My child was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 6. Those early years were easy; I was in total control.
But then came the teen years.
Parenting a teen with a chronic, serious health condition is scary. My daughter didn’t set out to be rebellious, but simply wanted what every other teen wants—to be one of the crowd, not different. She wanted to eat or drink anything, any time, just like her friends. She didn’t want to have to stop in the middle of a class, band rehearsal, or test to have a snack or check her blood sugar. My child didn’t want to wear a piece of jewelry that tagged her, in her words, as “different” from her friends. She resisted diabetes.
She “forgot” to test her blood sugar or eat a snack. And she refused to wear identification that would label her condition. All of this, predictably, led to a decline in her health, with a rise in her blood glucose (A1-C) levels. I was supposed to be fixing all of this, saving her health. As I heard this at each endocrinologist’s appointment, I felt like a bad parent.
I nagged and threatened. And I had to make tough decisions like "no driver’s license at 16"—which meant she was, again, different. I felt awful for my daughter, but safety was the priority—her own as well as others'.
Her senior year, I backed off and she took more responsibility. I quit asking if she had checked her blood sugars and took a different approach. I simply asked, “How are your numbers looking this week, sweetie?” and accepted her answer. And as I did, she stepped up more.
But what loomed ahead was scary for both of us: COLLEGE. I wasn’t going to be there.
My child had a tough learning curve that first year. She still didn’t want to call attention to herself by taking care of her medical needs, but she found out that not taking care of them required more dramatic attention. After a couple of ambulance rides to the local hospital, it became clear that stopping for a snack or a quick check was so much better than being on a stretcher in front of the whole dorm.
She also asked me to do something for her: talk to her friends, just like I did in first grade when she was diagnosed.
I held “class” in our kitchen. I taught them how to look for signs, symptoms, and indicators that a low blood sugar might be happening. I taught them basic nutrition. I taught them how to check a blood sugar, and most importantly, I taught them how to give a glucagon injection.
She is now a 26-year-old college grad with a great life. Diabetes has taken its toll—she has a heart murmur now—and I still worry. I always will. I am her mom.
But she has proven that she can take care of her health. I just had to step back so she could step up.
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