There’s a scene toward the end of the movie Good Will Hunting that sticks with me. Will is with his therapist. They’ve spent months dancing around both their issues, slowly opening up to one another and sharing insights. Will has progressed, and learned to understand how his bad luck in life has impacted him and how to move forward despite it. But there’s one thing he has yet to do, and the therapist isn’t going to let go until it happens.
“It’s not your fault,” the therapist, played to Oscar standards by the late, great Robin Williams says. Will looks away. The therapist grabs him by his shoulders and forces him to look in his eyes. “It’s not your fault,” he says again. Will tries to deflect. Over and over he keeps repeating it until, finally, Will looks him in the eye, nods, and breaks down in tears, realizing the deep truth of those four simple words.
It’s a heartbreaking, beautiful, and hopeful scene. I was thinking today, as I read up on some conversations in the diabetes world: it’s one we diabetes parents could use. Because truly, for so many of us, from the moment those words, “Your child has Type 1 diabetes” hit our ears, we are all about the blame.
It starts out with the obvious: What did I do wrong? Should I have noticed? Could I have avoided this? And of course: Was it my genes? My partner’s? I remember when a neighbor had a child diagnosed a few years after us. I went down to visit and the mom told me the dad was beside himself: she had no history of Type 1 in her family. He had been adopted and had no knowledge of his family history so, she said, “He knows it’s his fault. And he cannot move past that.”
I didn’t hold her and repeat over and over “It’s not your fault,” but I did point out that both my husband and I knew our medical history and neither of us had Type 1 in it. She, like Will, burst into tears realizing it was not her spouse’s fault either.
As the years go on, D-parents face choices. To send our child to diabetes camp or not. To pump or not. To allow them freedom, at what age (or not?). Time after time after time, we face choices that most parents make, but with umpteen more levels to maneuver than those who aren’t managing a chronic illness on top of life’s ordinary challenges. And sometimes, we are wrong.
Good, strong, smart, supported parents struggle in this world. We listen to our doctors, but sometimes get swayed by the internet that we are doing diabetes wrong. We count the carbs and sometimes we’re way off. We feel guilty about the highs and lows that make our child feel bad. But no matter how strict we are about diet, dosing insulin isn’t an exact science. And sometimes glucose meters are off. It’s not our fault.
Sometimes as teens, or even as young adults, our children rebel. Sometimes they hate not just diabetes, but us, too. It’s terrifying to give them the freedom they crave, and sometimes we hold them back, and in hindsight learn it was a mistake. But you know what? Diabetes is scary, and it’s not our fault.
And then there are the people who tell us that diabetes actually IS our fault. They scream about vaccinations we shouldn’t have given. They preach about things we’ve done or should or shouldn’t be doing. But it’s unwarranted. The cause of Type 1 diabetes is still a mystery, and there is no cure. It would be easier in many ways if we had something to blame.
We cannot fall into the trap of blaming ourselves. But if and when we do? Try to think of all the good things you do to care for your child, and how much effort goes into daily life. D-parents and children with diabetes have no choice but to be strong and resilient. It’s a difficult situation, and it’s nobody’s fault.