It arrives: a gold-embossed card emblazoned with unicorns or rainbows or superheroes, your child’s name splashed across the envelope. A party invitation. But not just any party invitation. A birthday invitation announcing a party complete with “Pizza, Popcorn AND a Piñata!” Your stomach drops thinking of how you’ll gently let down your little one since this will clearly be too much to handle for a family new to the world of managing type 1 diabetes. Your child can’t possibly enjoy all that this party will entail. You can’t bear the thought of her disappointed face when she realizes she’ll have to skip the cake and instead celebrate with the string cheese and meat sticks you’ve smuggled into the party in your purse.
Hold on. Don’t send your regrets just yet. This, just like many things you’ll encounter as you navigate life with type 1 diabetes, is manageable. Before you write off all future birthday invites, here are some tips to help you embrace the popcorn and even the piñatas. (The pizza? Honestly, we’re all still working on that.)
Remember that most parents who invite your child to a party will not be familiar with T1D. In fact, they may not even be aware that your child has type 1 diabetes. Think of your pre-party planning as an opportunity to educate another family and help dispel the commonly held myth that type 1 diabetes = no sugar or sweets. When reaching out to RSVP, let them know that your child has type 1 and that it would be great to know what types of food and beverages (don’t forget about the beverages!) might be served. Assure them that there is no need to provide anything special for your child or change any of their planned menu items. You can politely let them know that if anything comes pre-packaged, the carb counts on the labels would be helpful info for you the day of the party. But if they don’t have the carb counts for something — grandma’s homemade carrot cake, for example — you’ll figure it out or make an estimate. It’s important to remember that the host parent is trying to plan a special day for their child, and you don’t want to add to-dos to their list that you can take care of yourself.
Now that you’ve taken care of the food and carb count considerations, it’s time to talk about what to do the day of the party. Depending on the age of your child, you may discover that the presence of parents is taboo at birthday parties. If you find your child begging to be dropped off, there are many things to consider and conversations that need to be had:
- Are the parents people you know well who are willing to be trained on how to handle a T1D emergency?
- Does your child wear a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that you can monitor remotely?
- Is your child responsible enough to actively pay attention to both his diabetes technology and his own body signals in case of a low blood sugar?
- What kind of activity will they be participating in during the party, and is it something that could significantly affect blood sugar levels (e.g., swimming or trampolines)?
As always, be sure you’ve had a conversation with your child about their responsibilities during the event: As much as we’d like it to, diabetes care can’t take a break for a party. For The Drop-Off to work, kids need to feel comfortable checking their blood sugar levels, bolusing themselves for their food, and notifying an adult if they are feeling “off” at all. If you have any hesitation about your child’s ability to responsibly manage all of this, then you may need to consider The Standby…
If you aren’t ready to do a drop-off, don’t hesitate to let the host parents know you’ll be hanging out during the festivities. Many will be relieved to hear this; they’ll be happy not to have the added responsibility of caring for your child’s medical needs while already trying to manage a gaggle of children. While most will say they don’t mind, party hosting can be stressful even without adding T1D into the mix. Bring a book or magazine and settle yourself out of the way somewhere while your child enjoys the party. You can also offer to serve as an extra set of hands during the event!
The most important thing to remember is that your child is still just a child, and birthday parties are one of the best parts of growing up. Make a plan and discuss it with your child. Let them know that this plan will evolve over time as your comfort level and their own level of self-care increases. Remind them that they can enjoy all of the same things their friends can enjoy, though it may mean they don’t get to eat their entire bag of piñata candy during the party. Most of all, remember that each big event after a T1D diagnosis is a learning experience. Soon you’ll click “yes” on those party invitations without an ounce of hesitation — and maybe even leave the meat sticks at home.
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.