Out of Sight Out of Mind? Sending Your Child With Diabetes to College

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It was August of 2010 and I was days away from dropping my daughter with diabetes off at a college 500 miles away. I was putting up a good front but, truth be known: I was terrified.

What if she didn’t know how to manage diabetes without me around? What if no one cared about all the things she had to do to stay alive? What if she made poor choices? I called a good friend of mine who’d sent her daughter off to college three years prior and asked her (I might have beseeched her) for advice.

“Listen to me, Moira,” said Kassy, mom of Kady Helme, now a very well-known national diabetes advocate. “What I’m going to say is absolutely the truth and the way to get through this.”

I waited for Kassy to say something like “Install a doorbell over her dorm bed that rings directly to you no matter where you are. Call the local police and hire a guard for outside her dorm door and all classroom doors. And for goodness sake… do NOT let her go out at night!”

But what she said was this:

“Out of sight, out of mind. As it should be and needs to be.”

HUH?

Kassy must, I thought, have lost her mind. But then I started to think about it. Her daughter was thriving in college, and almost done. They’d had no crisis to speak of, and no horrifying moments. I knew from Facebook posts her daughter was enjoying all that college had to offer. Maybe she was on to something.

So while it was impossible for me to adopt that advice without flinching, as I lived through that first day, first week, and then first year of college, I began to see the beauty – and truth – in what my friend Kassy had to say.

Because here is the thing: college is kind of a dress rehearsal for real life. My goal was – and always had been – for my child with diabetes to grow up and live an exciting, empowering, fun and fruitful independent life, just like my child without diabetes. College should be a time when I let that begin to happen. Which could and should mean – to an appropriate point: out of sight, out of mind.

Today, years after my daughter graduated from college, (in four years! With honors! And now in a great career), I’m thankful I found a way to heed that sage advice. And to parents dropping their kids with diabetes off at college in the coming weeks, I suggest the same.

So, how do you do it? How do you let go? By supporting them appropriately, according to how they ask to be supported. Remember that all people with diabetes are unique. Not every child fits the same profile. And college preparation is a time for  parents to let the kids decide what profile they fit, not one their parents may have passively (and with the best intentions) assigned them.

So what does “out of sight, out of mind” mean? It does not mean dropping them off with just the shirts on their backs. Look, when I moved my daughter into college and we set up her plastic drawers with her diabetes supplies and snacks for lows, she looked at it all and said “This is great, Mom. If every person with type 1 in the greater DC area should converge in my room and all need something at the same time, we’re covered!” To which I said, ‘Exactly!” I actually kept my daughter in low supplies and medical supplies all four years of college. I handled prescriptions and insurance into her first year of work at her request. She does it on her own now which frees up about 44566 million hours a week for me. She needed me to do that; she told me so and asked me to. I was able and willing. It was, however, up to her to bring things with her to classes, parties and outings. No more nagging from me. It only took a few times of forgetting for her to realize she had to remember.

For us, it also meant – my daughter’s choice – me no longer knowing her blood glucose readings. This is a really hard habit to break. I realized early on that knowing her blood sugars, at this point, was more an addiction of mine than a need of hers. Yes, she did and still does have times she shares with me and asks me for input (I’m in the middle of an actual DexCom Share period with her now. She asked, I’m willing.) In the dorms, it was time for her to own her blood sugars and for me to let them go. I promise you that every time she called me I was dying to ask. It was difficult – but with the blessing of her endo and her insistence – right.

In this time of shared data, this is going to be even harder for parents who are used to seeing all the swings and ups and downs and trends. You’ve been their back up, hero, and support. Now, if it is what your child desires and their medical team backs them, your heroic effort needs to be focused on letting that go. It’s hard! We should have some kind of 12-step program, for real.

College also meant me accepting that I wasn’t always going to be able to hop in a car and fix things. That if something went wrong – and she did have one ER visit – she was going to have to deal with it without me there. You know what? It was the best thing that could happen, for her and for me. For all her life (and my other daughter’s life) I will always be there when they need me, no matter how costly the flight. But by letting my daughter see that she could do it on her own, I gave her the most wonderful gift: confidence in her ability to be independent. Now that’s a college course worth credits.

 

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