Many of us will agree that we do not like group projects. A group assignment was the type of assignment that was number one on my hate list in school. Why? Because my grade depending on the work effort of someone else just didn’t sit well with me. I could be the one that put in 100 percent effort and time, and one (or more) of the group members could slack off, and we’re all affected, in one way or another.
Type 1 diabetes is definitely a group project, a family project that no person nor family willingly chose to be a part of. It is a family affair. All hands on deck!
And for the parents or caregivers, that’s okay. As parents or caregivers we (unofficially) signed up for things like this; it kind of comes with the territory, the ups and downs of caring for children. But what about the sibling or siblings of the child with type 1? It’s like a group project they didn’t ask to be a part of. Most days, if not every day, whether directly or indirectly, their world revolves around type 1 diabetes.
But siblings can bring a lot to the table of caring and managing type 1 diabetes. They can:
Be a friend.
Be a helper.
Be a comfort, a shoulder to lean on.
Be a bit of normalcy.
Be a protector.
Be a confidant.
And many more things. What do the siblings get out of the deal? The same! Type 1 may change the family dynamics and make some days and experiences more challenging, but for the most part, siblings reap the same benefits as their brother or sister with diabetes. They are a team. They have a bond that’s different from the parent–child bond. Type 1 has been said to make kids braver, stronger, more resilient, mature, and sure of themselves. The same can be said for the siblings of a kid with type 1. Diabetes has a weird way of bringing everyone together and bringing the best out of everyone. It’s fight-or-flight every day.
When we first came home after our hospital stay when Trace was diagnosed, our older son, Tate, didn’t fully understand what was going on. He’d ask questions about us checking Trace’s blood sugar or giving him a shot, but then he’d go on about his business. As time went on, Tate began to express that he didn’t feel we paid attention to him or loved him as much as we did Trace. Tate interpreted the increasing amount of attention Trace was receiving as love and quality time. As he put it one day, “But you’re always worried about HIM.” As if we didn’t worry or care about Tate as well.
It was in that moment that we realized we needed to make more of an effort in showing Tate the attention he needed, to take the time to check in on his well-being, and — most importantly — to make him a part of the diabetes care process. I was and still am very concerned with making him “his brother’s keeper,” and not wanting to burden him with it. However, what I failed to realize was that he, too, needed an understanding of what was taking place every time we checked numbers or counted carbs or had to stop playing to treat a low.
And what did I learn? I had worked so hard at not burdening him with his brother’s daily diabetes care, but it turns out that was the one thing Tate needed — to feel a part of it all. Once we started involving him, soon he began asking us if he could learn how to check his brother’s blood sugar or figure out how many carbs are in a food.
Are things always perfect and peaceful around our home? No! We still face times of frustration on the part of both boys. For example, when the boys are playing basketball in our backyard and Trace has to stop mid-game to treat his low, Tate will express his frustration and ask if Trace can play a few more minutes to finish the game. But even though every day is not perfect, every day presents us with new teachable moments. These are the moments that allow us to continue to educate our oldest and empower our youngest.
Type 1 diabetes is the group project no one asked to be a part of. However, when we realize that we’re all in this together, both siblings with and without diabetes can come out stronger and braver because of it.
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.