By the time diabetes upended our lives, our parental trio had been raising two daughters in two homes, for six years. We three are very different people. There’s me, mom—the artistic, empathetic, medically-intuitive, communicator; stepdad—the psych-degreed, level-headed, listening, quiet guy; and Dad—the sees-things-in-black-and-white, wicked-smart engineer who can fix most every single little (or big) broken thing you put in front of him, except for his daughter’s busted pancreas.
Our dynamics are anything but normal. By the time I met and married my girls’ dad, I had already been best friends with their now stepdad for half my life. We folded him into our daily lives and both girls entered the world with him as their “uncle.”
Through the pain of separation, we held firm to our belief that the best home was both homes; fairness, compromise, patience and respect were the focus in building a life that felt good. The girls’ dad and I took a very long, painful, time to separate and divorce, considering the girls at every turn. And, in that consideration, whether we liked it or not, a fair, shared-child parenting plan was born. We opted to do more than what our county of residence recommended, with the girls being with their dad every Tuesday night, plus every Friday night through late Sunday morning. This was, in part, due to my working at a Home Depot (the TOOLS!) for health insurance, his work schedule, and, my own life as a Daddy’s girl, who wanted the same for her daughters.
We ran on a consistent schedule, but once activities crept into their lives, so did flexibility. Fairness and compromise came easy because the girls were always first on the list. If they were sick, they stayed with mom, and dad would visit. Patience and respect took us longer to achieve, because patience and respect are way too much work. Patience and respect are traits of nice people. We had to remember how to be nice, even if nice wasn’t what we were getting in return. Someone had to set the example. We took turns doing that.
Stepdad was always nice. He was never in the middle, because none of us ever put him there. If he were, we’d be a straight line, instead what we were was a triangle. This grew into the analogy of the tripod, with each leg being important for a balanced picture.
Our “parental tripod,” created a near-balanced picture; a surprise to many who didn’t know us. But, if those three legs aren’t balanced, neither is the picture. With diabetes, our tripod’s longest leg is me; the one who’s gained the most knowledge and continues to learn and grow. The next longest is my husband; by my side for most every aspect of our diabetes life. And the least longest leg, my ex-husband; who doesn’t love our daughter the least, he just invests the least amount of time out in the world of diabetes. Our picture will never be balanced. And that’s okay.
At diagnosis, the work we had done was nothing compared to the work we were facing. It was painful, like experiencing the grief of a lost marriage all over again. And, when it came to the management of a condition that could threaten our daughter’s life, acknowledgment and acceptance of each other’s strengths and weaknesses was one of our biggest struggles. Let her be cared for by the person who mixes up the difference between “bolus” and “basal?” No way. NO WAY. For a moment I thought, “He isn’t going to get this and he’s going to kill her, and shouldn’t I be talking to a lawyer right now or something? Can’t she just live with me full time because I’m the one who is getting this Art of Diabetes thing? Maybe I just keep her until she’s old enough to, you know, understand it herself?” I’m not ashamed of writing this, because I’m sure at the same time he was thinking, “Uggh. There she goes again, thinking she’s so much smarter than I am.” The voice of reason bouncing around in my brain told me I was being a jerk. The voice of reason coming out of my husband’s face also told me I was being a jerk. So, I began to work on it, and an artist, engineer and would-be armchair psychiatrist walked into an endo’s office… together.
Whether or not we realized it at that time, the same emotions we felt in divorce came flooding back into our lives, because of this beast called diabetes. We hated, resented and feared it. And, in those early days of learning, we allowed those emotions to flood our foundation, spilling into the way we treated each other. It took us time to feel safe again, to believe in each other’s knowledge of managing diabetes overnight while the beast threatened to devour glucose faster than we could replenish it. Now, when I get upset over an issue-du-jour, I go back to the basics of what it means to be a nice person and a necessary, hard-working leg of our parental tripod.
I know I’m fortunate to know both of my guys have my back, and no matter how old our daughter gets, I can trust we’ll always be doing this hard work together, able to lean on each other for support as we need it, balanced picture or not.
Stay tuned for part two of Sharon’s post, where she’ll share her best co-parenting practices.