it figure, my sister stopped in, right in the middle of her breathing treatment. Perfect timing. “

“Why’s that?” I asked, but I could tell by the shift in her tone and the way she quickly zipped up her sweatshirt that the light-hearted reverie had morphed into something tense.

“My sister was almost no help,” she said with rolled eyes, “and somehow the well-known symptoms of COPD, you know- shortness of breath and fatigue, were actually caused by me and…” gesturing air quotes, “…my careless actions.”

Like most things, the perspective of the storyteller makes all the difference. For all we know had Barbara’s sister recounted the story of breezing into Christmas chaos, we would be tsk-ing just the same.

Sadly, Barbara shared as we wrapped up our chat that she and her sister rarely speak anymore. And yes, during the course of our conversation, she made the infamous statement that her sister was jealous because she said — Mom always liked you best.

Sigh. There it is.

This Mother’s Day go ahead and shower Mom with the special things that she loves. Enjoy that lavish brunch, present those beautiful blooms and share favorite memories. For those whose Mom has passed, (and I’m counted among them) whether or not you visit the cemetery or say a prayer in church, this message is also for you. Even more so, as time is precious.

Consider giving Mom the gift that without a doubt, she’s always hoped for—that her children love and treasure each other.

This Mother’s Day…

  1. Put aside past hurts.
  2. Ask forgiveness or forgive. (Remember an apology is not an admission of right or wrong, as much as acknowledging that your intent was not to hurt.)
  3. Move forward from caregiving related rifts that inadvertently hurt everyone involved.

Our sibling relationships are a source of stress but thankfully of great strength. They are life-long companions to share the work and the worry when it comes to Mom and Dad.

Happy Mother’s Day to Mom, siblings and all!


*Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive condition that affects a person’s ability to breathe well. It encompasses several medical conditions, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

** A nebulizer is a machine that turns a liquid medicine into a continuous mist that you inhale for around 5 to 10 minutes at a time through a mask or mouthpiece connected by tube to the machine.

Sarabeth Persiani

Sarahbeth Persiani is the author of Run, Walk, Crawl- A Caregiver Caught Between Generations. For five years, Sarahbeth was the primary caregiver for her Father, who had dementia, while working full-time and taking care of her own family. As the founder of We Are Sharing the Sun, her focus these days is to help companies create a supportive culture for family caregivers and provide education, support and encouragement for working professionals who are themselves in the sandwich squeeze.