I’ve found that one feeling many parents and caretakers (like me) of children living with type 1 diabetes frequently share is guilt. So many of us feel guilty for a variety of reasons, from a high or low blood sugar reading to the very the fact that our children have diabetes. These worries are the sort of thing that can wake a parent up in the middle of the night. In this and my next column, I’ll address some of the biggest concerns I face in raising my daughter in the hope that some of the things I’ve learned along the way may help other parents and caretakers.
Q: Could I have prevented diabetes?
A: This is probably one of the very first questions that ran through the minds of my husband and myself after our child was diagnosed. We wondered if we had passed along bad genes or if we fed her something we shouldn’t have at too young an age. The reality is that type 1 diabetes has no known cause and there is nothing that you could have done to be responsible for it.
For us, one of the hardest parts about having a child diagnosed with type 1 diabetes is that you can’t take it away. As parents we want to protect our children from harm and yet here comes diabetes. We may need to allow ourselves time to come to terms with that and eventually find acceptance. It has been more than four years since my daughter’s diagnosis, and I still get choked up when I tell people that I would take it on myself in a heartbeat if I could. But for the most part, I have learned to accept it and just deal with it as part of our lives.
Q: When my child’s blood sugar is too high or too low or their A1C isn’t where I want it to be, is it my fault?
A: As parents, we should not interpret these numbers as a judgment; something we may be good at doing. They are not an assessment of our parenting skills.
Diabetes management may be overwhelming. We might be expected to step in and replace a working pancreas even though the job of a pancreas is much more complex than we could ever live up to. And I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t have a medical background. We take on all the tasks that diabetes management requires of us on top of all the other things that we do each day – including parenting our other children, working, being a spouse, taking care of a household, and hopefully finding a moment for ourselves now and then.
If diabetes were as simple as A+B=C, taking it on might be easier. But diabetes is rarely straightforward. It is complex and changeable.
So many factors, including stress, may affect blood sugar and, just when you figure out how to deal with them, circumstances may change. One day children work up a sweat on the playground; the next they sit under a tree chatting with their friends. So their blood sugar after school might be low today, but high tomorrow.
In my opinion, you can’t beat yourself up or take on the blame every time you see a number. I’ve miscalculated carbs, failed to give a bolus, and forgot to give my daughter a snack. I’ve misjudged how her body would devour carbs during sports. I’m human. I’m not a perfect parent – I’m certainly not a perfect pancreas.
But what I have learned to do is look at a number, deal with it, and move on. No judgment, just action. I use numbers as information, and that’s it. I ask myself what I could do better next time or where I went wrong. When we get an A1C that’s higher than I want, I ask what we can do to improve my daughter’s overall care and, hopefully, be in our targeted range next time.
Leighann Calentine is the author of the book Kids First, Diabetes Second and the website D-Mom Blog. She is married with two children – including a daughter with type 1 diabetes – has a graduate degree, and works for a major university doing research. Calentine 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.
© 2012 The DX: The Diabetes Experience