For people living with diabetes, constant vigilance is required in order to stay healthy. But when a person with diabetes has a child, the parent must balance the demands of taking care of children while also attending to his or her own health needs. From one parent living with diabetes to another, here are a few suggestions:
1 Manage Your Stress
Whether you’re a new parent trying to read your infant’s preverbal cues or the parent of a teenager trying to translate his adolescent slang, stress is an inevitable part of parenthood. Different people find different aspects of parenthood to be stressful: For some, it’s the sleepless nights sitting up with a feverish child; for others, it’s the hectic pace of shuttling kids from one after-school activity to the next.
But for parents living with diabetes, stress can negatively impact their health. “Anxious moments abound in most of our lives,” says Gary Scheiner, CDE, author of ‘Think Like a Pancreas’ (Marlowe & Co.). “Stressful events elicit a stress-hormone response that can cause a sharp rise in blood glucose.”
This means that parents with diabetes need to be extra-aware of our stress triggers and take steps to reduce our stress. Whether it’s hiring a babysitter to give you a few hours’ break or learning a relaxation technique like meditation, managing stress is a necessity.
2 Communicate About Diabetes
Children are born with the gift of natural curiosity. At 10 months, my son discovered my insulin pump and loved pulling at its tubing. Children may be great at getting into our diabetes supplies, but they may not always be comfortable expressing their fears or concerns about our diabetes. You may need to initiate conversations and set the right tone so they will feel comfortable asking you questions.
When your children ask questions about your health, answer them in a direct, matter-of-fact manner: “Some people get diabetes like I did, but most people don’t.”
3 Get Active
Too often, parents are stuck cheering from the sidelines while children are out playing organized sports. Use the time you would spend watching your children to get involved with their activities. Volunteer to be a coach or encourage pickup games in your neighborhood. Take up sports that you can easily do as a family: biking, swimming or hiking.
4 Make Health a Family Commitment
Not only can you exercise together, you can also eat healthfully together. Teach kids about foods that will help them to grow stronger. Set regular bedtimes so that everyone gets enough rest. Make time to laugh and to relax together. Make it clear that good health is not only a priority for people with diabetes but for the whole family.
5 Be a Role Model
Remember that children look to you as a model for their own behavior. Show them your best self, your strongest self. Even during times when you are struggling with your health, remember to open your heart to them and value them. Stay as healthy as you can for them and model emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.
When Parents With Diabetes Have Children With Diabetes
Because people are born with a genetic predisposition for type 1 diabetes, and because type 2 has a strong link to family history, it is not unusual for a father or mother with diabetes to have a child with diabetes.
Diabetic parents who have children with diabetes have the opportunity to show they really understand what their kids are going through. They also walk a delicate line in trying to support their children without applying too much pressure. Because of their own experience, they may feel tempted to use the infamous “I told you so” approach.
Parents need to maintain open lines of communication, be extremely aware about projecting their own fears and anxieties onto their children and respect their children’s differences in dealing with their diabetes.