Q: My grandson was just diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. How do I go about supporting my daughter and her family without overwhelming them or getting in the way?
A: As a grandparent, you are in a unique position in this situation. While parents are typically very focused on the needs of their newly diagnosed child, grandparents have a twin focus: both their grandchild and his or her parents. Because of this dual perspective, grandparents can -- and frequently do -- play a critical role in supporting the entire family during this often overwhelming time.
Every parent's needs are different, but when trying to help, first and foremost, be there to listen to your daughter. Parents are typically dealing with a lot of uncertainty when they're told their child has type 1; on top of this, they're trying to get a handle on the day-to-day of managing it. Having someone just to share feelings and experiences with can be very helpful.
There is so much to learn about diabetes, especially in the beginning. If you live nearby, it may be helpful to go along on visits to the diabetes clinic (if your daughter and her spouse agree, of course). Having another set of ears and eyes learning about diabetes never hurts, and that knowledge is essential should the opportunity arise for you to care for your grandson.
If you don't live nearby, ask your daughter what she's learning at visits or ask her for more information about managing diabetes. Doing so gives her a chance to reinforce what she's learned, which in turn, may help build up her confidence -- as well as your own.
Diabetes does not change who your grandchild is, nor should it change his relationship with you. While there are no guarantees in life, I believe that I am living proof that it is possible to live well with diabetes (16 happy, healthy years, and counting). For some people, myself included, having diabetes has helped me appreciate the people in my life whom I'm close to that much more.
In your role of grandma or grandpa, be there to listen to your grandson -- and any brothers or sisters he may have; they likely need support just as much as their brother with diabetes does. The kind of support that's needed the most may surprise you. Being there to pick the grandkids up from school, take them to lessons, or tuck them in at night can be a powerful way to show children--and that means your daughter as well as your grandson--that life, even with diabetes, can go on as normal.
--Jen Block, M.S.N., R.N., C.D.E., N.P., is a research nurse and certified diabetes educator in the department of pediatric endocrinology at Stanford University in California.
How Other Parents Deal
"We live far away from my parents, so my mom ended up coming out a few weeks after our son's diagnosis. Our very own 'Super Grandma' had taken it upon herself to get diabetes training at her local hospital before her visit and was ready to help as soon as she stepped off the plane. What a blessing!"
--Tamara, mom of Dwight, 6
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.