My friend was devastated. She was deeply troubled and upset. She felt so guilty. Why? Because she made some mistakes. She was distracted and busy and stressed, and she made a bad call with regard to her son’s type 1 diabetes management. It resulted in a very much less-than-ideal blood sugar situation for him. Although she was grateful that he was ultimately fine, she saw what could have been, and she couldn’t seem to get past the what-ifs, the questions of what might have happened because of her mistakes.
Boy, could I relate to that. I think all parents of kids with diabetes make mistakes. Mine have been made when I’m really tired and when I’m distracted. They happen sometimes even when I’m trying extra hard to be more intensive in my diabetes management techniques and therefore have more things to mess up. Sometimes I just forget something really important, like to direct James to finish giving his insulin dosage after a long meal with lots of complex carbohydrates. Or I make a mistake when I’m helping get his insulin pump onto his body. Or I sleep through alarms. That — the sleeping through alarms, in particular — could make me lose even more sleep at night, if I let it.
I knew where my friend was coming from. Parents of kids with diabetes are some of the most conscientious people I know. That’s mostly a good thing! But when we do make a mistake, we can be so hard on ourselves.
While it is the most natural thing in the world, beating ourselves up for making a mistake in diabetes management causes more harm than good. First of all, it isn’t good for our own psyche. We need to think about mental and physical health, because as caretakers we do a much better job when we’re healthy! More importantly, being overly self-critical of our mistakes creates a really bad model for our kids.
I’m coming to understand that parents have two main functions: keeping our kids safe and teaching them to be good functional adults. The latter requirement, the teaching part, is a big responsibility. The further I get into this parenting thing, the more I realize my actions and my example are far more instructional for my kids than my words will ever be.
I know that I want James to be gracious to himself. If he came to me and explained that he had forgotten something like giving himself insulin after a meal, I know that I would tell him that what happened in the past is not nearly as important as what he chooses to do about it now. This is a part of my philosophy that the numbers of diabetes are important not as a tool for judgment but as a piece of information to help us know what to do next.
If I don’t give myself the same grace, if I act as if my simple mistakes are somehow unforgiveable or worthy of punishment, what message am I sending to my child? I fully expect that James will live a long life. He will have thousands of opportunities to dose insulin and to count carbs and to wake up to (or sleep through) alarms to test his blood sugar. If I act as if my imperfect behavior means that I need to mope about in guilt, what am I teaching him?
Instead, while it may seem contrary to our nature, we need to be the best examples of self-love. We need to be the most optimistic, the most forward-looking, the most forgiving. If it’s hard for us to make that change, remember, we’re doing it for our kids! Don’t we want them to feel so good about themselves that they can handle the future responsibility of diabetes management?
When the mistakes happen (and although we will always strive to do our best, mistakes will happen), let’s remember that our kids are watching us. Let’s fight our nature to get down on ourselves. Let’s pick ourselves up, give a figurative hug and smile. Let’s look forward, because that’s the best way to make the future bright.
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.