Parents and Family

Climbing that Mountain

All too often we read about children, teenagers and adults with diabetes climbing mountains, sailing the seas and doing all sorts of fantastic things. I’m sure these articles are written with the best of intentions – to make us all feel better and let us know that our children can do anything, even with diabetes. Well they probably can, providing they take all the necessary precautions.

Does this actually make us feel better? Do they, in fact, make us feel worse, more inadequate and perhaps even a bit of a failure because we, or our children, don’t achieve these things?

They shouldn’t because the vast majority of people with or without diabetes don’t want to climb a mountain or sail across the Atlantic – they simply want to lead a normal everyday life just like their friends. This is just as great an achievement as climbing a mountain! Your child with diabetes attending its first party on its own, your teenager going to its first disco without going hypo or having blood sugars out of the roof – these are achievements that are just as important as climbing any mountain. These are the things that enable our children with diabetes to be like their friends and this is something that matters greatly to them, especially as they get into the teenage years. We can be justifiably proud of them for this – they don’t have to climb a mountain!

Are we over enthusiastic about their achievements?
I think that sometimes we, as parents, are in danger of this. Quite naturally we want our children with diabetes to achieve their full potential and we don’t want diabetes to interfere with their schoolwork or their hobbies. But we have to be very wary of falling into the trap of encouraging our children to do things just to prove that they can do them and to prove they are just as good, if not better, than their non-diabetic friends. We also have to be wary of our own desires to prove that our children can achieve even though they have diabetes.

We have to ask ourselves about the people in the articles – did they climb the mountain because they wanted to or did they do it to prove that they could as someone with diabetes? Would they have wanted to climb the mountain if they had not had diabetes? Are they going to go through life trying to prove that diabetes does not interfere with their lives? If the answer to this last question is yes, then I think this is sad and I do not believe that any of us, as parents, want that for our children. If they want to climb mountains because that is their hobby, then that’s fine.

The balancing act
Just like the rest of living with diabetes, getting this aspect right is a balancing act. We do not want to pressurise our children with diabetes into being high achievers but at the same time, we do not want to ‘spoil’ them simply because they have diabetes. Finding this balance is not easy – it is probably just as difficult as getting good blood glucose results!

One thing that most of us discover fairly early after diagnosis is that the world does not make allowances for someone with diabetes, whether a child, teenager or an adult and having this in mind when bringing up a child with diabetes, helps to find a balance. The one thing we all want for our children is that they are able to cope in the adult world, they grow up to be independent, healthy and above all, happy. 

The role model
Having said all of this there is a place for role models and Gary Mabbutt who was captain of Spurs and the first person with diabetes to play football for England, is a good example. ‘If Gary Mabbutt can play football for England, then diabetes doesn’t have to stop me doing anything.’

Gary and his family were in a TV programme about his life and his diabetes kept cropping up. Without in any way detracting from Gary’s success, the programme showed that he came from a footballing family and he was well on the way to a football career when he was diagnosed with diabetes in his teens. Gary’s real achievement was that he did not let diabetes interfere with his ambitions to be a professional footballer. This is the role model that children with diabetes need. He was not trying to prove that he could be a footballer and have diabetes – but he was not letting diabetes stop him from doing what he wanted to do. There is a subtle difference. His parents were rightly very proud of him and we can be equally proud of our children when they do what they want to do, while at the same time managing their diabetes.