Looking back to the earliest days of the pandemic, the emotions were so strong. It felt very surreal, and I remember being both stressed and worried for my family but also sort of marveling at the drastic differences to our daily lives. Particularly I was amazed at how everything I had deemed absolutely essential was so quickly dropped from our schedule.
With all this extra time, I realized that I finally could do some of the “teaching” I had always dreamed of doing for my family. I’d always had grand intentions of setting up some kind of formal learning. I imagined a setting where I taught classics, manners, poetry, with my children gathered around turning into scholars… and frankly that never happened. Instead, we always seemed to be moving busily about from activity to activity.
So, in these extraordinary times, I set up a period each day after “quiet time” to sit down with the kids and just offer a formal lesson — no more than maybe 10 to 15 minutes a day. Turns out we stuck with it for over a year! I did enjoy teaching my kids, and we liked spending time together. And some of my “dreams” were realized in that way, and that felt good. But when I’m honest with myself about what this actually accomplished, I realize that the kind of deep learning that I really wanted didn’t actually come from these 10-minute-a-day lessons. Maybe prior to the pandemic I had all the time for teaching that I needed right from the very start.
What do I mean by this? I mean that maybe the longest-lasting and most important lessons that we teach our kids aren’t the ones that we rigorously prepare for and artfully deliver. While I don’t think the formal lessons hurt anything, and they did have some benefits, I’m realizing that daily, minute-to-minute teaching has a much broader appeal. What were the real lessons of the pandemic year? They were more likely to be gleaned in the minutes we stole together each day. Both through their observation of how we (as parents) handled the various issues that arose but also in my responses to their (oftentimes off-topic) questions. When are they more likely to remember what I’m telling them — in a formal lesson? Or when they ask because they’re honestly curious?
This is both really freeing and also sort of stressful. It’s freeing because it recognizes that as parents, we’re really teaching our kids all the time. Maybe we don’t need a global pandemic and an entirely empty calendar to do all the things we want with our kids. But maybe it’s also stressful because it means we’re “on” almost all the time. It’s sort of easier to commit to 10 minutes a day than to fill 24 hours with instructional “content,” even informally.
What helps is to think about what we really want to transmit to our kids. I’ve been thinking specifically about what I want to teach my son James about how to live a rich life with type 1 diabetes. I think about the fact that we have dozens of opportunities every single day to teach our kids through our example and our responses to them. And if you add up the moments each day and the number of days as the years fly by… it’s a lot.
What helps me feel better about it all is recognizing that the deepest and most important lessons that I want to convey to James are actually quite few. I want him to know that he is capable. I show him this by taking the time to teach him independent skills, over and over again if need be, and recognizing his strengths. I teach him this by trusting him.
I want him to know that problems are inevitable and most are surmountable. I teach him this by being honest about his challenges but also about mine. I demonstrate when something is tricky to me but also that I’m going to make a plan, I’ll try different things, and I won’t give up. This is particularly important in diabetes care, as the day is made up of a million different challenges to confront.
I want him to know that he is loved. His diabetes is a part of who he is, but it does not define him. I both love him with his diabetes and despite it. I just love him. This is the default I feel like I should always work on. If I need to fill the silence, and I feel the need to teach, to fall back on love is not the “easy” option, it is the best option. And in the long run, this will help give him resilience and strength throughout his life.
The pandemic gave me time with my kids that I’ll honestly always treasure (despite all the associated hardships of the time). But “regular life” presents enough opportunities to teach my child with diabetes the lessons he really needs.
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.