Second grade was a difficult year for us. James had transferred schools, and we had some differences of opinion with the school staff regarding blood sugar testing in the classroom. One of the solutions that was proposed was to require James to check his own blood sugar. But he didn’t want to do that.
Many kids with type 1 diabetes check their own blood sugar as soon as they are physically capable of doing so. In my bunch of four kids, I have some that have better fine motor and praxis skills than others. And I have some that are more naturally independent and might have had more interest in this type of task (if they’d had diabetes). James had utterly no interest in learning this task yet — and honestly, it might even have been a bit of a stretch of his abilities to do it correctly. I resisted the loud calls that proclaimed that the easiest way to resolve our issues with the school would be to make him check his own blood sugar. I just felt it wasn’t right to require him to learn something before he really felt ready.
Diabetes already puts an extra burden on small children. They have to learn early — too early — to deal with the inconvenience and the discomfort of the things that keep them alive and healthy. They must draw blood every day and endure pokes and pricks. They don’t always feel great when experiencing variances in their blood sugar. They have to communicate with grown-ups about all the food they want to eat and all the physical activities they want to do. They require more communication and coordination to do simple things like visiting friends, and maybe they can’t do certain things they want, exactly when they want to, like going on a sleepover.
So I didn’t think the right solution to the problem was to add to James’ burden in any appreciable way, despite the fact that many people thought that he ought to have been able to check his own blood sugar by that time. And I held firm!
Well, thankfully we found another solution to our issues that year. And then we moved to a different school where the troubles evaporated. The school nurse there checked his blood sugar for maybe a year or two more. And then one fine day, James wanted to check himself. He was ready. And now he does blood sugar checks on his own all of the time unless he’s asleep (then I still do it).
But this is how it has gone for us. For James, sometimes things come a little slower, but they come. I have resisted the urge to follow the crowds or the trends, and I tried to follow James’ lead instead. As a teenager now, he is almost entirely self-sufficient. There are some tasks that I still help him with. Mostly what I still do is remind him or advise him.
I recognize that the day will come when I will not even do those things anymore. He will completely own his diabetes. In some ways, the clock is ticking. He’s in high school now, so the exit point is within view. He plans on attending college and having adventures away from me and from the family. And honestly, he’s not ready yet. But personally, I love where he is at right now.
I’m beyond proud of him handling so many things on his own. He checks, he counts carbs, and he boluses, among other things. And he’s learned how to do all of these things in his own time and in his own way. He has an optimistic attitude about his type 1 diabetes, which I hope he keeps forever. One way we’ve tried to continue to nurture that is not to rush him to take responsibility before he is ready. While we want him to be fully prepared for every step, we’re not in a hurry about it. Type 1 diabetes really is a long game, and small decisions that we make along the way reflect that. As parents, we focus less on what will lighten our burden now and more on what will lead to healthy habits and attitudes in the years to come.
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.