Diabetes Camp: Why It’s Really Good for Parents

Diabetes Camp: Why It's Really Good for Parents

Each year in early summer I worked diligently on my daughter’s annual diabetes camp “to do” list. Sunscreen? Check. Medical plan? Check. Clothes I don’t mind coming back … gamey? Check. Oh, yes, I made absolutely sure her camp experience was going to be perfect.

But here’s a secret I didn’t share then: I had another list going as well, a diabetes camp list just as vital, detailed and yes, important for the success of the camp experience as hers.

I called it my “Me Camp List.” And while it may sound selfish and it may seem cold, my list of what I needed for myself and the rest of my family while my child with diabetes was away at camp was just as studied.

Because here’s the secret said aloud: Diabetes camp is as much for the parents and the rest of the family as it is for the child with diabetes.

Wait. I’m going to just come right out and say it the way it really is: Diabetes camp is a complete and total diabetes vacation for ME. And the rest of my family.

I had been told this, but I don’t think I understood it until that first summer of 1998 after I dropped my then six-year old daughter with diabetes off at Clara Barton Camp for a two-week session. At first I felt guilty: there I was at home, not counting a carb, not drawing a dose, not even thinking about a meal plan. I was reclining in the delicious  luxury of life sans diabetes – footrest and all. But … my child still had diabetes. Was it wrong for me to revel in my abandon (of diabetes?) What kind of mom was I?

But then she came home happy, safe and completed by her camp experience. And there I was: rested, refreshed and renewed; ahead of any burn out and ready to take on another year of life as a D-mom, until camp came again. How about that? Turned out that abandoning my D-Mom life for that two weeks was actually what was best for my child.

Experts agree. Marisa Hilliard, Ph.D, clinical pediatric psychologist at Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine said taking that break is good for the entire family.

“Parenting any child or teenager – and especially one with a chronic condition like diabetes – takes a lot out of a person. It can be hard for parents to find time to refill their personal resources, but it is so important that they do that. Knowing their children are in good hands at diabetes camp can be a great opportunity for parents to take care of themselves and prioritize their own needs for a few days.”

Hillard said the notion parents have that this is selfish (“My child cannot take a day off, why should I?”) is one she addresses with families often. “ Some might worry that this is selfish, but another way to think about it is that parents have to be fully stocked on energy, optimism, and persistence in order to have enough personal resources on hand to best take care of their child and his/her diabetes. Even though the daily grind can sometimes feel like it revolves around diabetes care, this time can also be an opportunity for families to focus on and enjoy other things that are important to them – this can help combat “diabetes burnout” and fortify the family’s strengths.”

That’s why I think it’s important for parents to make a list for themselves and the rest of their family and then stick to it during diabetes camp weeks. It’s just too easy for diabetes to remain front and center in our lives, even when our kids are away. A little work at tucking it away isn’t just not selfish, it might just be semi selfless, since it makes us both physically and emotionally stronger, and helps bolster the entire family. Here’s a starting list of a Me Camp List. Consider adopting it and adding to it.

*Check off the “do not call” option with camp. Listen: you do not need to know all the blood sugar trends each day. Diabetes camp is a place to be trusted (if you’ve done your homework and picked a quality camp). Let them deal with the day-to-day and yes sometimes hour-to-hour insulin/carb/etc decisions. If there is a true emergency: they’ll call. As the now-ubiquitous song says, “Let it go.”

*Turn off all the alarm clocks in the house. Okay, not the one that wakes you to go to work. But do check your phone and any other alarms you have set and turn them off. Sleep in. Or wake up early on your own and just enjoy the morning hours. There’s no need for extra alarms these weeks. And while you are at it: store away and out of sight any diabetes supplies or tools that may be on counters. Clear the necessary clutter for the short time it is not necessary.

*Log off of your diabetes related social media sites. I know, I know, that’s your support system and really, your circle of friends. But you need to get away from talking about diabetes, thinking about diabetes and letting it seep into your mind. Social media will still be there when you return. Bid your sites a “see you soon!” and click off until camp is over. (You can use your free time to shop on Etsy!)

*Take a volunteer vacation too. Each year when my daughter was at camp, my charity of choice knew I was not to be contacted those two weeks. That’s because I told them. Staffers at places like JDRF, DRI and ADA get well-deserved vacation time. Volunteers need it too. Even if it meant missing some big event, if it fell during my diabetes vacation time (oops, I mean my daughter’s camp time), it was a no go for me. I think this made me a better volunteer.

*Take a destination vacation. Married or single, dating or alone, you need some “grown up time” without diabetes on board. With your child at camp, you don’t need to find someone who can care for them, and you don’t need to worry about them. Book an overnight somewhere – even if all you can afford is the little inn a few miles away – and submerge yourself in that “away from it all” feeling. The French Canadians have a saying “de croche” which means “to unhook,” and less literally, to get away from all that holds you down in life. Do it.

*Take a second destination vacation: This time with the other kids along. It’s been a long time since your other children have experienced life without diabetes poking its head into everything. Let them pick an overnight: camping? A hotel in the city and a movie? Whatever they like, make it happen. And let the kids set the entire agenda. They need to feel that (albeit temporary) freedom from diabetes too. If you cannot afford an overnight, let your kids design a “local vacation.” You can go to a beach or a bike path with a picnic, or to a free museum or other venue. Be creative.

*Take your other kids food shopping: and let them pick out whatever they want. You don’t realize it, but they’ve been focused on the carbs and the spikes and all you talk about around food as well. Let them “just be kids” and experience normal life without diabetes on board for a short time. And then, let them set the meal schedule. Midnight breakfast? Why not – there’s no insulin schedule to ponder.

*Don’t arrive early to pick your kid up from camp (but don’t be late either). Sure, it’s a long week or two and you miss them, but savor every moment (and allow them to savor every moment at camp). It goes by so quickly; this vacation and rest from diabetes, and you need every bit of it.

This I learned quickly. The first year I dropped my daughter off at camp I hung around for hours, tripled checked every single thing and briefly considered just staying there, hiding behind a tree and popping out every few hours to whisper “Are you low?” The second year? I slowed down the car as we approached, shoved her out the door and peeled out. Okay: I’m kidding. But I did learn to shift quickly from focusing on her and her diabetes to embracing that “Me List.”

We grew up a better family for it. Of this, I am quite sure.

Moira McCarthy
Moira McCarthy

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.

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Lora Heiden
Lora Heiden
10 years ago

I wish there was a diabetes camp near us. I think my son would benefit from being somewhere with a group of people all going thought the same thing as he is. There is a day camp but its for younger kids only like 12 or 13 and under and he is 15. Also the ones I have found that are a bit of a drive but doable are extremely expensive. Any suggestions please let me know. Thanks

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