You know those people who give advice about having kids but don’t have kids themselves? Or those who try to tell you how to lose weight but have never experienced that struggle personally? How about those who give advice about how to handle blood sugar issues but have no idea what they’re talking about or what type 1 diabetes actually is?
It’s like the line from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.” We all have well-meaning friends who try to give advice that comes out sounding like, “If I had a child with diabetes, I would do it this way.…” Sometimes, I just want to say, “Well, I wouldn’t, so thanks but no thanks!”
There was the lady who gave us the business card of her holistic “wellness advisor” and promised me that if I took Kaitlyn to this person, her type 1 diabetes would be cured and she wouldn’t have to be on insulin anymore. Another gentleman once told us to let our daughter eat whatever she wanted, because she was going to be fine no matter how we took care of her. Other countless acquaintances have given advice on what she should and should not eat, whether or not she should be on insulin, and whether an insulin pump could harm her. Each time, I have just smiled, said thank you, and briefly explained that type 1 diabetes doesn’t work that way. It’s not worth over-explaining or getting confrontational. Most of the time, a brief conversation isn’t enough to change someone’s mind, but maybe it helps them get a sense that they might not know as much as they think they know.
I may sound super annoyed about this, and I guess I am a little bit, but mostly it just makes me laugh. It’s human nature to judge, and we all do it! These incidents are a reminder to me that we never know the whole story. We look in from the outside, and no matter how much we feel that we can help another person with our great advice, it’s almost always true that we really don’t know what’s going on. Even when we have the best intentions to show people that we care, we might be doing more harm than good.
I have caught myself doing this very thing. Sometimes, I want to tell a friend, “I totally know how you feel, and this is what will help….” But I probably don’t know exactly how they feel, and I probably don’t know what will really help — or if they even want help in the first place! The other day, I found myself offering up a tube of medicated lip balm to a good friend who has been struggling with dry, chapped lips. It turns out that it really wasn’t something that could be helped with lip balm; it was a deeper autoimmune health issue that she had been struggling with. She wasn’t upset, but I wish that I hadn’t been so quick to offer a solution before I really took the time to hear what she was dealing with.
So, should we never get involved with other people’s lives? Should we be so afraid of offending that we never offer support? No! It’s a tricky balance though. We need each other to help and support, but I’m hoping we can all learn to do it in a better way. I believe the best way to support someone, especially with a medical issue, is to listen before giving advice. Maybe just acknowledge how they’re feeling and what they’re going through. If they want advice, they’ll ask. Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll want to research it themselves, or read a blog, or ask a doctor. But whatever the case, listening is key. Hopefully we can all learn to do that a little bit better.
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.