When your child has diabetes, you not only have normal parenting responsibilities, you face the added challenges of caring for a child with special needs. Every day, you must spend time monitoring your child’s condition.
“If you’re not careful, that additional responsibility can be overwhelming,” warns child and family therapist and blogger Meri Wallace, LCSW.“The stress will not only take a toll on your health but can also affect the quality of your family life.”
It doesn’t have to be that way. These tips can help you regain control of your life so that you can focus more on being a parent and less on being a healthcare provider.
First and foremost, you must be in good shape physically and mentally in order to provide the best care for your child, so be sure to take care of those important needs by eating well, getting enough exercise, and seeing your own doctor or therapist for routine care. Learn to reduce stress using deep breathing techniques and mind-body exercises such as yoga.
Learn everything you can about diabetes so that you will feel more in control. The more you understand now, the easier it will be to make decisions in the future regarding diet, exercise, treatments, medications, and self-care. Your child’s healthcare team should provide plenty of basic information, and there are many online resources that can help you understand the condition, stay updated and give you new ideas. These include: KidsHealth.org ; the Joslin Diabetes Center and the American Diabetes Association.
Be sure everyone in the family understands the special needs of a child with diabetes and what to do in case of an emergency. “When one child is getting more attention than the others, they might worry that you love that child more,” Wallace points out. “It’s important to include the other children in the family or they might feel jealous, angry, or left out,”
To get the most household help from your spouse and other children, assign chores according to activities they would most enjoy or are most willing to perform. If your spouse likes to cook, for instance, put them in charge of dinner or preparing the next day’s brown bag lunches. If you have a neat-freak in the family, hit them up for dishwashing and vacuuming the living room. When you are the primary caregiver for a child with a chronic health condition, anything anyone else does around the house will be helpful.
How often do you say, “no, thanks; I’m fine” when someone offers help, while secretly wishing they’ll ignore you and help out anyway. Allowing someone to drop off food or take your child out for an afternoon could save you from an otherwise overwhelming day. And if you need help, and no one is offering and there are no family members available to accept a chore, consider ordering in a meal or hiring someone to clean your house, even if these are things you don’t normally do. Consider it an investment in your sanity.
Share what you know about diabetes with your child and allow them as much responsibility for self-care as they can handle. At some point, as your child grows up, you’ll be faced with their need to do things their own way. “The more he understands the reasons for his treatments, the more cooperative he will be,” Wallace adds. “And the more confidence you have in your child’s ability to make healthy decisions, the less stress you will feel.”
The psychological stress of parenting a child with diabetes not only affects you; it affects your child’s moods, behavior, and quality of life in ways you may not recognize. If you need help coping, ask your doctor or a trusted friend for a referral before caregiving gets the best of you. “You might also consider a support group,” Wallace suggests. “Other parents dealing with the same issue can provide ongoing support, and keep you informed about new techniques for handling diabetes.” Speak with your health care provider or call your local hospital for a referral to a local group. For online support and information, check out ParentingDiabeticKids.com and Diabetes Research.org and Facebook groups such as “Moms and Dads of type one diabetics.”