When our daughter Kaitlyn was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, we were overwhelmed with the tasks of diabetes management. Everything was new! We felt like we didn’t know anything, and it felt like a full-time job. It was everything we could do just to keep track of her blood sugar numbers, count carbs for everything she ate, and give her shots all throughout the day and night. Not only did it take a lot of time, but it took a lot of emotional energy. We worried like we had never worried before.
And we began to get worn out. We were tired and desperately needed a break. My husband and I tried to take turns, but we began to get frustrated with each other and hoped the other one would put in a little more effort. I felt like I was doing the bulk of the work, and so did he! It was like we had a newborn baby again, arguing about whose turn it was to change the poopy diaper or pick up the crying baby in the middle of the night. In reality, we were both doing so much, but we were stressed and tired, and less patient with each other than usual.
Well, fast-forward 12 years, and I think we’ve ironed some things out. For one thing, we’ve gotten to a place where Kaitlyn does so much more on her own. She practically does everything. We also have better tools than we had before — a CGM (continuous glucose monitor) that will tell us her numbers round the clock, and a pump that will deliver insulin based on where her blood sugar numbers are. Believe it or not, though, all these years later, we still have those moments when we hear an alarm go off on her pump at 3 a.m. and hope that the other will hear it, so we don’t have to get out of bed. But overall, we’ve learned some really good ways to share diabetes responsibilities so that we both feel we’re getting the support we need from each other.
Here are a few strategies that have helped us feel like a team:
1. Split time
Set up specific times (hours of the day, or days of the week) when each person is “on call.” My husband is a night owl, and I do much better in the early morning hours, because I can usually get back to sleep pretty easily after waking up. When we know it’s going to be a rough diabetes night, he will stay up late and let me go to sleep. Then I will set my alarm for the next blood sugar check around 3 a.m. This works well for us, but you may consider splitting the time by days instead. When my husband traveled a lot for work, I would take the weekdays and he would do weekends.
2. Split jobs
Define who does which tasks. Before Kaitlyn was doing most of the diabetes stuff on her own, we would often split up care tasks. I would mostly be the one for daily blood sugar checks and carb counting, and he would be in charge of most of the site changes for her pump and CGM sensor. Some of the other major jobs that should be defined are going to the quarterly endocrinologist appointments and managing all of the diabetes supplies.
3. Take on other tasks
If one person is doing all the diabetes-related tasks, you might consider having the other partner take on some of the other responsibilities of the household. Maybe they can do more of the cleaning, laundry, or bills, so that the main diabetes caretaker has the time necessary to focus on the important task of blood sugar management.
Of course, I recognize that there are a lot of single parents out there who are handling this all on their own. If this is you, I hope that you can find someone — a grandparent, sibling, or friend — to help you out now and then. Diabetes management is not an easy task, even when there’s a second person sharing it. For those with partners, I hope you can take some time to clearly define responsibilities so that the next time the alarm goes off at 3 a.m., you’ve got a plan and not an argument.
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.