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A Parent's Dilemma

How I learned not to overparent my child with diabetes

Helicopter parenting, overprotective coddling, meddling parents of millennials – whatever you want to call it, there’s an ongoing debate about parents being too involved in their children’s lives.

A new book by Julie Lythcott-Haims, Stanford’s former dean of freshmen, adds more fuel to the fire. How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, which says a lot in the title alone, describes some cringe-worthy parent behavior. (Imagine Mom or Dad disputing a professor’s grade, or accompanying their college graduate on job interviews.)

But it also brings up some important points about maintaining boundaries and allowing your offspring to achieve success through their own failures. In fact, this latest book has me thinking about what I’ve learned along the way both as a parent and diabetes advocate.

My now-adult child with diabetes is 24; she’s 18 years into life with diabetes. She has a college degree and a great job in our nation’s capital. She lives in a cute apartment and pays her own bills. She has an active and fun social life. She volunteers some of her time. She manages her diabetes on her own and has mostly great days peppered with the unavoidable icky days and rough times. She’s thriving.

(Read more about this special mother-daughter relationship.)

I think this is part luck. (I mean, really: if I can raise a great adult, anyone can!) Here are a few things that I realize, on reflection, helped get my daughter to where she is – and get me to where I am today too.

At any age, it is their diabetes. Yes, children need guidance and advice and sometimes, for us to make the decisions. But even from the time a child is young, there is always something about diabetes that they can own. I gave my daughter choices and options, encouraging her to take a lead in her diabetes care, always in an age-appropriate way.

When she was little, it might involve choosing the color pump she wanted, or letting her help me fill in logbooks. As she grew, it meant letting her interact with her healthcare team and work with them to make decisions. It was and is her diabetes, and I worked from the start to find ways to help her see that.

Set boundaries for YOU. Say he or she and not me. Sure, we all have sleepless nights. But it may never, ever impact us the way it does them.

If she was starting a new school year, it wasn’t all about me stressing out about her 504 plan, or when lunch was, or how she was going to move from class to class. It was about her. It’s easy to sink down into our own point of view on things. After all, being a d-mom or d-dad does impact your life. But I thought it was important from the start that she not hear me making it about me.

Why? Well, first, because as I said above, it is her diabetes, not mine. It’s not about me – nor should it be. Second, I did not want to pile guilt onto my child. Because, really, kids don’t want to feel like a burden any more than they already do.

Most of all, I had to remove my own feelings from the constant conversation because – whether I like it or not – they don’t matter that much. What matters is that my child is adapting, adjusting and learning about her life … with diabetes on board.

Let them make mistakes. Of course we cannot let our kids make life-altering mistakes, but there are some mistakes in life with diabetes that they can learn from. In high school, it was up to my daughter to manage her diabetes while playing varsity sports.

Did she mess up? You bet. But it was an incredible learning experience for her. When she heads to her challenging job every day, she does so having worked hard at doing her best to make diabetes cooperate. She learned that from her mistakes.

(Read more inspiring stories about athletes who manage their diabetes on and off the field.)

Challenge them to ask for help. Don’t just give them help (beyond what is age appropriate). Teach them to speak up and ask for help when things are askew.

Part of letting a child have some free rein is giving them the opportunity to face situations and either figure them out or ask for help. Even in diabetes, we have to let that happen from time to time.

Vanquish your fear. Because it’s not about your fear, it’s about their courage. Let your child lead. Let them go to the playgroup without you. Let them stay overnight at the prom after-party.

I always asked myself: “What would my answer be without diabetes in the picture?” And that, always, was my answer. To live that way, I had to vanquish my fear so that she could be courageous. I consider it a personal victory that I was able to do this, and I truly believe it helped her grow strong and independent. And smart too.

Looking back, I see that long before How to Raise an Adult came out, I was focused on just what the title says. I realized that diabetes could have easily made me a way, way, way overzealous mother.

So I worked hard at thinking about her before me. I tried to give her guidance yet space, freedom yet oversight. It was not easy, and I was not perfect. But we seem to have found our way.

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 Her six books include The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Juvenile Diabetes and Raising Teens with Diabetes: A Survival Guide for ParentsMcCarthy 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.

© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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