Juggling a career and a family is challenging enough. When a child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the balancing act can start to feel overwhelming. Rest assured: There are ways to hold down a job outside the home without sacrificing your child’s health and safety. Here are some tips from diabetes experts and other working parents.
Talk to Your Boss
When it comes to what parents of children with diabetes want and need from their jobs, it’s simple: “A flexible work schedule and an understanding employer,” says Melissa M. from North Carolina, whose 9-year-old daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two years ago.
Sounds good, but how do you go about getting these things? “When talking to your supervisor or boss about your child’s diagnosis, be prepared to do some teaching about type 1,” says Elizabeth P., a mom from Maine whose 6-year-old son has type 1. “Like most people, your supervisor might not understand the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and may be wondering why you just don’t cut sugary foods from your child’s diet.”
Elizabeth also recommends going to the boss with solutions already in place for when your child needs care. Depending on your job duties, contingency plans could include finding someone qualified to take care of your child, co-workers willing to provide emergency coverage for you at work, finishing work at home, and coming in early to make up missed time, she suggests.
Know Your Rights
According to the American Diabetes Association, working parents of children with diabetes should be aware of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law that requires most private employers with over 50 employees and most government employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for a serious health condition on the part of the worker or an immediate family member.
FMLA leave time can be used by a parent or guardian to provide care for a child with type 1 diabetes. For example, it could be used to cover time off for a child’s medical appointments, a diabetes-related emergency, or days when a child cannot attend school because of diabetes.
Expect the Unexpected
Medical emergencies and doctor’s appointments are one thing. But what about all those other “surprise” moments that seem to always pop up, like dosing for cupcakes at school because it’s a classmate’s birthday, or chaperoning a field trip that seemed to suddenly sneak up on the calendar? For issues like these, parents sometimes have to make some difficult decisions. As always, be sure to include discussions with your healthcare team.
“This year, my daughter’s lunch is at the end of the day, making it a bit challenging if she has a cupcake or brownie [not calculated as part of her insulin dose], because her blood sugar may shoot up, which then means she can’t get on the bus,” says Melissa.
Because this results in Melissa needing to quickly change her work schedule to go pick her daughter up, she’s come up with a compromise. “I exchanged cell phone numbers with her teachers and the school nurse, and they usually text me if there is an unexpected birthday or treat. If her blood sugar is in range, I always let her enjoy the treat. If it’s not, she has to take it home.”
As for field trips, “I’m trying to get my daughter to a place where she can be more independent,” says Melissa. “For field trips like a play, I don’t worry any longer because she’s not running around. Her blood sugar should be more manageable. However, any field trip that is an hour or more away, I make arrangements to attend.”
Have an Emergency Backup
Got an important project deadline at work that just doesn’t leave you much wiggle room? “Make an emergency backup plan that includes enlisting the help of a trusted relative, friend or hired caregiver who is capable of watching your child,” says Susan Weiner, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E., C.D.N., author of a book about getting organized for people with type 1 diabetes.
If your backup is someone who has not previously cared for your child, “have this person (or people) come over a few times before you might actually need them to watch your child. Make sure that you are all comfortable and familiar with all the aspects of diabetes care for the child and know what to do in an emergency,” Weiner recommends.
Besides your own instruction, the emergency backup person may want to receive training in type 1 care from a healthcare professional. Also, be sure to give your school or daycare contact information for all emergency caregivers.
Work With Your Co-Parent
You and your spouse or co-parent may be great about delegating at work, but how good a job are you doing at sharing in your child’s care? To keep diabetes-related responsibilities balanced, Ellen Bradley-Windell, L.C.S.W., a family and child therapist in Southern California whose daughter has type 1 diabetes, recommends “making a structured plan with your spouse or partner regarding sharing the daily responsibilities and who is ‘on call’ if the need arises.”
This might mean that you alternate days for leaving work early or taking the day off for a doctor’s appointment or sick-day care.
The benefits of this approach shouldn’t be underestimated. “A couple who works closely together as a united team on behalf of their child with diabetes can find a sense of comfort and support from one another that can be amazing,” says Bradley-Windell. “You two share the same struggles, feel the same fears, and both love your child more than life itself.”
It’s also important for busy, working parents to slow down and take time to reconnect as a couple. Bradley-Windell advises calling in members of your support system so the two of you can go out to dinner together or just spend quality time by yourselves without worrying too much about your child or your work.
Take Time for You
Last but certainly not least, remember to carve out some time in your day that’s just for you. It could be spent reading a good book or journaling before bed, taking a bath, using part of your lunch hour to get outside to enjoy the fresh air (or take a quick nap), and not fretting too much if you’re a little behind on the laundry. It may be easier said than done, but it can help you keep things in perspective. Your child’s health needs are a priority, but so is your own well-being.
For Bradley-Windell, the best use of her “alone time” as a working mom turned out to be joining a support group for parents of children with diabetes. “When I surrounded myself with other parents who spoke the same language, which we called ‘diabetes dialogue,’ I found myself able to take that long, deep breath, be in the moment, and remember how grateful I was that my son and our family were not alone.”
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.