It’s awkward enough trying to chat up other parents at the park or PTA meetings when you’re looking to make more mom friends. When you’re a new T1D mom, reaching out to other parents of children with type 1 diabetes for friendship and support might be even more important — and feel even harder to do. Short of keeping your eyes open for dropped test strips or your ears tuned for CGM beeps, how else are you likely to connect with other local parents who’ve been through the same challenges you’re facing?
If you’re in touch with your local JDRF chapter, there is another way. One of the organization’s long-running outreach efforts, the JDRF Mentor Program matches newly diagnosed individuals and families with others already living with or caring for someone with diabetes.
Mentors, like Joannie Rich of Pennsylvania, understand firsthand just how overwhelming it can be to adjust to the daily demands of managing type 1 diabetes. Rich’s husband has type 1, so she was familiar with the disease and how to manage it. But when her son was later diagnosed as well, it rocked the whole family. “When we were in the hospital going through the ‘boot camp’ all parents go through to learn about how to manage T1D, I cried over my son’s diagnosis… but I also cried for the families coming into this knowing nothing about type 1 and now suddenly overwhelmed with all this information. I wanted to be there for these families, and the JDRF Mentor Program was the perfect fit for making this happen.”
When Rich is matched with a newly diagnosed family, she reaches out by phone or email and schedules a time to connect whenever the parent feels ready to talk. Rich describes the bonding that goes on during these calls as instant. “No one understands how lonely and overwhelming it is for you as a parent of a child with T1D…except another parent! I listen and am the shoulder to cry on. I want the other parent to know that their family is going to be okay…that life is going to feel normal again.”
Rich also offers any tips or tricks she can to make life a little easier — “like how to keep strips and meters and everything else organized,” she notes — and she suggests ways for parents to stay connected with the T1D community. “I tell them about upcoming JDRF walks in the area, which are a great way to meet other kids and parents, and I let them know what other volunteer activities might be a good match.”
Through the program, a parent can be connected with another parent as mentor, and there are even kid mentors (usually older teens with type 1 diabetes) to offer support to children. For both parents and kids, talking one-on-one with someone else in the T1D community can be a breakthrough moment. “When I found JDRF and was connected with parents who had been through what I had been through, it changed my life,” says Alexis Newell, one of the thousands of parents of newly diagnosed children who has been helped through the program. “I found my new normal, my source of hope and strength to face my son’s disease.”
The help and understanding she received from her mentor inspired Newell to become a mentor herself. “I wanted to become a mentor so that I could do that for others. I want to be someone’s light through all that darkness.”
Those who would like to be paired with a T1D mentor can submit a form on JDRF’s TypeOneNation.org website. (Information about the program can also be found in the Bag of Hope distributed to newly diagnosed families.) Once a request is made, a JDRF Mentor will reach out within 48 hours.
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.