Being a parent is mentally and emotionally tough at times. Factor in a chronic illness like Type 1 diabetes and you will definitely have your hands full more times than not. It presents challenges for you and for your child.
When my son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes I had a lot of emotions and thoughts running through my head. As a parent you ask yourself, “Was this my fault? Did he get this from me?”
My son’s team of doctors spent time explaining to us that while Type 1 diabetes can be genetic or it can also be caused by a viral infection in a person’s body. That reasoning does little to ease the guilt a parent feels when their child is diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder like this. During the first few years I would ask myself occasionally if my son was being punished for something I had done in life? Did I somehow cause my child to develop Type 1? The answer is no and I know that, but I think it’s natural for a person to try to find understanding in such randomness.
After raising such an easy-going child for almost eight years, the first three years after my son was diagnosed was physically hard on my husband. The fear of hypoglycemic, or low blood sugar, episodes in the middle of the night kept him from getting more than a few hours of sleep. My husband would stay awake long after my son and I went to sleep to take blood sugar readings for the simple purpose of trending my son’s blood sugar. He would spend hours looking at numbers to determine when my son would need adjustments to his insulin dosage. He wasn’t fully trusting of handing over a three-month snapshot to my son’s endocrinologist and them understanding what was happening. After my son was put on an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor my husband was able to get more restful sleep, but he still monitored and trended blood sugar readings himself.
After a child receives their Type 1 diabetes diagnosis the doctors will tell you that there will be times of sadness and even depression, especially through the teen years. It’s something that you tuck away at the back of your mind and attempt to keep from happening. You can’t stop it no matter how hard you try. Your child will have feelings of sadness. Every child wants that feeling of belonging and being like everyone else. When saddled with an illness or condition it is always a thing that makes them different. And they hate it. I can’t count how many times over the years I’ve heard, “I just want to be like everyone else and do what they do without having to stop and check my blood sugars!” The feel like an outcast and it makes them question themselves and their faith.
At School, He’s On His Own
During elementary school my son didn’t run into situations that made him feel badly about his diagnosis. It wasn’t until those dreaded teen years in high school that he had to deal with situations that made him sad, uncomfortable and downright mad about his diabetes. As I’ve mentioned before my son was an athlete in school. He is a charismatic kid who can put people at ease and makes friends easily.
During his freshman basketball season, I discovered that some of the seniors on the basketball team referred to my son as “diabetes boy” instead of his name. My son had not mentioned it to us because he didn’t want to make a big deal of it or make himself stand out any more than he already did. Fortunately, he had a wonderful coach that my husband felt comfortable enough to speak to and it was addressed in a manner that didn’t bring attention to my son, but the actions of those few boys.
Fall was all about football and with football comes homecoming – pep rallies, parades, dances. Our school has a co-operation agreement with a neighboring town and our schools combined to form our football team. As the homecoming week wound down his sophomore year, the student body of both schools gathered for the pep rally. The seniors took the stage to speak to the crowd and get them pumped up for the game that evening. One of the senior boys from my son’s school mentioned that he was the only player from his school that was in attendance. A few of the other seniors corrected him and let him know that my son was in the crowd, to which he replied across the speaker, “Oh, he doesn’t count because he has diabetes.” I was not in attendance that day but was told that the gymnasium went quiet. I can’t imagine the emotion my son felt as all eyes turned to him. All he wants is to be like everyone else and in that instance, he was singled out for the one thing that he has no control over.
What’s Right for Him
Over the years, my husband and I have been very upfront and honest with my son and fostered a trusting relationship with him that he feels comfortable sharing thoughts and feelings with us. My son’s doctors were right; the teen years have been the hardest. My son has seen a counselor in the past, but it just wasn’t the right environment for him to share his feelings about his diagnosis and how it affects his life. As a family, we continue to be open about how it affects him and his transition from high school to college.
My son also finds comfort in the friends he’s made at a yearly American Diabetes Association summer diabetes camp. Next time I’ll talk about camp and what he’s gained from being around kids who go through the same things that he does.
Every child has struggles; how do you help your child handle difficult situations?
Presented by: Tamara Martin
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