If Kim can talk to you about the swing shift (awesomely cool concept by the way!), then I’m going to broach the subject of the split shift. This is a schedule that I’m hoping that 99 percent of parents of children with diabetes will never have to actually employ. But it’s a testament to the things that we have to do as parents when the realities of caring for a child with diabetes intersect with our already incredibly busy and complicated lives.
Before James was diagnosed, I enrolled in a master’s degree program at a local university. His care was of course an important factor that I considered when choosing this particular course of study. At the time, he was sleeping for long stretches at night. With just one small child, I had ample time in the evenings and afternoons for study. And he was an easy child who went to babysitters without complaint.
He was admitted to the hospital just one week before the start of the second year of my program. And yes, things changed! Obviously, child care became a lot more complicated, although I was one of the luckiest parents out there because I had a beloved sister-in-law who was more than willing to help watch him so that I could attend classes (that would be Kim).
One thing I never foresaw, never considered, and was quite befuddled by was how James’ little personality changed after his hospital stay. All things considered, the five days we spent in the pediatric ward at the local hospital were mainly positive for us, and I stayed at his side the entire time. I was completely surprised when, upon his return from the hospital, he started manifesting major separation anxiety for the first time in his life!
If I left the room he would cry and follow me. I needed to be constantly within his sight or he was extremely anxious. I understood immediately that this was somehow related to how he was processing the events in the hospital and how much his life had changed. It was never even a question then that I had to figure out a way to be there for him in his time of need.
The biggest struggle was at bedtime. This former champion sleeper suddenly cried incessantly if we left his side. And this is where the swing shift comes in. Remember that, aside from the usual difficulties of having a child that cannot sleep alone, I was still a student who relied on the hours when James was asleep to finish my school assignments! What could I do? I embarked on a somewhat unusual schedule.
I started lying down with James each evening at 8 p.m. Like during our hospital experience, we would share his twin bed. I would sleep with him for a few hours until around 1 in the morning. At which point, I could finally arise and start studying, reading, and writing to prepare for my graduate coursework. Around 5 or 6 a.m., I would go back to sleep in the little twin bed so that when James awoke, I was still there and he felt safe and comforted.
Now, I hardly expect that many parents of children with type 1 diabetes will have to sleep in split shifts, but we all have to do hard things to help our kids. Type 1 diabetes has a way of stretching the boundaries of what we think is possible in our lives. In many cases, suspending the responsibilities of daily life is simply not an option, and so we find we have to come up with creative solutions that allow us to simultaneously work, go to school, care for younger children, or whatever important task lies in our path. Things like the split shift stretch us, and help us know what we are capable of. And we are pretty awesome when you think about 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. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.