The challenge of caring for a child’s type 1 diabetes affects the whole family, so naturally it can cause conflict between spouses or co-parents from time to time. We polled parents on which statements they hate to hear most, then asked Ellen Bradley-Windell, L.C.S.W., a family and child therapist in Southern California whose daughter has type 1, for the best ways to respond. Ever uttered any of these zingers yourself? Read on for ideas on more effective ways to get your point across as well. “Working together as a cooperative, co-parenting team will help your child thrive both physically and emotionally,” says Bradley-Windell — and help you maintain a healthy relationship with your significant other.
1. Never say: “You’re not doing it right!”
Instead try: “I appreciate your willingness to help with getting Colin’s supplies ready to go for the day. Can I show you a way that I filled the insulin pump that worked really well for me last time?”
Because: “Blaming just results in parents feeling alone with their child’s diabetes instead of feeling as though they’re working as part of a cohesive team,” says Bradley-Windell. “Supportive words can make all the difference in encouraging each other that you will get through a very challenging day, yet again.”
Spouse said it? How to respond: “It’s hurtful to me when you blame me for trying to help our son get his diabetes supplies ready for school. Could you please use kinder words and give me some helpful suggestions on how you do these tasks?”
2. Never say: “I don’t know why you’re not sleeping at night. Why are you worrying so much? I’m not.”
Instead try: “I’m sorry you’re not sleeping well. Is there anything I can do to help you rest more comfortably at night? What if we take turns getting up to test Sarah’s blood sugar? We both deserve to get rest … we need to stay healthy.”
Because: Parents may not always agree on the best way to care for a child’s diabetes. But if you think your partner worries too much, it’s almost always better to offer help than criticism.
Spouse said it? How to respond: “I understand that you worry less than I do about overnight lows. I just wish you could support my efforts and give me a hug if I’m tired. I understand it’s sometimes my choice to check her during the night, but it gives me peace of mind.”
3. Never say: “His numbers are bad.”
Instead try: “I’m wondering what we can do to help Taylor get his blood sugar levels into a healthier range so he feels better physically and emotionally. Do you have any ideas?”
Because: Labeling blood sugars as good or bad — even just to your partner in private — can come off as judgmental, as if you’re labeling the child himself and the primary caregiver’s diabetes care as good or bad. “Don’t define your child by his blood sugars,” Bradley-Windell cautions. “Instead, help empower your child by modeling the way you talk about their blood sugars in more neutral terms,” like in range or out of range, whether you’re talking to your child or to your partner.
Spouse said it? How to respond: “I think it would be really helpful if we could talk about how to get Taylor’s blood sugar levels into a healthier range instead of reacting in such a negative way. His numbers aren’t a reflection of us as parents or of Taylor as a person. I don’t want him to feel defeated by thinking that because his blood sugar is out of range that he’s ‘bad.’ I know you don’t want to see that happen either.”
4. Never say: “Stop nagging … just leave her alone!”
Instead try: “I know you’re frustrated when Katie’s not being responsible with caring for her diabetes and that you worry about something happening to her. I do too. Maybe it would help for us to tag-team once when one of us is getting frustrated. I’d be happy to step in and talk to her … would you do the same for me?”
Because: Parents get the “don’t nag me” complaint enough from their kids — nobody wants to hear it seconded by their partner! Where diabetes is concerned, it can make a parent feel as if he or she is the only one in the family who cares about keeping blood sugar in range.
Spouse said it? How to respond: “Saying things like this to each other is hurtful and unproductive. Maybe we can have a ‘cue’ word to support each other when we get overwhelmed with Katie’s diabetes. I just get so scared sometimes, and I have to work on how I react to her and our situation.”
5. Never say: “How could you let his blood sugar go so high?”
Instead try: “I know how stressful it is to manage Jamie’s diabetes on a daily basis. I know this must weigh heavy in your heart, too, because you love him as much as I do. Can we talk about some ideas to help get Jamie’s blood sugars back into a healthier range?”
Because: Whether you’re the one biting your lip to avoid criticizing your partner’s care, or you’re on the receiving end of unhelpful comments, count to 10 before lashing out. “Always take a deep breath and pause before responding,” Bradley-Windell says. “That pause can be the difference between pulling you and your spouse apart or drawing you closer together to unite over the love and care of your child with diabetes.”
Spouse said it? How to respond: “It hurts me when I feel blamed for Jamie’s blood sugar. I know how frustrated and worried you are about him … I feel the same way. It would be so helpful if we could brainstorm together about what we can do to help get his blood sugar into a healthier range.”
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.