People in the Know: Holiday Traditions vs. Stress

Q: Our son was diagnosed a few weeks ago, and now it’s the holidays. We usually do it up big with lots of baking and family feasts, but I just don’t need the stress this year. I keep reading in my diabetes handouts about the importance of keeping family rituals, but I can’t see myself keeping up with the holiday season and my son’s care without having a breakdown. Is it okay to skip our usual celebrations this year?

A: This is a very common question that comes up all the time with parents, especially those parents who have a child that was just diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It seems like many children are diagnosed just before one of those days that family traditions seem built around, whether it’s a birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving or the December holidays.

Some parents wonder whether they should stop the traditions of trick-or-treating or baking cookies around the holidays, but we encourage you to discuss these traditions with your child’s healthcare team before making any changes. They may be able to help you figure out how to manage blood sugars in the midst of extra treats.

Ultimately, the decision is up to you, of course. But here’s something I’ve learned from years of talking to kids and families: Many kids, especially younger children, say that the biggest change in their lives since they were diagnosed is what they are allowed to eat. Kids say they miss certain family traditions, particularly those involving food. These are kids who remember baking cookies, and then that stopped. Or they remember having big meals at Grandma’s house, and then those stopped. Or, now they get no more frosting on their birthday cake since type 1 entered the picture.

This information is not intended to make you feel guilty for wanting to scale back this year, because let’s face it, there’s a lot on your plate right now. I hope that it’s information that leads you to touch base with your diabetes care team to ask: “How do I handle this? What are some ideas that can save my sanity and the family holiday traditions — or at least the ones I know are really special for my child.”

If the question is less about blood sugar and more about trying to be two places at once (i.e., at the stove and wielding the glucometer), don’t be afraid to ask for help and to adjust — rather than cancel — your usual plans. If the feast is potluck this year so that you have time to keep a closer eye on checking and dosing, well, then you’ll all get to try some new dishes!

From teaching you how to cover the carbohydrates consumed during a day of cookie decorating to offering tips on how to educate other family members about what your child with diabetes is allowed to eat, your diabetes care team is there to problem-solve with you on these types of issues, whether they come up this December, or on your child’s next birthday, or next Halloween. Beyond helping you manage the blood sugar aspect of these special days, your healthcare team is there to help you and your family hold onto your cherished traditions.

Some families also find that they want to start new traditions after diagnosis, like having the kids sell their Halloween candy to their parents so they can buy a new toy. Rituals and special times are often the glue that holds families together. These are very important issues to think about and discuss as your family adjusts to life with type 1, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

–Deborah Butler, M.S.W., L.I.C.S.W., C.D.E., is associate director of pediatric programs at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.

 

How Other Parents Deal

“Our daughter was diagnosed right before her birthday! My first instinct was to cancel the party for friends and family we had planned, but our C.D.E. encouraged us to go ahead with it. I’m glad we did, because it was such a boost to our spirits to see how many people love and care about our daughter.”

–Joellen, Gainesville, Florida, mother of 3-year-old Sophia

 

Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.

 

Related topics:
Article Index: The Holidays and Type 1 Diabetes
Parents’ Favorite Holiday T1D Tips

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