This is my third pass at writing this piece, but don’t worry, I figured out why I couldn’t get it right. When I was asked to share a dad’s perspective of type 1 diabetes, I panicked — but why? I’ve been a stay-at-home father for 14 straight years and written an award-winning parenting book, and my 9-year-old daughter Arden was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes years ago. I should be able to knock this out in five minutes, with one hand tied behind my back.
In my first two attempts, I began with a convoluted explanation about how I don’t have a traditional dad’s perspective, then I felt obliged to explain that I don’t see parenting roles as gender specific — that’s where the piece would get muddled. So instead of a dad’s perspective, I’m going to give you a man’s view from the traditional point of view of a woman. Let’s see how this goes, shall we?
Type 1 diabetes is such an immersive experience, as it requires you to have a working knowledge of physiology, medications, and physical symptoms; and the ability to recall situations from prior days to help make your next decision more accurate. My wife and I decided long ago that our daughter’s day-to-day care should be handled by one of us, because passing her management back and forth led to too many high blood sugar readings.
We chose me for the role, and sadly, that led to times when I resented that my wife didn’t have to be as involved. That is until I realized that diabetes created a burden for her that may well be greater than the one I carry — she felt like she wasn’t contributing enough to our daughter’s health care. Of course, her contribution to our home is where it all begins. I wouldn’t be able to stay with our children if it wasn’t for her hard work. I wouldn’t have time to read and learn about new treatments. Extra time also allows me to pre-bolus for meals more gracefully; and when diabetes care keeps me up all night, it’s not so bad because I don’t have to go to work the next day. My wife’s hard work brings us all of that and more, but that doesn’t mean that she didn’t want to be more involved in the nitty-gritty decisions. I understand that now.
The first time that I had to go away for a few days after Arden’s diagnosis taught me how my wife must have felt. I hated not knowing what Arden’s BG was; and even though I trust my wife implicitly, I couldn’t stop thinking that my absence was somehow creating an issue with Arden’s health. Keep in mind that this was only a two-day trip; I couldn’t imagine how my wife must feel when she leaves our home every day. The guilt was eating me alive in under 48 hours.
I hear from mothers online about a perceived lack of engagement with diabetes from their husbands. Each situation is different, of course, but I often wonder if the men in these stories are disinterested or guilt-ridden. Are they uncaring or frightened that they will make a mistake?
Perhaps this disconnect isn’t at all what it seems?
We all talk so much about communication in relationships, and the general expectation is for the other person to tell you how they’re feeling. Yet sometimes it’s too hard to admit when you feel like a failure, and you need someone else to go first. Loving a person with a chronic illness and being their caregiver is a tough assignment, but I’ve found that the physical and intellectual demands are nowhere as great as the emotional ones.
The good news is that when you have someone supporting you, all of this becomes so much easier, and your emotions turn to clear thoughts. Try sharing with your partner, a friend, or someone you met online, because often just saying something out loud to a person who understands is enough to make the pain go away. Our life with type 1 improved as soon as we stopped looking at each other through angst-colored glasses and began to talk openly about how diabetes made us feel.
About the author: Scott Benner is a stay-at-home father, diabetes advocate, and author. He has spent the last 12 years raising his two children at their family home in New Jersey. Scott shares his triumphs and challenges in parenting a child with type 1 diabetes on ArdensDay.com, an inspirational blog for parents and caregivers of children with diabetes.
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.