I think that Kaitlyn’s diabetes diagnosis was a lot like bringing her home from the hospital as a newborn. Life just seemed to stop for a while, and my thoughts, emotions, and efforts were all focused around her. My husband and I were up at all hours of the night, taking care of her and wondering if she was all right. Just like when she was a newborn, the older kids had to deal with a major adjustment in terms of getting Mom and Dad’s attention and time.
Not only were the kids slighted in terms of quality time, but looking back, Evan and I suddenly expected the kids to completely understand some of the new lifestyle changes around the house. The kids went from being able to eat snacks or meals whenever they wanted to being expected to follow Kaitlyn’s regimented eating schedule. Even though I don’t regret asking my kids to be extra sensitive to our new situation, I often look back and realize that it must have been very hard on them. They probably felt that their needs and feelings were a little bit neglected while all of our focus and attention went toward figuring out diabetes. Even now, I notice that our older kids, especially, sometimes need extra attention. And if they don’t get it, they act out.
As you can guess, having five kids is a constant balancing act to make sure we’re dealing with all of the emotional, physical, spiritual, and educational challenges that face our children every day. Evan and I have come up with some specific strategies to help us keep our balance:
1. Daddy/Mommy Dates. My sister had a great idea to have special dates once a month for each child. For example, Kaitlyn’s birthday is August 10th, so on the 10th of every month, we try to make that her “special day” when she can spend some one-on-one time with either mom or dad. This makes each of the kids feel special and helps to fill their “emotional bank account” on a regular basis.
2. The Love Meter. When I notice one of the kids acting out with what I know is attention-seeking behavior, I take time to sit them down and have some “recharge time.” I’ll sit them on my lap and tell them that we are going to recharge their “love meter.” I sing songs, scratch backs, talk and listen to them, and tell them I love them. I really feel that sometimes my children need this time as much as they need food to eat and clothes to wear.
3. Daily Routines. When we stick to our routines at specific points throughout the day (morning, night, homework time, and meal times), then most of the nonemotional needs can be cared for almost automatically. If we can take care of these things in a relaxed way, we have more time to focus on the less visible emotional needs of each member of the family.
4. Reevaluation. My husband and I try to have frequent, open conversations about how each of the kids is doing. Of course, as soon as we come up with one solution, another issue creeps up—but that’s okay, we expect it. It’s all part of our challenging but rewarding roles as parents.
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. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.