Diabetes: Being a better mother

A letter to my children on being a better mother.

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Dear kids,

I’ve been your mother for over ten years. I’ve been your mother in the sense that I became pregnant (eventually), gave birth (hastily), and navigated you (anxiously) through your early years. I’ve read, and cooked quite well; I’ve fixed grazes, temperatures, and broken buttons passably; I’ve tolerated craft activities and role-play, barely. But it’s only recently that I can really say I am a good mother.

Of course, I’ve always loved you. I would do anything to protect you, though I’ve always made sure that you rely on yourselves. A drop down the behaviour chart for leaving behind your homework book once too often? Your lookout. A playground dispute? I’ll give you advice, but you sort that out yourselves. I thought I was a good mum, and I was, in lots of ways. But I could do better, I could be better, and now I am.

It has taken a significant event in our lives for me to really see my children, to understand who you are, and why. I would give that event back in a flash, and yet I feel blessed by how it has changed our relationships. Before, we rushed through life, ticking tasks off lists, on a headlong dash towards bedtime, when we briefly sank into a sofa, a glass of wine, or a plate of pasta, and sleep, before starting the process all over again. The pace of family life left little time for talking, and even less for listening.

I had tried to change. Acutely aware of the process of separation that would gradually take you from adoring toddlers to distant teenagers, I peppered our lives with activities, and holidays; as if by creating big memories I’d have something to cling to when you inevitably left me to start your ‘real’ lives. And it has worked! Some of our happiest moments are spent as a family, just talking about the ‘remember when’s. Yet still there was an underlying sense of panic that I didn’t have long left before your desire to create memories with someone else would carry you away, and leave me with an empty nest.

But I was coming at it from the wrong angle. I was motivated by my own needs, not yours. I have changed tack, and I have all this to show for it…

To my girl:

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I will never forget the day when your world fell apart. I would give anything to take it away, to wake up from the nightmare. To see the smile when you wake, and know that it will stay there. But I can’t. All I can do is be there for you, as helpless as that feels. You came back to me that day; the fledgling sense of independence was stopped in its tracks, and I was once again your safe place. You’ve never slept in my bed, but you did that month, as we both got to grips with all the new and alien tasks that are now part of your life. We cried together, and I held you, not knowing what to say.

I did not know it then, but that time spent together not talking, was more than just consolation. It was time to think, to wonder, and to try to understand you. To get under the skin of who you really are, and what you feel. You talked more to me then than you ever had, and you still do now. I think you know that I understand you better, and that even when I don’t, I want to try.

Now when you lose your temper I don’t write it off as a hormonal tantrum. I wonder if you are low or high, sad or frustrated. When people talk of the tempestuous teenage years I no longer roll my eyes in parental collusion; I think of what a tumultuous time that is, and hope that you will still trust me enough to tell me things; I try to stand in your shoes.

I love you now better than I ever have. I respect you more, I admire you more, you inspire me more.

To my son:

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You were mine, and I was yours. I loved you both, but you needed me more. You rated us on a scale of 1-5000, me and your dad. I always came out at 5001, and was secretly smug. I did everything for you, and you were happy that way. It was a classic mother and son bond.

I know when things changed that it hurt you. You held it together and never complained – you knew it had to be about your sister for a while – and I was proud of you for that. But I knew you were smarting. It hurt me too; I missed your small body in my arms, your shuffle towards me on the sofa, your melt-into-me cuddle. I was no longer there for you one hundred per cent of the time, and I hated it. You were scared for your sister, I know that, though you said you were fine. You were scared for yourself – would it happen to you too?

Suddenly she needed more of my time, and gradually you came to rely on your dad. It was he who tucked you into bed for a while, his face at school pick-up when I couldn’t be there. He started to read to you at bedtime, while I supervised medical chores. He got up for you in the night, to let me catch up on sleep. You bonded over Match of the Day, and he coached you to more confidence in your football skills. You became friends.

You’re still mine. I’m still yours. But your confidence in yourself has doubled. You learned to rely more on yourself, you and your dad worked on a different relationship, and I’ve loved watching you discover shared passions and in-jokes. Now you shuffle closer to him on the sofa than you do to me. It’s fine, because you still rate me 5001.

I love you now better than I ever have. I am proud of you, I’m impressed by your resilience, and I’m moved by your compassion.

I’m a better mother.

I’m a better mother now. Not because I craft, or iron more shirts. I will never be good at art, and I’ll always nag grumpily about music practice. I still hate role-play, and I’m rubbish in the mornings until the coffee machine is on. The daily grind is always there, the to-do list snapping at my heels. But now there’s a difference. I’m better at ignoring it, at setting aside moments to talk, to listen, to just be with you. I know who you are now, because I took the time to ask, and I tried harder to understand. I’ve finally realised that parenting isn’t about me making you better; it’s about taking the time to learn what kind of people you are. And it’s about being the best role model I can be for you.

It takes time to become a mother, to really feel like mothering is under your skin. At least, it did for me. Thank goodness I realised how much I was missing, before it was too late.

Photos by Stephanie Belton.

72 thoughts on “Diabetes: Being a better mother”

  1. This is so beautiful Helen and I hope that the kids have read it. At the end of the day being there for our children when they need us most is the best gift any mother can give. Happy Mother’s Day lovely x

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  2. I think we all grow as parents, and what we once thought made us a good parent falls at eh wayside as we realise something different is important.

    This is a lovely letter to your kids ad clearly explains what has changed for you and them.

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  3. Oh Helen, you just made me cry.

    I love this, not what’s happened to you, but the amazing way that you’ve come out of this in the way you have and your family are very, very lucky to have you. But I suspect they already know that x x

    Stay strong lovely lady x xx

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    • I think it’s the only way Cass. Something like this can’t be weathered by trying to carry on as normal, at least not for a while. Personally, I can’t believe my luck at having them! x

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  4. Such a beautiful post. I don’t doubt for one moment that you were a brilliant mother before, but I understand what you are saying about your situation now as I’ve had a tiny glimmer of it myself. My daughter and I have always been close, but she spent a month ill (she’s just come through it, thank goodness) and, like you, our relationship changed as she became more reliant on me and I spent more time thinking about her and being with her. I even had a glimmer with my younger son over Christmas when he had a virus that lingered – he’s the least affectionate of my children, yet while he was ill he let me care for him much more and was much more affectionate and I’m pleased to say that has lasted!
    Happy Mother’s Day to you, hope you have a lovely day.

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    • It’s hard when they’re suffering, and that’s definitely the time to stop and think about what they really need, rather than pushing on through. I’m glad I realised that, and actually, if we can carry it on, it will make life so much better for all of us. Glad your daughter is better x

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  5. Oh wow Helen, I know what has been going on with GG has been so traumatic for you and will continue to be so for a while yet bt I have to admire how you are chnaging because of it. I am so glad you slowed and have capatured their childhood more. Give in to this Helen and just enjoy them. You are for sure one awesome mother and if I do say so yoru writing is moved on as well, this is so well wrtten. It deserved to go viral. Mich x

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  6. It has been so inspiring getting to know you when I have, being only a year or two behind on this parenting journey. It’s been incredibly tough I know, but it’s amazing to see you all grow stronger and closer. Beautiful sentiments. Here for the ups and downs Helen x

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  7. Such a beautIful post Helen. You are one of the most inspiring women I have ever met and if I can be even half the mother you are my kids will do well. Such a difficult time but it will get easier, I promise x

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  8. This is lovely to read Helen – so glad to see you have slowed down. Please don’t give yourself such a hard time though – our kids needs are more physical when they’re younger and more emotional now they’re older – aside from GG’s condition obviously – so you sounds steadfastly switched on. It takes us all years to get a grip and you’ve been wonderful. Now you’re awesome. Much love to you all XXX.

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  9. What a beautiful post Helen. Why is it that it takes something so tumultuous and scarey to make us rethink life and the way we live it. My illness was my epiphany.

    I am sure that your kids will grow up to say you are an ace mother. Mothering is hard. It is all or nothing, but our love for our children is all consuming.

    Stand strong, stand tall and stand beside your children on this wonderful journey

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  10. What a beautiful post. You have always been a good mother, but as our children change, get older and significant events knock us for six, then we have to move forward together or get left behind.

    I’ve certainly been trying to be more mindful of the moment recently so that I focus only on what I am doing at the time. I do think this has made me feel like a better mum because I enjoy my time with Z so much more now I have stopped multi tasking!

    You’ve been through so much lovely and I am glad you are enjoying a slower pace. Much love to you all.

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    • Thanks Sarah. I think we get so wrapped up in the pursuit of free time when they’re babies, that it becomes a habit. It’s not until you stop that you realise they’re actually really good company when we take the time to know them. Glad you’re getting quality time with Z x

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  11. Just beautiful Helen. Your skills as a parent are fabulous, and when you children have children, you will sit back and given yourself a pat, if you haven’t done so already.

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  12. So emotional reading this post Helen. It so beautifully articulates something I am in a fraction of your process going through too since my separation with the children’s father. This will help me continue on the right track. Thank you for writing it x

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    • Ah thanks so much Kate, wonderful to know it’s useful for someone as well as therapeutic for me. Life is hard isn’t it, for kids as well as grown-ups. I know you’ll all find a good way through your current worries too x

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  13. This really touched me Helen. So beautifully written. As you know, I’ve dipped into the ‘distant teenager’ years and let me tell you – it’s soooo hard. I have one who tells me nothing and it’s hurtful and painful to watch much of the time. I love that you’ve found a bond with your girl, that the bad stuff has actually brought you closer. I would never, ever wish this on anyone (as you of course wouldn’t either) but so wonderful that you can see the good that has come out of it and it has made you all stronger together. Well done, fab mummy. x

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    • Thanks Suzanne, I just hope we manage to maintain it. I was a taciturn teen, and I’m sure my parents didn’t like that, but I just didn’t want to let the in on my life. I don’t know why. I’m hoping that I’m doing enough that my children will be happy to share with me when it matters.

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  14. Gorgeous post Helen, such a valuable lesson for all of us Mother’s as well – not to take a single moment for granted. Your family must be so proud of the way that you have also coped with things recently, and you must be so proud of your lovely girl. Emma xx

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  15. Beautifully written Helen. It’s been such a time of change for you all, it was a huge bombshell for all of you as a family. It so inspiring to see how you have all worked through the changes and although life is different from before that it’s better in some aspects.Much love to you all x

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  16. Stunning words and stunning photos. It always amazes me how good can still come out of difficult situations – not that my faith is particularly strong right now but it reminds me of that bible verse about how God can make all things work for the good of those who love Him – and I’m clinging onto that right now whilst we don’t know what Miss T’s future will hold. You really are an amazing mum and have the most amazing kids too! x

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  17. This is my favourite post of yours EVER Helen, which is saying something because there have been so many good ones over the years. This is just a stunner though – the writing is beautiful and honest, and the sentiment just makes me well up. I’m sorry that it has taken something so difficult to prompt the changes that you’ve made, but you seem to be doing incredibly well as a family, and you should be very proud of yourselves. Loads of love xx

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  18. Lovely post Helen. It is so easy to get stuck in the routine of daily tasks, lost in the sheer exhaustion of trying to be everything to everyone isn’t it? I too have been trying to really listen and to keep my mind focussed on just the children when they’re around, but it’s not easy.

    You really are a wonderful Mum, GG and the bug are very lucky. xxx

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  19. You’ve just had me crying!! You obviously know how much I can relate to this, when Fin was diagnosed I felt like our world was ending!
    However if the #@£# that is type 1 diabetes has brought us anything good, it’s that I know I’m a better mum for it. I was quite depresses and stuck in an awful marriage before it showed me life’s too short and I didn’t focus on my children enough.
    type 1 and Fin almost dying and my then husbands complete lack of help (he dropped my 3 year old off to Me at the hospital and went to work as normal) got me to leave a toxic environment and focus on my children.
    We have a better routine a better life plus I found ‘real’ love with my own Mr Perfect.
    Stevie xx (sorry it’s longwinded but at least not doing off on a diabetes rant for a change!)

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    • Wow, what a stressful time that must have been for you. It does make you reassess your priorities, and whilst that’s a painful process, you come out the other side stronger, and better at knowing what (and who) is right for you and your family. So glad you’re in a happier place now 🙂

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  20. Beautiful post Helen and beautiful photography.I did a similar post a while back, talking to each of my children (It was called ‘Since the day that you were born’) and your post reminded me of it. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to re-read this post of mine… I feel exactly the same now as I did when I wrote it.I totally agree with your last paragraph – it takes time to be a mother. It really does.

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  21. Ah Helen parts of this brought me to tears, I can so relate to every single word. You have all done amazing and are an inspiration to others, it’s so hard to get your head around it all but with every day it gets easier as you now know, Jack is shining with School next week I am dreading it if I am honest but I know he can cope and I have to trust him to manage, School have had all the training and he is sensible, lets just hope I have taught him well xx

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    • Mostly I think they are capable of leading a great life Sarah, and yes, if they make sensible decisions, and have been taught well, they should be fine. It’s the sheer exhausting amount of work that goes on on beneath the surface to keep it that way which floors me sometimes, and which I think must be so hard to sustain for them over a lifetime. She has to do this forever, so whatever I can take from her in the next few years is small-fry in reality 🙂

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  22. Beautiful post Helen. It was a significant (and devastating) life event 7 years ago that made me decide to slow down. Hence I started blogging about our journey toward a ‘family life simply done’. Wishing both your daughter and son (and you all) all the very best. Jo

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  23. Such a beautiful post. I am sitting here in tears. You have all went through so much and are a true inspiration. Lots of love x

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  24. Oh my! Such a beautiful, tender and honest post. You are so right, Helen. Its so easy for us modern mothers to fall into total task mode, and forget that being, really being, with our kids, is what they really need. For this reason its also an important post. It shows how we grow as mothers. I love what you wrote about your son, i can so relate, though mine is a tiny bit older and moved into the daddy/football/less needy phase already (sad face). They way you’ve handled what’s happened to your daughter, indeed to all of you, is also wonderful to watch/read. And those photos – I’m going to have to contact Stephanie for a photo shoot!

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  25. I found your blog this morning and I have to say that I really love it 😉
    Very nice picture ! Moreover your text is very moving.

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  26. This is so beautifully written and has really moved me. I’m sorry for what sounds like a difficult time, but think it is wonderful that you’ve taken something so amazing from it and let yourself see the true importance of your children and your mothering. Bad things happening definitely give us the opportunity to reassess and evaluate the important things in life, it absolutely did for me a few months ago, and though I wish it hadn’t happened, I don’t regret the positive changes it brought. Sending thoughts your way x

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  27. We all love our kids..but once in a while it is important to express our love and care through words. Writing a letter to kids expressing your love and concern is a good way to strengthen the mom-child bond.

    a touching letter….

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  28. Helen this made me cry! So lovely, your kids both sound so caring and mature – goes to show that even when you thought you weren’t being as good a mum as you could be, really you were the whole time.
    p.s looking forwards to catching up at the MADS, well done! Super excited that I get to go again as it was so much fan last time 🙂 x

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    • Thank you so much for your lovely words Katie. The MADs is going to be fabulous as usual. This time I’m going to try not to cry a torrent and make everyone feel really uncomfortable 🙂
      Let’s just sit at the back and drink prosecco

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