5 Ways It’s Hard to be “Normal” When Your Child Has Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes in children is no laughing matter, so when you first learn your child has diabetes, your nice, normal world suddenly seems like it’s part of a snow globe being violently shaken by an unseen hand.
The first few days are scary and the first few weeks are crazy, as you begin to learn about diabetes and how best to manage it. During this time, you may long for things to be “normal” again, even while cognizant that a “new normal” is what you’re really hoping to achieve. And you get there, eventually … maybe when you realize you’re saying T1 so often and so casually that it’s like it’s the 27th letter of the alphabet. Or when you proudly watch your 11-year-old, who used to be scared of needles, confidently give herself an injection with an insulin pen, then run off to play as if she’d just stopped to comb her hair.
When you live with diabetes, that’s “normal.” And when you get there, that’s good.
But still, there are times when you realize you got off the normal train on that long-ago day in the doctor’s office or the emergency room, and that you’re never getting on that train again.
Here are five ways that being a parent of a child with diabetes makes it hard to fit into the “normal” world – plus five reasons why it doesn’t matter.
1. Sleepovers – Remember when an invitation to a sleepover used to be a cause for joy? (“Oh, honey, we’re going to be all alone Friday night!”) Now it’s, at best, a cause for concern, or, if you’re new to this game, an invitation for panic. Your child’s first night away after a diabetes diagnosis can be scary enough to keep you awake all night, and make that long-coveted time alone with your partner an all-night worry fest. In fact, your child will probably do just fine (particularly if she has a Timesulin cap on her pen), and the good news is, this gets easier every time she’s away, as both you and your child gain confidence in her ability to take care of herself. Over time, she may be the most competent child among her peers.
2. Vacations — All parents know that once you have children, you don’t take “vacations” — you take trips. That is, you may change the scenery, but you still have to do the work of parenting – even more so when your child has diabetes. The packing itself becomes more complicated: figuring out what medical supplies you will need for the length of time you’re away, and multiplying by three just in case. Then there’s the worry about what to take in a carry-on bag, in case your checked bag goes on its own trip elsewhere. For other people, a lost suitcase is an annoyance; for us, it can be life threatening. Then there’s the preparation of snacks for the plane, bus or boat, and the many joys of getting through airport security with our gadgets and gear. And, the additional exertion and strange foods of travel that can send blood sugar soaring. All together, it’s enough to make you want to stay home. The good news: Remembering all this gets easier with every trip you take.
3. People with More Glucose Than Sense – Before diabetes, you thought the world was comprised of people who were mostly sane and intelligent. After diabetes, you realize that this is not true, that you seem to be surrounded by raving lunatics. How else to explain the number of people who say things like, “He would be fine if you just changed his diet!” and “Should he really be eating that piece of birthday cake?” Or our favorite, “Oh, she’ll outgrow it!” The only reasonable response to statements like these is “Do you have a week’s pass from the asylum, or are you out just for the weekend?” But no, we are nice and we patiently explain because, unfortunately, it’s normal to be uneducated about diabetes in the “normal” world. The good news: Every time we have to correct a misconception, we pull someone out of the pit of ignorance.
4. Meal Time – Before diabetes, you, like the rest of the world, probably put little thought into what you were serving for dinner, that night or the rest of the week. Who has time? Most people scavenge, like crows, through the pantry, hoping to assemble a meal for five in 20 minutes with a box of ziti and a bag of marshmallows. That’s what “normal” people do, and it works for them (if not for the world’s obesity rates). As the parent of a child with diabetes, however, you no longer have this luxury. Diabetes makes demands, and chief among them is the necessity of planning your family’s meals in advance. This may seem like a lot of work in the beginning, but this is one way in which “abnormal” is good. If the whole world would join us in this regard, we’d all be so much healthier.
5. Me, M.D. – Okay, so maybe you haven’t been to medical school. But compared to the rest of the “normal” parents in the carpool line, your medical knowledge is vast. You can explain the inner workings of a pancreas, you know which “healthy” food products are mostly sugar, and you can administer a shot as swiftly and efficiently as workers at the NHS Blood Donation Centre. Sure, you would not have chosen this life, not for you nor for your child, but when called to it, you stepped up, and so did your child.
No, you’re not getting on the “normal” train again. But normal is highly overrated. Competence, however, is not. And you’ve got that in spades.