Surviving the Teen Years with Type 1 — This Mother’s Secret

5/6/16
WRITTEN BY: Tamar Sofer-Geri
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Soon after I founded Carb DM in 2011, my daughter, Tia, and I attended Heart-to-Heart, a Seminar on Growing Up for Parents and Kids: “an informative, humorous and lively discussion of puberty, the opposite sex and growing up.” As I listened to the information being discussed over two three-hour workshops, I sat there thinking: “If it takes six hours to talk about this stuff without diabetes, we need a weekend to talk about this with diabetes!”

And with that, the Carb DM Mother Daughter Weekend was born.

The first goal of the Mother Daughter Weekend is to understand how puberty, growing up and relationships are all affected by diabetes. The onset of menstrual cycles can be delayed due to T1D and it can take them longer to become regular. The hormonal changes during puberty can cause extreme increases in insulin needs and insulin resistance. In addition, pressure from peers and romantic partners sometimes lead to poor choices around diabetes. Through talks and workshops, we address a myriad of topics and have honest and open discussions about these issues.

Four weeks after Tia was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2009, I attended a talk titled: Diabetes Police vs. Diabetes Rebels by the incredible psychologist Dr. Jody Thomas. Her talk focused on the idea that parents’ expectations from their kids to be able to manage their diabetes well throughout the teen years is contrary to teens’ normal development. Or as she put it:

What are the skills necessary for good diabetes management?

  • Ability to appreciate future consequences
  • Impulse control
  • Delay of gratification
  • Consistent good judgment
  • High degree of social skill finesse
  • Great time management
  • Sense of personal responsibility
  • Good sense of self

What are the skills that developing teens typically don’t have?

  • Ability to appreciate future consequences
  • Impulse control
  • Delay of gratification

At that point, my 8-year-old was displaying signs of being the “perfect diabetic.” So one voice was saying: “You don’t have to listen to this. Tia is never going to be a Diabetes Rebel.” While the pessimist in me was saying: “You better listen carefully, so you don’t become the Diabetes Police.”

What I realized, though, was that diabetes had the potential to put a very significant strain on our relationship during the teen years. I knew that without education, practice and opportunities to connect and nurture our relationship, diabetes could rule and ruin our relationship.

The second goal of the Mother Daughter Weekend is to give mothers and daughters the space to work on, nurture and recalibrate their relationship. To take time out of their hectic lives to evaluate how they are communicating around diabetes. Are they being respectful of each other’s needs and wishes? Do they understand what motivates them to communicate the way they do? Are they feeling connected to each other and to the community?

At the Mother Daughter Weekend, we practice our communication skills, we laugh at our communication mishaps, and we have fun together so that when we leave the weekend we are connected not only to our own daughters, but to other mother-daughter duos as well, so that we have a strong network of support to turn to when things get rough.

Five weeks after Tia was diagnosed we met Katie Craft who was diagnosed with T1D at age 12. We met her because we needed a babysitter, but she quickly became an integral part of our family. She is the reason we Seize Diabetes. She told us about celebrating Dia-Birthdays. And when at first I didn’t understand the concept she whispered to me: “Imagine if there wasn’t insulin. It could be an anniversary of a very different occasion.” And since then, celebrate we do! She has been our inspiration, our hero and our role model.

The third goal of the Mother Daughter Weekend is to inspire and be inspired! At last month’s Mother Daughter Weekend, we had a collective 275 years of diabetes experience in the room! From Maureen McGrath who has lived with diabetes for 40 years to a girl who had been diagnosed less than four weeks. Both are equally courageous!

Sierra Sandison, Miss Idaho 2014 (#showmeyourpump), shared her story of overcoming anger and shame over her diagnosis to win the Miss Idaho pageant wearing her insulin pump to spread her message that we all should celebrate that which makes us different and unique.

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Carb DM’s own Noor Al Ramahi told her story of growing up in Abu Dahbi with T1D, and criss-crossing the globe until she found peace with diabetes after realizing her own body’s incredible strength having given life to adorable twin boys.

I think of the Mother Daughter Weekend as the crown jewel of Carb DM’s programs. It has everything I love about Carb DM: it fosters strong personal connections, it gives people access to excellent speakers and provides plenty of opportunities for peer-to-peer learning. Here are just a few of the testimonials we received:

One mom wrote: “It was wonderful to have a weekend where it felt like time actually stopped for a while to give us time to reflect with other people experiencing similar challenges.”

A daughter shared: “I feel more confident in caring for myself, and I want a pump now.”

And a mother and daughter experienced a true “aha” moment: “Dr. Diana Naranjo really opened our eyes, ears and hearts to communication around diabetes.  We had several light bulb moments and are very thankful.”

Type 1 diabetes is a thankless job. People often describe motherhood as a thankless job, too. This Mother’s Day, let’s say a special thanks to T1D moms who function also as a pancreas, CGM, MD, CDE, RN, RD, but most of all, as a MOM.


To learn more about Carb DM and their retreats, visit their website or check out their Facebook group. Read more about camp by DYF: Changing a “Curse” into a Community — Diabetes Camp.



Tamar Sofer-Geri

Tamar Sofer-Geri is Founder and Executive Director of Carb DM – Seize Diabetes a nonprofit organization she founded after her daughter was diagnosed with T1D in 2009. Carb DM’s mission is to build a supportive community that improves the quality of life and health of all those affected by Type 1 diabetes. Based in Los Altos, California, Tamar’s mission is to make sure she personally knows every person with T1D in a 60-mile radius. Tamar is a recipient of the 2016 Local Heroes award of the MidPen Media Center. Tamar’s daughter, Tia, is Carb DM’s Chief Inspirational Officer, a sophomore at Mountain View High School, a soccer and lacrosse player, and a “professional lab rat” who loves to participate in clinical studies involving the use of advanced technologies and AP systems. Find her on Instagram @Carb_DM or on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tamarsofergeri