I was ten years old when my seven-year-old brother, Danny, was diagnosed with diabetes. After his diagnosis, he got pretty much all of my parents’ attention.
I realized that his needs were greater than mine, and I knew that I should be gracious about it, but going with the flow was not one of my strengths at the time. The first four or five months were not easy for me.
I understood that Danny did not want to have diabetes, but that knowledge did not stop me from getting frustrated. Sometimes Danny’s blood sugars were so out of range that we had to stop what we were doing. My parents would then ask Danny (but not me) what he wanted to do.
Although I understood that Danny felt awful when he was high or low, I didn’t like the fact that my parents did not ask me what I felt like doing. I just wanted some of their attention too. Obviously, I had to grow up fast, and I did. After about seven months, life became much easier. I still got frustrated occasionally, but it lasted only a few minutes.
Danny has had diabetes for six years now. Looking back, I realize that my parents did a few things to make the transition easier for me. I would like to share those things with other parents whose child may be having trouble adjusting to a sibling with diabetes.
1. Alone Time: Once or twice a year, my mom took me on a girls’ only trip. Just the two of us would go to a hotel somewhere special and spend the weekend together. This is obviously not possible for everyone because it takes a lot of time and money, but the idea of alone time can be implemented in different ways – you just have to be creative.
Something as simple as taking a walk once a week or going out to a special dinner can make a huge difference. Simply knowing that my parents were thinking about me changed my everyday life dramatically.
2. Support Team: From the beginning, my parents made plans for me to spend time with nearby family and friends. I had “Nana Day” every Wednesday, when my grandmother would do something special with me. I often slept over at my aunt and uncle’s house, where I would have the attention of them both as we ate ice cream and watched a rented movie.
I grew closer to my neighbors who had children my age, and they welcomed me into their house any time I needed to get out on my own. Having people around me to whom I could go when life at home was stressful made things much easier.
3. Inclusion: From day one of Danny’s diabetes, I wanted to know everything about it and be part of every decision. I am sure I drove my parents crazy with all my questions and my insistence on being in on every dilemma. Still, the four of us grew closer because my parents included my brother and me in their decisions.
They patiently explained what they were thinking and sometimes even asked our opinion. I would always throw in my two cents, and it did not take long before my thoughts were taken into consideration. I became someone who could take care of Danny if my parents wanted to go out. Being treated as an equal upon whom my parents could rely not only helped spread the attention, but also tightened our family.
These three things made all the difference to me in the first few years after Danny was diagnosed. I am now sixteen years old, and I don’t know anyone who has such a close-knit family as I do. A sibling with diabetes can bring the whole family closer together, as long as the issue of attention receives the attention it deserves.
Jessica Plunkett was recently featured with her family in the book The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes: Family Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child, available at www.challengeofdiabetes.com.