Q: My relationship with my mother-in-law has never been great, but since our child’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis last month, it’s become tense. She constantly questions me about “what happened” to make our son develop diabetes, and she even sent me an article that talks about how type 1 can start developing during pregnancy, which seems to imply that I did something wrong — as if I don’t feel guilty enough! How do I stop these kinds of comments without shutting her out or getting into a fight?

A: When a child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, emotions can run high for family members and close friends. It’s a common response for family or even friends to try to “help” by sending parents information they come across concerning type 1. As you’ve experienced, this information is often anything but helpful.

Setting boundaries is important, especially since the last thing you need right now is more stress. The best way to do this is to be direct and polite, but keep it short. For example, the next time you open an email from your mother-in-law describing a recent diabetes study, try responding with something along the lines of, “Thank you for the information, but our medical team wants us to only use information they provide.” Leave it at that and move on to talk about something else. Depending on the person, you might need to repeat this on a few occasions, but chances are the message will eventually get through and the comments will stop.

You may also want to consider how your mother-in-law is feeling. It’s normal for family members to go though the grieving process after a child’s diagnosis of diabetes, so don’t be surprised if your mother-in-law is experiencing guilt and sadness of her own. Because of your previous relationship, she may be unsure about what her role will be in helping to care for her grandchild. Likewise, she may simply be struggling to understand what it means to have type 1 diabetes and how your son’s life will change.

When you think the time is right, consider bringing some of these issues out into the open. You could offer your mother-in-law the opportunity to read some of the patient materials your diabetes care team has given you, or you could bring her to an appointment with your diabetes educator for some hands-on training. Let her know you appreciate her efforts. If she will be part of your son’s care — and your lives — it’s worth the extra effort to get this relationship back on track.

 –Awilda Valdes, R.N., C.D.E., is a diabetes nurse clinician in the division of endocrinology at Miami Children’s Hospital.


How Other Parents Deal
“When our 7-year-old son was diagnosed with diabetes last year, I was hesitant to ask my mother-in-law for help, because I was worried that she would try to take over. When she asked if she could come with me to an appointment, I didn’t want her to, but I felt like I couldn’t say no. At the appointment, I was shocked by how intently she listened and patiently practiced what we were learning. It was so unlike her. But then it suddenly hit me: She wants to see our son healthy again just as much as I do. Our relationship definitely changed for the better that day!”

–Angela B., San Jose, Calif., mom of 7-year-old Matthew


Related topics:
People in the Know: How Grandparents Can Help
People in the Know: Judgmental Relatives
People in the Know: Asking Grandma to Babysit

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Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.