Before James was born (and I actually became a parent), I had so many opinions about parenting. To my credit, I had read a lot of parenting books in anticipation. I had my “philosophy” worked out. I knew there were different camps, and having done some research, I was just sure that of all the different viewpoints out there, mine was the most informed. I remember talking to my mother, who had five children of her own, about her philosophy. She specifically said, “Oh, I don’t know. Every kid is different, and you just do what works.” Mom didn’t have a philosophy? Did she not read the experts?? Disappointing to say the least!
Or so I thought. Turns out, real life was very different than my plans! James wasn’t a very easy baby, and things didn’t go quite like the books said. I have since learned to read most parenting books with a grain of salt. Most have some useful nuggets of wisdom, but I avoid the ones that pretend they have all the answers or that there is only one way to do things.
I am sometimes still learning that there isn’t always a “right” way to do things. But that is one thing that James having type 1 diabetes has taught me pretty well. My new parenting philosophy might very well be, “Sometimes the right thing and the best thing are not the same thing.”
What does this mean? I’ll illustrate. First, there was James’ initial diagnosis. James was the child who had only ever had milk and water. No juice ever and certainly no artificial sweeteners! We had to teach him to drink juice (once he needed it to treat low blood sugar), and it was actually a little bit of a problem. Thankfully he learned fairly quickly. He’s had many juice boxes since then.
Artificial sweeteners also became a godsend for us. I still don’t like consuming a lot of chemicals, and I still think drinking plain water is probably the best thing a child with type 1 can do. But when he was so little, so uncomfortable in the hospital during his diagnosis, wanting to eat all the time but his blood chemistry was so very off, some of those artificially sweetened beverages really saved the day. They helped tremendously to bridge the hours between his meals as doctors were figuring out his insulin dosages and adjusting his vitals. They may not have been the best thing, but they were absolutely the right thing for our family.
Another example? James is a teenager now. My life and his would be easier if he didn’t like to eat so much! But his body is calling out for massive quantities of food. This is important not just to his body but to his level of comfort and his social environment. Teenage boys love to eat and love to eat food with their buddies that isn’t always the best. I allow James to do this. I wish he ate perfectly: low carb, low fat, not processed, plenty of veggies (he does do that!). But he doesn’t eat perfectly. This doesn’t absolve me from trying to feed my son good food, or teach him to eat healthy things! We still do that. My biggest thing right now is to expose him to as many kinds of healthy foods as I can so that he’ll enjoy them, and reach for them, and cook them, when in a few short years he will be doing all of this without my help.
But right now, boy, does he love his fast-food cheeseburgers. And his noodle cups. Ugh. But I allow it. Because for him, it’s important that he feels normal. And free. And frankly, full. Is it the best thing? Probably not. But I do truly think it is the right thing for now.
How silly that I thought my mom was weak for not subscribing to a philosophy! How wise she was to realize that the right decision is rarely black and white when it comes to kids. The hardest thing about parenting might very well be the fact that you can’t decide things in advance and stick to them. You have to be flexible so that you can make sure you’re always making the right decisions for your child now. It takes both confidence and humility to parent like this. It isn’t easy, but it is right.
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.