I was lucky enough to take my daughter, who lives with type 1 diabetes, along with me to a speaking event recently. That she wowed the crowd and had all sorts of insights did not surprise me: People who live with diabetes truly are remarkable, in my experience.
But what did surprise me was one of the top reactions folks had to our talk: They commented on how well we seem to get along. How, they asked, did we manage to have such a strong relationship despite the kicks, slams, and yes, tension-fraught moments raising a child with diabetes may bring?
I wanted to say it’s just because I’m so awesome (Ha!). But in truth, it’s not that at all. Lucky for my daughter and me, we got some great advice all the way along, and we took it to heart. Even in the roughest of times (for us, the choppy seas of the teen years with diabetes on board), we somehow managed to always remember to simply like one another. And it shows today. Lauren is not only my child; she’s a good friend. She’s not only an adult building her own life (on Capitol Hill of all places!), she’s a person I can lean on when need be. Sure, she still has her “diabetes moments,” but we get through them.
Here are a few of the lessons I learned along the way that helped keep our relationship strong:
Have a sense of humor
It’s good to laugh, even if it’s not always easy. I tried to show this to my kids from the start. We had some insider d-jokes (like yelling “Shelby! Drink the juice!” in our best Steel Magnolias voice when Lauren was low, or referencing The Exorcist child when she was ratchet-cranky high). The idea is this: In the moment, you may feel stress, worry, concern and yes, sometimes anger. By tossing in humor (even if everyone doesn’t laugh at it that exact moment), you add “good.” And down the road, instead of remembering the trauma, you may remember the funny part. It really works for us.
Said Lauren about this method: “It used to really kind of bug me, Mom, you laughing when I wanted to scream. But now those stories are so funny. I look back and see good, and it really makes a difference.”
Put the diabetes “in bubble wrap”
Lauren was always a person first, and a person living with diabetes second, even in the hardest times. This took a real effort from me (what mom does not want to yell “What’s your blood sugar?” the first moment they see their child?). I learned, as Marisa Hilliard, a clinical pediatric psychologist at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, says, to “put bubble wrap on the diabetes.” “Take diabetes out and protect it from the normal kinds of conflicts all teens have with their parents,” she said. Try to “take the emotion out of diabetes completely.”
That took an incredible amount of practice from me. And it had to be more than “faking it to make it.”
As Lauren told me recently, “I could totally tell when you were just asking me three questions and THEN the diabetes question. It was so obvious. When you finally got to a point of remembering to care about just me – and not just my diabetes – it resonated with me. And I appreciate it to this day.”
I believe parents need to look at things like a test that the child did not do well on and not automatically think: “Was your blood sugar off?” Sometimes kids don’t do well, diabetes or not. And sometimes they do really well, diabetes or not.
It sounds silly but, even now, I go with my daughter to her endo appointments. No, I don’t go in. My role is the one part of that experience that I can still share with her: a city lunch and shopping spree that day. Making fun little traditions around the diabetes routine has brought us more pleasurable memories. Maybe there was that time you visited your diabetes care team and the A1C disappointed you both. But afterward, you had that wonderful walk along the river. What do you remember long-term? The river walk! (Learn more about A1C levels and what they mean, here.)
Lauren agrees. “There would be times I just dreaded an appointment. But I always knew you had something special planned for that day too. I think I’m going to do that for myself as I get older. Wrap a medical thing with a fun time somewhere. It makes it so much better. And it always made me thankful to have you there. I know if I was alone, I’d probably not have talked about what bothered me that day. But in the fun of the ‘other outing’ I’d relax and open up. Remember?’”
I sure do. Some of the most open, honest and brave things she shared with me over the years came over lunch or dinner post-appointment. Without me even asking.
I’m proud to see my daughter thrive as a young adult. I’m happy with her A1C levels and that she takes good care of herself. But more than all of that combined, I’m proud of our awesome relationship. That’s the best a mom can hope for.
Moira McCarthy is an acclaimed writer, author, and public speaker who has shared her story – and lessons – on raising a child living with type 1 diabetes in the media, through books, and on her popular blog, despitediabetes.com. McCarthy has appeared on CNN Live, Good Morning America, and Fox News. She was recently recognized as the JDRF International Volunteer of the Year. Her six books include the top-selling The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children With Juvenile Diabetes and her latest Raising Teens With Diabetes: A Survival Guide For Parents. McCarthy is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience