This week, the new school year starts for many kids and teens in Australia. I proudly watched our big nine-year-old walk into her new classroom – seemingly confident and secure. As parents, we know that with each passing year, we have to hand over a little responsibility as our kids grow up. We need to foster their independence and celebrate it, even at times when we want to bundle them up and try to protect them from the big bad world.
Today, my dear friend Catherine Forbes, writes about how her family is navigating independence with their fifteen year-old daughter who just happens to have type 1 diabetes. I love Cath’s attitude and approach because raising her beautiful girl isn’t about diabetes. It’s about helping her daughter be the best person she can be. Diabetes or not, I think this is relevant to all of us. Thanks for writing, Cath.
One of the most amazing things about watching your child grow up is seeing them take on their own responsibilities and realising that, even without you, they will thrive. It’s no different when your child has type 1 diabetes.
For the past ten years, it’s been my job to look after my daughter; to keep her safe; to keep her alive. I’ve been the one testing, injecting, doing site changes, making adjustments and going to appointments. I’ve been the one checking the carb count in every piece of food that she eats. I’ve been the one nagging. I’ve been her carer – and it’s been the most important job that I have ever done. Sometimes, it’s extremely difficult to let go of that. It becomes our identifier. It’s who we are.
But, I’m here to tell you that ‘letting go’ is so worth it, so rewarding and, ultimately, the best possible thing that you can do for your child.
Now, I’m not talking about handing everything over to them and walking away. That would be a disaster. What I’m talking about is slowly letting go of the control that we have, allowing them to make their own decisions and their own mistakes. Allowing them to learn how to look after themselves safely for the rest of their lives.
Let’s face it; as much as we joke about them having to build a granny flat for us when they move out, the reality is that they are likely to be living on their own at some stage. Possibly living with friends or a partner. And certainly – not with us. We want them to be confident and competent in their own care. We want them to know what to do in any given situation. And we want them to live happy lives.
Twelve months ago, we began consciously working on this transition time with our daughter. She was 14 years old and had just been selected to tour the United Kingdom and France with her school netball team. Even though she would have teachers with her for the tour, we wanted her to be confident enough to look after herself while she was away. I made sure that she knew that I was there for her if she needed me and, nervously, handed over the responsibility for testing, carb counting and bolusing her insulin. I did not ask. I did not nag. I cut back on the night time testing.
I admit to you all that, as we approached her quarterly visit to Diabetes Clinic, I feared that we would see the worst HbA1c ever. It was a tough lesson – but also one of the proudest moments of my life – when she presented her best result EVER. She had taken control. She had stepped up. She had set her own alarms to test during the night or she had asked me to check on her. She had worn her Dexcom CGM and taken great interest in the effect of different foods and activity on her blood glucose levels. Essentially, she was doing this on her own.
When September rolled around and we waved her and her school mates goodbye, we knew that she was going to be just fine. And, more importantly, SHE knew that she was going to be just fine. For almost three weeks, I did not know her levels – not one of them. I didn’t know what she ate or what activity she was dealing with. And, when we spoke via Skype, diabetes was not mentioned once. She told me about her adventures and the people that she had met. It was magical. A huge turning point.
Now, she is still driving her own diabetes management. Several weeks ago, she told me that she wanted a pump holiday. She asked me for guidance and I showed her what needed to be done. In the past, her “holidays” have barely lasted a week. Now, with her in the driver’s seat, she is entering week four on multiple daily injections and she is doing great. I don’t know what all her levels have been but she is happy with them and that’s all that matters. I see her testing. I see her injecting. I know that she is going to be just fine.
I know some remarkable and inspirational young people who just happen to live with diabetes – and I know that my daughter will be in good company in this community. She too will be an amazing young person – taking life by the horns and doing whatever she chooses. Diabetes is just a tiny part of the incredible woman that she is.
Catherine Forbes is a mother, advocate, volunteer and peer support mentor. You can follow her on Twitter here.