No one imagines their mother, their wife, their partner, or anyone they love suddenly leaving the world without them. We all depend on each other in one way or another, but kids especially depend on their mothers, and husbands on their wives.
When Ian Millthorpe realized that his sick wife would suddenly be leaving him to raise their eight kids alone, he was devastated and terrified. Lucky for him, the dying mom continued to take care of her family, leaving them with a 15-point list of rules meant to guarantee their successful upbringing. This is what she wrote. It became so popular it is now published as part of a book: Mum's Way.
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The Heartbreaking News
It was in 1993 that Ian Millthorpe got his first taste of single parenthood as his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Angie had to step down from her full-time mom duties to focus on her intensive treatment, which included a mastectomy followed by radiotherapy. She simply didn't have the health and energy to be the all-hands-on mom she had been up to this point,
This left Ian alone with his then-three children, clueless as to what exactly he should be doing. His wife was in the hospital, so he had no choice but to attend to the needs of their children for the first time.
The Simple Things Are The Hardest
They say that parenting is like an instinct. There is no amount of self-help books and workshops, however, that fully prepares a parent for the real deal. We don't realize just how hard it is until we're faced with issues we have no memory of ever encountering in the books.
It's the smallest everyday things that were the hardest for Ian. He had no idea where to start: "I remember trying to stir the beans, watch the toast, lay the table, and get the drinks – all with three boys running around and tugging at my leg," he recalled. "I always did housework – decorating, washing up, gardening, knocking together rabbit hutches – but I'd never had to look after the kids like that before."
Renewed Hope Of Family Life
Fortunately, Angie seemed to be recovering by 1998, and the family was reunited as a full unit. This renewed their hopes of fulfilling their long-time dream of having a big family. Knowing how short and valuable life is through Angie's experience, they didn't waste any more time.
The couple gave birth to their fourth son was born the next year, followed by a twin boy and girl in 2002 and another son not long after. In 2007, they had another daughter fulfilling their dream and setting them as a family of eight.
Struck By Tragedy
All seemed well for the family until just a year after their last daughter was born, Angie once again felt unwell. She had a persistent cough and decided to get it checked out. After checking it out with a biopsy, the doctors delivered the heartbreaking that Angie's cancer had returned, except this time, it was terminal...
The family was heartbroken. Ian couldn't imagine living without his wife or raising their children without her. "I remember thinking, how will I cope?" He explains. "How on earth will I be able to raise all our kids on my own? I'm a man! I don't have a clue."
Despite being also afraid of her own demise and leaving her children behind, Angie started making preparations so that her family would be okay after her death.
The Misconception Of Gender Roles
Some of Ian's fears were due to misconceptions about gender roles. It wasn't that long ago that women's role was to stay home and take care of the kids while their husbands were the breadwinners. Often men thought that they had the harder job, having to protect and provide. Ian was no different; "I used to think it was me who had it hard and [Angie] who had it easy," he said as he used to work as a miner.
However, as soon as he had to start taking care of his children on his own, his whole perspective changed: "I remember I sat down at work talking about it, me and the lads. But how wrong we were. You just don't realize how much they do."
The Inspiration For The Rules
Angie took it upon herself to leave her family with some kind of guide that would help them after she was gone. Ian remembers how she asked him randomly one morning if he remembered the date of their youngest son's birthday.
Ian thought he did but after a couple of wrong guesses realized he still had a lot to learn. He remembers Angie sighing in exasperation and explaining: "You've got to know the kids' birthdays, Mill. What if you forget one?" She then took out a notebook and started writing down the birthdays of all of their eight children.
The 15 Rules
That's when Ian noticed that Angie had been writing down a number of other parenting tips in the notebook. She was leaving him pointers on bedtime rituals, hair care, how much screen time the kids get etc.
In total she left I'm 15 rules for their children that read:
#1: Plait girls hair or it splits
#2: Must do homework before bed
#3: Must be in 1 hour before dark
#4: Vet TV programs
#5: Don't let them bite nails
#6: Vet boyfriends/ girlfriends
#7: Keep going to Thornwich with the rest of family
#8: Be strict with them
#9: Check their hair for nits
#10: Only one hour a day on the computer
#11: Make sure Ella has her Meningitis boosters
#12: Don't have iron too hot for shifts
#13: Don't leave Ella in the bath alone
#14: Don't give them too many sweets
#15: Sunblock on hot days
The Struggles Of A Single Father
Ian followed his wife's rulebook to a T when it came to raising his children. He found that it never failed him
While being a single father has its struggles, so does parenting in general. Ian specifically had little to no knowledge of a parent's day-to-day duties and responsibilities prior to Angie's death in 2010. He had a lot to learn and struggled to raise their six sons and two daughters all by himself. Luckily, Angie's notes gave him the strength and courage he needed to keep learning. It was like she continued to raise them alongside him even after she was gone.
Life Goes On
Angie passed away in 2010. Over the next 11 years, Ian devoted himself to raising his kids in a way that would have made Angie happy. Not only did he apply these rules to his children but as they grew up and had their own children, he started applying them to his grandchildren.
Today, he uses the same rules to raise his grandchildren and brings out Angie's notes when necessary to remind his kids of how to raise their own children.
From Generation To Generation
Angie's presence lingered on long after her death through her notes. She continues to be missed every day by her children. However, now even her grandchildren are getting to know her through her notes:
"I miss Angie every day, but I really did feel her absence during the birth of our grandchildren. She'd have loved hugging them, just as I do," explains Ian.
"I have a bunch of hard-working, caring kids. I'm really proud. My children talk about Angie every day, what their Mom used to do, what she used to say. I can never replace Angie – I don't want to – but I'm determined to do everything that I can to make her proud of our family. Luckily she has made it easier for me."
Ian went on to write a book, "Mum's way", a heartbreaking story of family, loss, and love in her memory.
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