The second a child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, parents are charged with hundreds of new day-to-day duties and responsibilities. How those tasks are divided is up to each family. When one parent feels he or she is doing much more than the other — or is not allowed to do enough — it can create tension between spouses. And for divorced parents, the division of labor can get even trickier. How do you balance care between parents so no one feels shortchanged, while ensuring your child is still 100 percent cared for? Throw out the scorecards and heed the following tips from diabetes specialists and fellow parents.
Invest in Family Time
It’s important that at the very least, each parent be trained in the basics of recognizing symptoms of highs and lows, testing blood sugar, and administering insulin. “One parent might be the one who does checks and gives insulin most of the time. But if he or she is the only one who knows how to perform these tasks, then the child might have a delay in being tested and treated if that parent is not available,” says Sharon Gutman, R.D., L.D., C.D.E., a certified diabetes educator and supervisor at ProMedica Diabetes and Nutrition Education Care Centers in Ohio. If one parent is away from the child for more of the day, spending as much time together as a family in the evenings and weekends can help him or her get familiar with the child’s day-to-day care. “Going to the grocery store together to find healthy foods and snacks for the whole family or exercising as a family can also help everyone feel like part of the team,” says Gutman.
Learn to Share
While plenty of parents would love more help around the house, some have trouble delegating type 1 tasks as easily as they do the dishes or vacuuming. “Some moms want to do it all,” says Michael A. Harris, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics and chief of psychology at the Child Development and Rehabilitation Center of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. “This is only a problem if the child is not doing well with that, or if the parent who is doing all the work has concerns about the other parent’s involvement.”
For example, if you’re afraid to go on a business trip because you don’t trust your co-parent’s ability to care for your child’s diabetes, Harris recommends having a frank discussion about your concerns to find a solution. Maybe you could spend a day together where your spouse does all the type 1 care so you can watch and feel reassured. Or maybe your spouse will admit that he or she could use some refresher training with your diabetes educator. At the same time, think about whether your partner’s technique is truly lacking — or just different from yours. “If the two of you have different ways of managing your child’s diabetes, but it’s still getting managed, that’s not a reason to not go on your trip,” says Harris. “If a parent doesn’t know how to recognize low blood sugar, that’s another story.”
Take It Slow
Not everyone has a spouse who’s ready and willing to participate in type 1 care. “My husband used to resist helping me with diabetes duties, and I began to feel like everything was on my shoulders,” says Jo, mother of a 9-year-old from Bentonville, Ark. “I thought he was being selfish, and it began to put a strain on our relationship.” Eventually, however, Jo realized that rather than simply being lazy, her husband was actually afraid of making a mistake and jeopardizing their daughter’s health. Her solution? Build his self-esteem by easing him in slowly. “Little by little, I began to involve him in tasks such as planning meals or testing blood sugar,” says Jo. “The more he helped me, the more confident he became. Now, it’s no longer an issue for us. Getting him comfortable and calming his fears was the key.”
Aim for Balanced, Not Equal
It can provide some comfort to know that parents can feel happily balanced in their type 1 care even if one of them does most of the work. “Much of parenting is not 50/50, so it would be unrealistic to expect every family to divide type 1 duties exactly in half,” says Gutman. “Whoever does most of the cooking would probably be the one to take a more active role in meal planning. Likewise, the parent that spends the most time with the child will probably check blood sugar and give insulin more often. That said, it’s great for the other spouse to offer to do these tasks when he or she is available.”
Prep for Visitation
“If a child spends most of his or her time with one parent but goes to see the other parent on weekends or in the summer, it’s very important that both parents learn about how to manage the child’s blood sugar,” says Gutman. “If possible, both parents should attend education sessions, but if only one parent can go, he or she will need to write down specific information so the other parent will have a reference.” If you’re worried about your child’s father or mother not providing healthy foods, send healthy snacks along in the overnight bag, such as fresh fruit, cut veggies, yogurt, and/or low-sugar cereal.
Find Your Village
Parenting a child on your own? You’ll still need to lean on others now and then, if not every day. “Single parents cannot be with their child at all times, so they must find a support system — such as family members, trusted friends, or caregivers — and ensure these people are fully trained to give insulin, check blood sugar, treat highs and lows, and handle other basic diabetes care,” says Harris. “If your child has older teenage siblings, they can help out with this as well. Having other trusted caregivers in place will help prevent diabetes from completely controlling your life.”
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.