The d-parent’s to-do list may at times seem overwhelming: Check blood sugar. Count carbs. Make sure school nurse is up to speed. Order diabetes supplies. Study log books and adjust basal rates. Check blood sugar.
But there’s one thing some d-parents may omit from that list on a regular basis; something that may be just as important to their child’s thriving in this life with diabetes as that blood sugar check is: Take care of yourself.
It’s an understandable omission. When your child is in need, you give your all, which may mean putting your own needs aside. But taking care of yourself may be a key aspect to raising a child who lives with diabetes.
“Many parents talk about feeling selfish when taking time out to take care of themselves, when their child doesn’t get to take a break from diabetes. They have a hard time stepping away, even for a little while,” said Dr. Marisa Hilliard, a pediatric psychologist specializing in type 1 diabetes. “Parents who take good care of themselves are actually doing their children and families a big favor. Taking steps to make sure you are physically, mentally and emotionally healthy puts you in the best position to help your child when he or she needs you.”
Easier said than done? Dr. Hilliard emphasizes finding a way to get more sleep, finding a way to do things that you enjoy and embracing things that are just about you as positive steps toward keeping your entire family healthier with diabetes on board.
But how? It comes down to trust (in yourself, others and your child), planning (with your team, your family and maybe even some friends) and of course, taking a leap of faith and just doing it. Steps include:
Carving out time just for you
The gym, a book group, a daily walk, an art class; whatever it is (other than work and taking care of diabetes), parents should make a plan and stick to it. Having a few hours that are just about you each week may help your psyche remember that you are more than just a d-parent. Set boundaries for this time: Unless there is a true emergency involved, no one should interrupt you. It can be a challenge at first; your mind keeps going back to what is going on with your child. But over time, you may find that “checking out” for a bit of time becomes easier.
This is a big one. It is crucial, Dr. Hilliard said, to get a good night’s sleep at least some of the time.
“Getting sleep gives your mind and body a chance to reboot for the next day and be ready for whatever it may bring,” she explained. “Research shows that even one night of sleep deprivation can have a big impact on thinking speed and flexibility, while being well-rested can help you think faster and pay better attention – and being alert and solving problems quickly and creatively is something parents of kids with type 1 diabetes may need to do every day. Getting enough sleep may also help with mood, and being in a better mood may give parents the ability to talk and think more calmly about diabetes and may help manage feeling burned out.”
How to get that sleep? Talk to your child’s diabetes care team. Share with them how much (or how little) sleep you are getting, and let them help you work toward a plan that allows you more sleep without more worry.
Mary Gollings is a social worker and a person who grew up with diabetes. She advises her clients to “set boundaries” for themselves as parents. “Start with a short period of time (with the approval of your medical team) and try to sleep no matter how worried you are,” she said. Then work with your child’s care team to adjust the time if possible, she added.
Of course, while each situation is unique, your medical team may find a way to help you sleep more. It may take some time and some trust, but that sleep will keep you healthier for your child.
Taking a diabetes vacation
Yes, yes: your child may never have one. But that does not mean you cannot and should not. Once a year, either when your child is at diabetes camp or when you can leave them for a couple of nights with a trusted friend or family member, take a complete break from thinking and talking diabetes. This is not easy, but in time, you can do it. One of the best things about diabetes camp is the break it gives parents. And don’t feel guilty: you need it for your child. During that time, work to not talk about or do anything around diabetes. If you are a diabetes advocate or volunteer, let your organization know you are taking a holiday. Check completely out of the D world so you may be stronger when you check back in.
Dr. Hilliard says that taking such steps may help your child live a stronger, healthier and fuller life with diabetes.
“You are an important role model for your child and your family,” she elaborated. “Taking care of your personal needs gives you an opportunity to show your child how to take care of himself or herself, and communicates that diabetes does not have to stop you (or them!) from having fun and living healthfully. Taking opportunities to relax and enjoy yourself can also improve your mood, making it easier to enjoy the time you are spending with your child and your family.”
It can be a challenge, but parents who can carve out time and space – and, yes, sleep – are crossing off an important item on the “to-do” list of life as a d-parent.
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