Finding a balance between your teen with diabetes’ need for independence and a parent’s concern from their health can be a huge challenge. As parents, we have worked for years to maintain good control and teens are often more interested in being teens than teens with diabetes.
In our case, my son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was just a toddler. That presented its own challenges, but diabetes was mine to deal with 24/7. I had to count all of the carbohydrates for his meals, try to tell him when to eat, inject him, and lance his little fingers multiple times during the day.
We started out with small tasks
By the age of four, my son reached his first diabetes milestone. He was able to lance his own finger and apply the blood to a test strip. The goal, of course, was for him one day to take over his own diabetes care. Mom won’t always be there and frankly, there are many times when he really does not want Mom to be there!
Allowing our children with diabetes to have more freedom and gently (or not so gently) pushing them to care more for themselves has many repercussions. It’s great for them to be able to “do it” without a parent hovering over them. It fosters a sense of independence. While they are growing and living at home, it is also the perfect time for them to make mistakes. Parents are nearby to help fix the errors and provide some guidance. This transition can also make some parents, like me, feel guilty.
Feeling guilty as our teens carry more of the diabetes burden
Moving from dealing with diabetes 24/7 to having someone else carry the glucometer, bring the glucose, check and bolus can lead to times of panic. For example, we have gone on quad rides where I would feel a panic attack. I wouldn’t be carrying glucose. I would wonder if my son had any. Again, I would berate myself for forgetting to check!
Our children are quietly learning, however. In our case, my son always has some form of glucose in his jacket. The guilt would then pile on a little heavier. It would hit me that it was okay for me to forget to bring a snack but my son can’t.
There will be a battle of wills over proper care routines
After many years of fights about not checking his blood glucose enough, would I find myself avoiding looking at my son’s glucometer. Someone once suggested that I never look at his glucometer. That doesn’t work when dealing with teens with diabetes. You have to find a balance.
Our children still needed help in making basal/bolus changes. Downloading data from an insulin pump, CGM or glucometer, and analyzing trends together can help them to learn this skill. This task presents challenges for parents, however.
In our case, when I would review his readings, I would see that my son wasn’t checking his blood glucose levels as often as I would have liked him to. My first reaction would be to get mad at him. Soon I would begin to think that it was my fault that the checks weren’t being done. As the parent, I was not on top of things as I should have been. I was not the guide that I was supposed to be. The reality was that the need for my teen with diabetes to have independence and my need to see him have optimal control was a real challenge.
Be kind to yourself
As parents, we can be great at beating ourselves up like that. It is important however to also remember that while we can provide our children with diabetes with a glucometer, but we can’t guarantee that they will use it when we want them to. We could guarantee that tasks were done when they were small because we did them. As they grow and become independent, that ability disappears.
Even when I would remind my son to check his blood sugar readings, he would sometimes just nod, mumble and not bother to get a reading. I had to remember to specifically ask what the reading was to ensure that the task was done.
I often felt like a bad mother. I had to remind myself that my son had to learn. This was his disease. I may have given him the body by giving birth to him but it was now his to protect. I could only do so much.
How to balance a teen with diabetes’ need for independence
Its a difficult balance–trying to figure out how much to let go and how much to hold on. This is not something minor. This is a life-threatening disease with real implications. An ignored failed site can very quickly lead to DKA. Low blood glucose levels that are not rechecked and monitored can lead to seizures.
As a parent, our job is to protect our children. It is also our job to allow them to grow and learn. It’s a difficult balance. We fail at times but we also get it right. Our children surprise us when they do what we have shown us.
It is important to keep the lines of communication open so that they are able to ask for your help when they need it. Other than that, we must simply pray that they will get it and live happy, healthy lives.
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