Main Street Nashville

Susan Steen: Relationship with parents succeeds in both directions

Susan Steen

“And teach your parents well …And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick’s the one you’ll know by.

Don’t you ever ask them, ‘Why?’
If they told you, you will cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you.”

–Graham Nash

It was January 1965. The couple received a call that a little 5-month-old baby girl was still waiting in foster care to be adopted.

They drove several hours across the state to pick her up and bring her home, where their son, two years older, asked why she cried so much. A month later, they adopted her, and she became theirs. 

And they became hers. 

That is how adoption works, but it’s also how being a parent and child in any way works — children belong to the parents, and, maybe more importantly, parents belong to the children.

I love the song Graham Nash wrote. It reminds me that not only will my children pick certain dreams, but also my parents will, too. In my case, my mother, since my father has been gone a whole lotta years. This past week, my mother made a decision that once again changed our lives. Why? If she told me, I would cry, but then we both do that a lot.

Alzheimer’s disease took up residence in my mother’s brain several years ago. She will be 88 in a couple of weeks. I worked hard to keep it at a distance, just as a visitor. But one day, I recognized it was more powerful than my very best effort. I tried everything I could, everything that research suggested might help keep it at bay, and finally, I embraced our reality and began talking to my mother every day about what was happening.

We talked about how it was affecting her speech and her ability to remember certain things. We talked about how other people didn’t know how to respond to it. We talked about how it would continue to alter our lives, especially hers. It hadn’t occurred to me that it was altering my life each and every day. I was just a daughter loving her mother.

Several months ago, I began mentioning to my mother that we should keep in mind the facility beside where she lived was a safer space for people with Alzheimer’s. Six months ago, she said, “Have you seen how small those rooms are?” Yes, I had, so I just smiled and nodded. But a couple of weeks ago, she said, “Do you think I should live somewhere else?”

We made an appointment, toured the memory care facility, and at the end of the tour, she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “This is really nice. Could I live here?” And with tears streaming down my cheeks, I promised her she could. And so, we’ve moved. And I’m sharing all of this here because we, as a society, don’t talk about this part of the disease enough.

My mother was not my best friend when I was growing up. One day, maybe I’ll share more, but today I’ll simply say that 20 years ago, she became one of my best friends, and today, she is my favorite friend.

I have been able to trust her with incredibly personal and sensitive information, and she has loved me completely. She has stood beside me when my teenagers were TEENAGERS (only someone who has lived through that can appreciate how important capitalization is).

For any judgment she showed me before I was 30, she has shown ZERO since I’ve been 30. My mother grew up with me, with my marriage, with my children. And now, she has embodied the words of the song. So, we just look at each other and sigh, and know “she loves me.”

I’m sharing this very personal part of my life, and hers, because I know we aren’t the only ones, and I have a few things to say on behalf of the more than 6 million people in America (if you are in another country, I’d be interested in numbers there) with Alzheimer’s disease, and at least that many people as family members/caregivers.

More than 6 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s. An estimated 6.7 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s in 2023. Seventy-three percent are age 75 or older. About 1 in 9 people age 65 and older (10.7%) has Alzheimer’s.

There is a really good chance that you have someone in your family who is going to experience Alzheimer’s disease. There are many schools of thought regarding preventing, limiting, and dealing with the disease, but nothing is certain yet. In a world where a vaccine could be developed for COVID 19 in a matter of months, diseases like Alzheimer’s, ALS, multiple sclerosis, cancer, cystic fibrosis, and several others continue to wreak havoc on humanity. some diseases are just tougher to pinpoint, it seems.

This article isn’t about Alzheimer’s, though. This is about life, communicating, choices, and love. There are a lot of proud people in this world, and that’s all fine and good until it’s difficult.

Next week, I’m going to go in depth with what you and I need to be taking care of, and I’ll offer a link with everything you need to get started, but whether you are 10 or 100, there is someone who loves you and worries about you and wants the very best for you, and we have to trust there is no ulterior motive.

Until next week, I’m going to leave you with this. Talk to your people — your teenagers, your grandparents, your neighbors. Know how they are. Do you know how to contact someone in their family if they aren’t in your family? People are struggling with how to move forward.

Teenagers, 30-year-olds, and 80-something folks — we need to stop assuming people have it all together. They don’t. Maybe we don’t either, but we’ve never admitted that to ourselves or anyone else.

Who could have imagined when they adopted this little girl almost 59 years ago that she was also adopting them? Parents need to stop asking why. Allow your kids to do a little of the sighing, and we all need to know we love each other. 

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at

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