I’m really hoping to get some comments going on this one. We moms could use the insight of you kids with diabetes, and the insight of other moms. Go for it!
Being a mom is hard work. As Joan in “Mr. Mom” so deftly put it: “It might even be the toughest job in the entire world. It bends your back, it drives you nuts, and it makes your boobs droop.” And that’s even without diabetes in the mix.
Being the mom of a child with diabetes brings it all to a whole new level. We Moms (and I don’t mean to leave out Dads – Dads have their own unique issues with parenting a child with diabetes and I promise to delve into that here in the near future) have to be full time parents all while being full time nurses and endocrinologists. We have to take all the mean, strict rules (that is how our kids see them after all) and swath them with a thick layer of . . . even more rules.
It makes for a challenging parent-child relationship, I’ll tell you that. Even though “Steel Magnolias” is out of date and really kind of scary, there is one part of the film that still holds true today (and no, I’m not talking about Drum needing to rush to the restroom when his “coffee kicks in.”) It’s the complicated, difficult, angst filled but oh-so-very-loving relationship between Shelby and her mom. We may have better tools and more understanding of diabetes today than back when that film was made, but we’re still in the same situation when it comes to mothering a child with this disease.
Not that I’m an expert or anything (although I did – much to my two daughter’s amusement back then – publish a book on raising girls. “They’re gonna read a book on that by you?” One of my daughter’s asked, snickering.), but I do feel like with 25 years of being a mom under my belt and 14 years of being a mom of a child with diabetes there as well, I’ve seen a lot. And I’ll be honest with you: while my number one goal has always been to keep my daughter with diabetes safe, alive and healthy enough to remain that way for a good long time, over the more recent years, I’ve realized my goals had to include something else: helping her live a well-rounded life, and helping her, yes, do that without me running the show.
Alas, That’s not an easy thing to do. I was lucky enough to have my second daughter be the one with diabetes (no – that sounded wrong. I was lucky enough to have experience in raising a daughter before diabetes came along. That’s what I mean). I knew that mood swings and disagreements and bucking the rules and just plain despising your mom sometimes is just part of the adolescent experience. So at least, when I started to see some struggles with my daughter with diabetes, I knew some of this was par for the course. But with diabetes along, its harder to just let things run that course. Because it’s one thing for your daughter to blow off curfew or to pitch a fit because you are “the only mother in Plymouth” not to allow a co-ed sleepover for 14 year olds. It’s quite another for your child to blow off blood sugar checks and insulin doses, and to pitch a fit because you are “the only mother in the world” who sticks her nose into her daughter’s diabetes this much.
So what’s a mom to do? I saw some different cases as “Diabetes Rehab” that really made me think. One mom there was clearly so angry at her daughter’s lack of compliance that she took it completely personally. I totally get that. It’s hard not to rail at non-compliance when you’ve been the security guard to your child’s organs for oh-so-long. But the anger wasn’t doing them any good. In fact, it was ruining them.
Another mother was clearly still completely in control of her daughter’s diabetes even though the girl was about 20. She’d not been allowed to live at college (so her mom could still check her three times a night). When it was time for the young woman to speak, the mother spoke for her (as we all do when they are younger . . . but this was jarring). I totally get that too – it’s crazy hard to let go when you know your child probably isn’t going to do all the things you want them to (or almost any of them in some cases). My heart broke when that mom asked the husband of a patient there, “Do you check her a few times a night? I am waiting for my child to meet the man who will take over for me.” (For the record, the man said no . . . other than emergencies and during pregnancies, they don’t check all night. But he was a peach of a guy).
One young woman told my daughter and me she was there without her mom for a reason: the years and years of her mom trying to manage her diabetes when really, it was time to let go, had hurt their excellent relationship. “She’s kind of upset I’m here without here,” the young woman said, “But this is the way it has to be.”
And here’s the thing: Every single one of those moms are caring, loving compassionate people just trying their best.
And then there was me. Make no mistake, I have made my share of mistakes as a mom and a diabetes mom. And this day, my goal was to shut the heck up (anyone who knows me knows how hard that is for me!) I vowed myself to be silent; to let this be my daughter’s experience and not an experience filtered through my eyes and thoughts. It wasn’t easy, but I think I did okay. At one point my daughter whispered, “Mom. It’s okay for you to talk. Really.” Still, I tried to stay quiet. Okay, well more quiet than I usually am.
I think of all of this when I talk to the parents of young kids with diabetes. They are just like I was then: they think that they’ve found a pattern and a system and their child will grow up embracing that pattern and system. (I wince when I recall me saying in a snotty voice to some poor struggling parent of a teen “Well we’ve been able to keep her a1c down! You just have to lay out the rules.” Yeah, my kid was like 9 at the time. What the heck did I know?
And that’s why it’s so hard to be a D-Mom. Unlike other parenting situations, you have to find a way to stay true to what needs to be done but move, as they grow, to a place where you hand it over to them, for better or for worse. Trust me, I ain’t easy. My daughter is in her second year of college now. Things are okay. When I say okay I mean she’s getting good grades, making tons of friends and semi taking care. Is she in tight control? No. But I’ve learned to listen to her and try to back off from wanting (needing) to run her life and be her complete protector. “Baby steps, Mom. Babysteps,” my daughter said to me the other day when I suggested she keep a more detailed log book (read: any log book at all).
I sighed, took a breath and tried to keep quiet and let her live her life on her terms. She’s 20 years old and I’ve done all I can. Like Shelby and her mom, she knows where I am and knows that I love her.
And as for me getting through this transition, another “Mr. Mom” quote comes to mind: “Beer?” “Beer? It’s seven o’clock in the morning.” “Oh, right. Scotch?”
Do share your experiences with your mom or as a mom in this diabetes world. Let’s learn from one another.
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