Mary Kate Cary wasn’t new to managing details and communications as a team effort. After all, before her daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 17 years ago, she’d served as head speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush. She’d gone on to be a respected political columnist for U.S. News & World Report, and today is producing an upcoming documentary on President Bush’s career. She’s a woman who clearly could build consensus when it comes to communications.
But she will tell you that when diabetes came into her family life, she faced perhaps her most daunting and yet most crucial communications challenge: How to make her hard-working, often-traveling husband a true partner with her in raising their daughter who was living with diabetes.
Mother and daughter
Now that their thriving daughter is preparing for college, Cary looks back confident that they made it work. How? Knowing, she says, that it was purely and simply what was best for their child. Cary says that back when their daughter was first diagnosed, by nature of their circumstances (particularly the fact that her trial attorney husband often had to be in courtrooms in far away cities, often for months at a time), most of the diabetes care – and details – fell to her. But quickly, and with the help of their great healthcare team, they realized this was not the best setup.
“We had to look at it from the point of view of the child,” she says. “And from that point of view, it’s good to have both parents equally involved. Otherwise, you may send the wrong message to the child.”
And so, Cary and her husband focused on working as a team despite all their logistical challenges. In the end, it came down to good communication, sharing in the experience together, and yes, good old-fashioned moral support. The lessons she and her husband learned can be shared with many couples raising a child who is living with diabetes.
Since Cary’s husband was on the road so often, it was not possible for him to be at many doctor’s appointments or to witness the moment-by-moment care routine. But Cary realized quickly: she could loop him in, and she felt she actually had a responsibility to do that. So every time there is a doctor’s appointment, it is followed – as immediately as possible – with a detailed phone call to her husband. “I talk to him about it while it is still absolutely fresh in my mind,” she says. “I share all that was said and discuss it with him. He, in turn, would always discuss it with their daughter, and praise her for her hard work.”
Beyond that, Cary says, “texting and technology is our friend.” She keeps her husband up-to-speed in real-time using those tools. “It’s important for him to know and understand all that happens in the daily care,” she says. “That has given him more empathy and more of an understanding that things just happen sometimes.”
Sharing in the experience
True, they could not always gaze on a blood glucose meter together as it counted down, but they could, Cary realized, share in many other ways. One of the first things they did was to look at their overall health as a family, she says. Since her husband’s eating habits were not the best, she decided they would embrace a healthier diet. “We all do it together,” she says. “It’s something he can share in even from the road.” She also homed in on her husband’s personal gift for public speaking – what Cary calls “owning a room” – and used it for their common good. It became his role, each year, to go into their daughter’s school and educate teachers and students about type 1 diabetes. That has given him a leading role even while traveling so frequently.
They’ve shared in leadership too. Her husband served on the board of the JDRF in their city, and now she is the chapter president. By both finding a time and a way to give back, they’ve created something they can experience together as well.
In the end, what they’ve done above all is to be sure to boost one another up, to keep positive, and to always, always, be led by what’s best for their daughter as a whole child and not just a child with diabetes. While most parents may think the primary caregiver might need the biggest boost, Cary sees her husband as the one who might need it more. She is careful to tell him when things are going well, and not just keep him informed at times of worry or concern.
“You know, I think it is almost harder on the person who is not as immediately involved,” she says, “because they worry more. I make it a point every day to give him a reason not to worry; to share successes in life so he knows she is fine.” Since he is on the road, she says, worry comes more often, when his daughter is not right in front of him. She does her best to defuse it.
Now they will be sharing the duty of letting their daughter spread her wings and head off to college in the fall. “We agreed long ago that diabetes would not choose her college; that she would,” says Cary. “It’s not easy, but we will make it work. As a team.”
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 the upcoming 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.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience