When we talk about parenting and diabetes in the same article, many believe we are going to talk about how to deal with a child who has Type 1 diabetes and then relate the special skills required to address their medical issues. While that’s a reasonable assumption, I’d like to turn the tables in this article. What if the child has to come to terms with a parent who has Type 2 diabetes?
It can be a little frightening for children to see a parent struggling with diabetes or any other illness for that matter. They may wonder, even if they never ask, if their parent is going to die. They may not understand the daily blood tests or insulin shots. They may feel abandoned without cause. This issue is magnified when the parent is silent on the issue.
Parents are the soldiers who help children march into their own future and if one of them seems to have fallen it can be very hard on one or more of their children to deal with real and imagined possibilities.
One of the first things a newly diagnosed diabetic parent should do is be as open and honest with their children as possible. Answer their questions and help them understand that what you will be doing is working to manage the disease. Help them understand that diabetes is not contagious. Give your children the good news that diabetes is something that patients can live with for many years and that you don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.
Never treat your disease as a taboo subject. When you are more open about what is going on the more accepting your family members will be about the issue. They will be more empathetic about your situation and desire to help you through difficult days.
Many families with a diabetic learn to adapt to a diet that can actually benefit everyone simply because the diabetic diet has health benefits for every member of the family.
In the past parents would often hide medical challenges from their children. Typically those children would be devastated if something happened to their parents especially if they were unaware of an existing, but unspoken problem. It was also frustrating for children if they suspected there was a problem, but it was either denied or covered up.
Children are pretty smart and courageous. They can even act as a diabetic parent’s accountability partner. They might say things like, “Mom, should you really be eating that?” or “Dad, don’t you need to go for a walk? I got my shoes on, where’s yours?”
When your child suffers some illness most parents would do anything to trade their own health for their child’s illness. In the case where the parent suffers the child may really turn out to be a faithful advocate who is vitally interested in the welfare of their parent.
Be open, be honest and be vulnerable. Children already know we parents make mistakes so being able to admit that you are human may not be as great a shock to their system as you might imagine. Their advocacy may be the very thing that can help a parent with diabetes face another day and look forward to life lived with family who courageously demonstrate love and concern for every member of the family.