I have four children. But sometimes I feel like I have five. I have heard people with type 1 diabetes talk about how managing the disease on a daily basis is like having an additional child, and as a parent, I think that it is a very good metaphor.
Bear with me for a moment… I want you to think about packing for a trip. (This is when this analogy really sunk in for me!) In our family, when we go on vacation, each child gets one bag. They put all their clothes and toiletries in it and maybe even some fun stuff to do, as long as it fits in one bag. James gets only one bag as well. But the “child” named Diabetes also gets a bag of its own! That’s where we keep the test strips, the juice boxes, the meters, the chargers, the batteries, the infusion sets, and the insulin. In our family, from a “stuff” standpoint, Diabetes pretty much takes up as much room as any of the other kids!
The model of diabetes “stuff” equaling another child is consistent whether we’re talking about going to our annual summer vacation in the Sierras or a simple trip to the park. Oftentimes Diabetes will have more gear than the other kids. (Except for the babies. Their bag is sometimes bigger.)
Speaking of babies, I’ve always found it odd that in our family, a crying baby is not always the highest priority that needs attending to — especially a newborn baby that just needs to be held or cuddled or fed or changed. When Diabetes needs something — a juice box, a site change, an insulin dose — those needs supersede even the demands of an infant!
Babies are notorious for keeping parents up at night. Sometimes Diabetes does that too.
Children of all ages eat every few hours, every day, without ever taking a day off. Diabetes is the same! There is no ignoring it. Regardless of how tiring it may seem to do the same thing multiple times a day, it must simply be done and cared for, for Diabetes demands it.
Unlike my other children, Diabetes will never grow up. It will always be the most demanding child, because sometimes its needs are very urgent, and serious consequences arise if it is ignored. But I will not always be caring for Diabetes. Slowly, the care and feeding of Diabetes is being transferred from me to James.
He’s not an adult yet. He’s not even a teen, but he’s already handling a lot of responsibility for Diabetes. I’m here to make sure that he follows through properly, but he’s handling Diabetes at nearly every meal now. And he’s taking care of a lot of the urgent and immediate needs like blood sugar testing and drinking juice boxes. He’s becoming responsible for making sure that he carries Diabetes’ supplies with him wherever he goes.
And someday, James will take over care of all of it.
There are a lot of reasons why I like this analogy. I think it works for teaching other people a little bit of what life with type 1 diabetes is like. It helps them understand how diabetes is always with us and always on our minds.
I like the analogy because as a mom it helps me to see that I am not divided ONLY in four pieces but actually in five, and it helps me recognize WHY I feel overwhelmed sometimes. I just need to remember to give my fifth child, Diabetes, the care and attention it needs.
I like the analogy because it helps me see the enormity of what I’m preparing James to take over. And it is kind of huge. At the same time, I like it because raising a child is hard, and people universally acknowledge that, but they also know that it is possible and doable and people do it all the time. And that too is true for Diabetes.
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.