Monday, April 11, 2011

Inspirations (and questions) on parenting as a diabetic

Among the many things on my mind at 30 weeks of pregnancy with Type 1 diabetes is what our method of parenting will be.

I think about how I was raised, and how I would like to adopt the traditions and values that my parents passed onto me – while of course creating some of our own. I’ve also been observing all of my friends with kids, taking mental notes, and quite frankly have been very impressed with them. I was also a teacher once upon a time, and learned a bit about classroom management and child/adolescent psychology, and so I’m sure those lessons will come into play as well – such as consistency, how to give constructive feedback, the stages of childhood development, and so on.

I know that we will have our own style that will probably involve building on our own experiences and beliefs mixed with learning combined with winging it.

And of course, there’s the diabetes. There is no doubt in my mind that diabetes will play an instrumental role in how I parent – whether I’m aware of it or not. It simply changes how you do things, your outlook, how you manage life.

As a T1 diabetic, I’m very structured on a day to day basis. Although my heart is that of a creative free spirit, I eat and check my sugars at certain times of the day. That’s just how it is. I had to learn to balance the demands of life with my true passions at a young age, and to be honest still struggle with it sometimes. I’ve also learned to roll with the punches. You never know when you may have a low or a high sugar, and you just have to deal with it no matter where you are or what you are doing. The good news is that I handle crisis situations pretty well – in my own way.

There are also the physical demands of diabetes that will come into play when having twins. What do I do if I have a low sugar while I’m changing or feeding them? My response: I need to handle my low sugar first. Kind of like how on an airplane the safety directions advise you to place the oxygen mask on yourself first and then on your child. It won’t be much help to the child if I’m passed out.

Another issue that comes with living with diabetes is dependence vs. independence. Type 1 diabetics are insulin-dependent. We need insulin to live. I’ve had diabetes since the age of 3, and so I was incredibly dependent on my parents not only for what normal kids are dependent on their parents for – but also for my insulin shots. Without them, I wouldn’t have survived. I was also dependent on my parents to help me when I experienced low blood sugars, to think about the types of foods I was eating, to make sure I stayed active, to check for ketones when my sugar was high and to dose the right amount of insulin.

At the same, diabetics crave independence. So many of us want so badly to take care of ourselves, show people that we can achieve anything, and not let the diabetes define us.

I know that all of this will influence how I raise the twins. I’m sure of it.

What I don’t know is what it’s like to not have diabetes. But I believe that the lessons of living with diabetes will help make me more aware of and sensitive to whatever our children experience and go through in life.

Mothers want everything to be good for their children. Life isn’t always like that though. I’m sure my parents weren’t thrilled or jumping for joy when they learned that I have diabetes. So it’s my job as a parent to not resist when bad things happen, and instead, help all of us accept that this is what life has dealt. This is a part of the journey. Now let’s see how we can make it the best it can be.

There are so many ways to do this, and my favorites typically involve learning lessons. Using the challenges in life as an opportunity.

True happiness involves discomfort, according to Harvard psychology professor Tal Ben Shachar in his book, Even Happier. “We should remember that going through difficult times can augment our capacity for pleasure: it keeps us from taking pleasure for granted, reminds us to be grateful for all the large and small pleasures in our lives. Being grateful in this way can itself be a source of real meaning and pleasure.” (p. 26)

I definitely agree with this approach, and it’s worked for me. Many people suppress when bad things happen, while I find that it helps to face it, let it out and learn from it. And then I’m able to let go.

Here’s another strategy: I was listening to an inspirational talk show called Positive Living on ION network the other day. A life coach, whose name I can’t recall, advised that when faced with challenges in our lives, observe what questions you are asking.

For example, if you are afraid that your place of employment is downsizing and that you may be a part of it, you may find yourself asking, “What am I going to do if I’m laid off?” “How will I afford things?” As a result of that way of thinking, your brain focuses on coming up with those kinds of answers. You may start thinking of unemployment or worse. And then that energy brings about those results.

Instead, he advised asking, “How can I make the most of the situation?” “What can I do to keep my job?” And then your brain will creatively think of ways to deal with those questions instead, and bring that energy to the situation.

I found this to be a real aha moment for me. It’s all in the phrasing of the question.

As I sit here thinking about becoming a parent, I ask myself, “How can I be the best parent I can be?” “How can I provide my kids with the best life possible?” “How can I manage motherhood and diabetes?” “How can I bring the positive aspects of having diabetes to my kids?”

And the answers will come.


  1. As a psychologist, having been raised by a type 1 diabetic, I can tell you that the most loving thing you can do for your children is be aware of the impact of your bgl on your mood. Know when you need a break to bring your mood under control and know when your children deserve an apology if you don't.