Cards, gifts, chocolates, flowers, and romantic gestures. Isn’t that what Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about? My husband Brian and I had been going on that theory until 2002, when the holiday had the audacity to come around again one month after our son Danny was diagnosed with diabetes. That year, we woke up, wished each other Happy Valentine’s Day and started talking about blood sugar levels, carbohydrates, insulin, exercise and pharmacies. We hit those same topics during the day by phone, and although we vaguely planned to go out for dinner, by evening Danny wasn’t feeling well, and we spent part of the night on the phone to Children’s Hospital. We did remember to kiss goodnight before we collapsed into a restless sleep, but were poised for the alarm to wake us, so we could test Danny’s blood sugar levels again at midnight.
Seven years later, the flowers and the romance are back, but the holiday feels different than it did before diabetes. When your child’s life is threatened, every moment becomes a lot more precious. An alarming percentage of marriages end sometime after diagnosis, but for those that survive, the parents have grappled with fear, anger, and loss of security and have decided to love each other anyway. Some years, Valentine’s Day may not feel carefree or even romantic, but it is an opportunity for gratitude and a celebration of lasting love.
- Love today – As the parent of a child with a chronic illness, there are many understandable reasons to put off feeling good. I will feel better when his blood sugar levels come down. If I can just get through this holiday, then I will relax. I’m too tired to enjoy this. The problem, of course, is that chronic is chronic. There are easier and harder times, but the challenges continue. Valentine’s Day could be the right time to relax and enjoy yourself despite the details, to love the fact that you and yours are alive and living life together.
- Put love first – As a young overwhelmed parent, I clearly remember stamping into a living room strewn with crayons and Legos, growling at my two children “Clean it up now!” and marching back to the kitchen. Then I pulled up short halfway to the sink. Where had the love gone? Did the room have to be clean before I could feel it? I breathed deeply for a few moments and then reversed my course. I sat on the floor, looked them in the eyes, admired their work, and cleaned up with them.
Putting love first helps with I can’t think about my marriage right now. My kid drives me crazy when he forgets to test. Why don’t my friends understand what I am going through? Let Valentine’s Day be a reminder that taking a breath, making eye contact, reaching for the other person’s hand, and asking for what we want is much more fulfilling.
- Love yourself – As parents of children with diabetes, we are always short of the gold star. No day of blood sugars is perfect. Your child’s life is dependent upon your vigilance, and most likely, you spend a lot of time thinking that you could do better. Maybe Valentine’s Day is the day to decide that you are good enough. I forgot to give him his shot, but I know how to avoid that next time. I’m doing the best I can, considering I don’t sleep through the night. Maybe taking a walk will help me relax. Without tension, pressure, and guilt, life is a lot easier.
Who knows? Perhaps with these priorities, you might be in the mood for flowers, chocolate and a nice dinner. And even if the holiday trappings aren’t for you, maybe you’ll be in the mood for love.
These suggestions are drawn from “The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes: Family Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child” by Laura Plunkett and Linda Weltner, a heart-centered book designed to help parents support themselves and their children’s overall health and well-being. For additional information, please visit challengeofdiabetes.com.