The Needle-Phobe’s Guide to Diabetes Parenting

My wife and I have four kids; two of them have lived with type 1 diabetes for over 10 years each.

I was as needle-phobic as they come. That was not a great start.

A dozen years ago, the diabetes nurse educator at the hospital spotted it almost instantly. She simply handed me a syringe and said, “Here. It’s Dad’s turn.” I was probably more scared than my son was. I’m sure kids can read fear in their parents better than a dog smells it on an intruder. The nurse had me act, regardless of my fear. There is a lesson in that.

Anxiety has played a real part in my diabetes experiences, and it has come in many flavors. Fear of needles. Fear of hurting my child. Fear of not knowing what I should know. Fear that I don’t do things the same—or as well—as Mom. Fear that diabetes would limit our children’s futures. “No Fear” would be a stupid slogan for parents. Of course we have fears. Fear is practically the definition of parenting.

Back to that first shot… I was scared silly that first time, and I was scared of doing it a second time. I couldn’t hope that my child would just get better (in the sense of recovering from type 1 diabetes). Instead I needed to use the hope that I would get better at dealing with diabetes to motivate myself to practice the skills I needed. Many oranges died in the effort to make my hands comfortable using a syringe. Practice may not have made perfect, but it did build routine motor skills. Rapidly, I no longer feared giving shots. The fear my kids may have sensed was replaced with a confidence of routine.

Of course, learning to do things “the right way” is one of diabetes’ dirtiest tricks. All diabetes parents know that we can do exactly the same thing two days in a row, in the same situation, in the same child, and get different results. Diabetes is like that. Dad will not always do things the same way Mom does. Neither of us may do it the way in which the child ultimately becomes comfortable doing it himself. That can be all right, if we let it.

In fact, my biggest diabetes fear with older teens was that too much parental management would limit the growth of independence. I think this stems from my biggest hope as a parent: that my kids would each find and pursue life passions. But this fear may be holding me back too.

Diabetes care takes a team. On teams, not everyone plays the same position or does the same thing on each play. That would be chaos. On teams, everyone pulls their weight. Fatherhood is about the grunt work of blocking and tackling, not 87-yard glory-pass plays. There’s an adventure in that day-to-day work, slogging it out in the trenches. If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines for fear of making a mistake, get in there. Be a part of it. Diabetes care is less about being the best at finger pricks or insulin injections and more about doing them anyway.

I feel better practicing and doing. I still have fears: Will they get into the college they want, get a job, move out? That’s okay. Like I said, fear is practically the definition of parenting. The goal is to have those fears and not let the diabetes fears crowd them out.

 

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.

 

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