This one is for the outside world, the people watching us try to master this parenting a child with diabetes life, because I’ve noticed that you’re avoiding me sometimes. And other times you say things with the best of intentions that just… set me off.
So here it is, my guide to help you. Instead of saying what not to say to the parent of a child with diabetes, I offer you what yes to say. I hope it helps you. I know it will help me.
“What specific thing can I do to help you today?”
Whether I’m new to this life raising a child with diabetes or years into it, I’m probably facing some kind of new challenge. Diabetes is like that. Just when you think you’ve mastered it all, everything changes. So, when you say, “Tell me something specific I can do to help you,” you’re opening the door for me to make a suggestion. I might say, “Just come over and let me vent.” I might say, “I really need a friend to hang out with me at the hockey practice. I have to stay this week because of wacky numbers.” I might say, “Bring me a double latte espresso moccachino delight. Tall. Please!” Knowing you are offering will mean the world to me, even in the simplest of ways.
“Is there something I can read to learn more?”
I have favorite books that have helped me along in this D-parent life, and blogs and magazines I turn to for education. I am more than happy to share them with you.. And when you do read them and can chat with me about some details that actually came from a reliable source (and not some silly headline about how okra water laced with llama spit cured Type 1), it will make my day, big time. You reading and continuing to learn will really boost my morale. And some of the diabetes blogs, magazines and books are just plain awesome anyway.
“My great aunt had Type 2 diabetes. Can you explain how that is the same or different than your child’s diabetes?”
I get it – I used to be you. And I never really knew there were different kinds of diabetes. But they are so very different, and I don’t want you to make assumptions based on what you may have known in the past. In the same vein, please feel free to say, “I knew someone in high school with Type 1 but that was a long time ago. Is it treated differently today?” It means the world when someone truly tries to understand.
“How are YOU?”
Of course my child comes first, and of course we all care the most about the child’s health and well being. But this whole life has taken a toll on me, too. I’ve been hurting at times, sad, exhausted and scared. I’ve had moments of “yeah we’ve got this!” and days of feeling defeated. There’s a good chance I’ve either gained a bit too much weight or lost a bit too much since my child’s diagnosis. Having someone ask me how I am and how I feel, both mentally and physically, is a blessing.
“Can you give me the tools I need to watch your child when you need a break or are not around?”
It’s not easy, but it can be done. And you asking me this way – instead of saying something like “I’m sure it is not a big deal,” or “Oh come on, its only a few hours,” gives me confidence that you will listen to what I suggest and take care in watching my child. It is so important to my child’s mental health that he or she go back to “normal” things like hanging out at a friend’s house. Your asking this way is proof that it will happen.
“Your child seems so healthy! To me it is like nothing has changed. I know this comes from your hard work.”
Yes! This is my goal. I am faced with what is a lifetime of medical intervention for my child. I must convince him or her that even though they must prick their finger a bunch of times a day, take shots or insulin pump boluses, eat to fight lows or take insulin to battle highs, they are still going to live a normal life. You noticing that it looks that way and that it comes from hard work is the ultimate compliment to me and my child.
“Is there a cause you would like me to donate to on behalf of your child?”
Asking this, and then taking action, is like giving me a Porche, a mountain villa and an island vacation all rolled into one. First, I am thankful that you asked me which cause means the most to me. There are many good ones, but I do have some that are special to me. Second, even if all you can give is a dollar, you are giving toward a better future for my child. I fully understand there are many worthy charities and programs in this world. For you to give to the one that speaks to me is just amazing.
“You’re doing great.”
Sometimes, that’s all I need to hear.
Moira McCarthy was pursuing her dream career in active sports journalism when her young daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 1997. While she continued on that route, writing for the New York Times Sports and Leisure Division, Snow Country Magazine, Ski Magazine and becoming a daily newspaper sports columnist for the Boston Herald, she also began dedicating much of her life to diabetes advocacy and education. Author of the best-selling “Raising Teens With Diabetes: A Parent Survival Guide”, and “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Raising Children with Diabetes,” she is a long-time JDRF volunteer. She chaired JDRF’s Children’s Congress, was National Chair of Advocacy for three years and National Chair of Outreach, and was named the 2007 JDRF International Volunteer of the Year. She speaks national about raising children with diabetes and thriving in that life. Her daughter, who graduated college in May of 2014, is her proof that people certainly can.