Being a diabetes parent is a lot like loading the dishwasher.
Stay with me.
When I got married, my mother gave me some good advice. She warned me against being too critical of how my husband Slade did chores around the house. “Let him do it his way,” she said. “Or he won’t want to do it at all.”
While my mom’s advice has proved helpful for laundry and cooking, I think it’s just as useful for co-parenting a child with type 1 diabetes. I don’t manage my son’s type 1 exactly as my husband does, but we both help in our own ways and we both get the job done.
Our son, Benny, was diagnosed with T1D as a young child, just after his older sister turned 5. Slade and I had been a pretty equal parenting team all along, mostly because we worked opposite shifts. He was home for wake-up and breakfast, while I hosted an early-morning radio show. I took over dinner and bedtime while he worked in his restaurant. We didn’t see each other much during those years, but for parenting it was a good system.
It also meant that while we learned to manage diabetes at the same time, we didn’t apply the exact same methods. Neither one of us was around to look over the other’s shoulder. Even if I’d wanted to text instructions, I couldn’t exactly tell my audience to stand by while I did so. He couldn’t ask people to wait for their pasta bolognese while he called me to ask about bedtime numbers. We had to trust each other.
We developed our own styles. Mine has always involved doing more for Benny (“let me check your blood sugar; let’s calibrate your CGM now”). I know Slade pushes him to do more for himself (“go get your meter; hey that cartridge isn’t going to fill itself”). We both agree on the big picture and long-term goals: confidence, independence, and responsibility.
There are quite a few studies about dads and diabetes care, usually about how they aren’t very involved and what that does to health outcomes. There is an assumption among many that Mom is always the primary caregiver and Dad just pays for the health insurance. I know much of this has to do with societal norms and the traditional mom/dad role, but it stinks.
(And let’s take a moment to recognize the single moms and dads raising T1D kids on their own. True respect. And I hope you can get a sitter soon.)
How to change this? What if a dad isn’t helping because he knows his partner thinks he does it “wrong,” or even because he doesn’t realize his spouse needs help?! What can we do?
Have a conversation. Even after 20 years together I still forget my husband can’t read my mind. What’s obvious to me is often not on his radar. Tell your partner how you’re feeling. Tell him what you need. A night off once a week? 50-50 care? Simply learning to do a site change so he can back you up? Tell him.
Listen to him. Take his concerns seriously. Is he worried he won’t manage your child’s diabetes “correctly” and will somehow hurt the child? Is he worried you’ll get mad at him if he messes up? Why isn’t he pitching in more? It may be that he truly thinks you’re doing an amazing job and he doesn’t feel wanted or needed.
Back to basics. If he doesn’t know how to give a shot, change a site, or count carbs, it’s time to teach him. Depending on your child’s age, it can be fun to get your T1D kid involved in teaching dad. It’s also a way for you to see how much your child really knows. I bet they surprise you.
If your partner truly can’t be bothered and doesn’t want to pitch in, that’s a different story and a troubling one. It’s rarely the case, but it does happen, of course, and it needs to be acknowledged. Truly, your partner is missing out — his loss in the long run, but a bigger burden on you right now. Try to find help in your community, with other D-moms or friends willing to help. You need that support.
Check out a family diabetes camp weekend or a diabetes conference. Many have sessions just for dads or partners, and it may be easier for him to see he’s not alone.
Okay, so being a diabetes parent isn’t exactly like putting up with how your partner loads the dishwasher, but the principle is the same. Sure, you may want the larger dishes on the outside, and he may stack bowls on the top shelf (ugh… that’s where mugs and glasses go!). But if everything comes out clean and he doesn’t break the stemware, why criticize? Welcome the help for the well-intended effort it is.
Your partner cares just as much about your kiddo as you do. He likely shows it in different ways. Why should T1D be any different? Give that difference a chance. Your child will be stronger, smarter, and more resourceful when it comes to diabetes when he or she realizes there’s more than one way to manage.
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.