Being the parent of a child with type 1 diabetes can be stressful -- and, as a caregiver, it's sometimes hard to admit that you might need some care as well. Luckily, help is out there. Therapy, support groups, and even meditation can give you an outlet to express your emotions and become a refuge for you, making you a better mom or dad in the end.
"Good therapy allows people to manage reality better, especially when life gets hard," says Darcy Lockman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City. "When you work through the feelings that make difficult situations more stressful than they need to be, you're making your life easier. Not easy, but easier." A therapist can also help you cope with your feelings about having a child with a medical condition. "Whatever fantasies you had of parenthood probably didn't include finger sticks. The loss of those fantasies can be powerful. Like any loss, they need to be understood and then mourned."
Therapist Michelle Fiordaliso, MSW, agrees. "It's very important to realize the background conversations you have about your child's illness," she says. "Do you spend time wishing that they didn't have it? Do you blame yourself? Do you envy other parents? Do you feel self-pity? Are you overwhelmed?" Talking with a counselor or therapist can help bring the answers to these types of questions to the surface and in turn make them more manageable. "Once we admit our true feelings about our situation," says Fiordaliso, "they get smaller and less intimidating."
The Group Approach
Support groups are a great way to connect with other parents going through the same things you are. "In our society, we are not particularly comfortable talking about illness, and parents of kids with diabetes can end up feeling very alone," says Lockman. "Aside from offering practical advice, a support group can help you feel less isolated, less like a crazy person for feeling whatever you're feeling. And that's no small thing."
In support groups, feelings that you may have considered shameful get normalized, says Fiordaliso. You can also learn essential coping skills from others who've been there. "It saves you the time of having to reinvent the wheel," she explains.
Friends can also be a wonderful form of support. "Understanding friends who are able to listen to your difficulties can be helpful," Dr. Lockman says. "Anyone who doesn't respond to your concerns and frustrations with anxiety (which often comes out in the form of minimizing your upset feelings) can be part of a support group."
Meditation is another powerful tool to help reduce your stress levels. "It's a wonderful way to find greater centeredness, balance, resiliency and awareness," says Sharon Salzberg, cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass. However, not everyone is open to it right away. "If most of us were told, 'Here is this thing you can do for 20 minutes a day and it will really help your friend or your child,' we'd likely do it. But if we were told it would really help us, we often hesitate: 'I'm too busy, it would be selfish, I should use the time to get something done,'" she says. "But ultimately we have to help ourselves in order to keep helping others."
A quick way to get started is to focus on your breathing, says Salzberg. "If you sit just for five minutes to begin with and feel your breath going in and out, gently returning your attention to the breath -- without judgment -- whenever your attention wanders away, that sets the stage for bringing awareness of the breath into your life," she explains. "When you're stuck in traffic, waiting in line at the grocery store, or sitting anxiously in the doctor's waiting room, you can tune into your breath and return to yourself and the moment."
If any of this sounds silly or self-indulgent, consider these words of wisdom from Fiordaliso: "The same way that insulin is necessary for people with type 1 diabetes, taking care of yourself as a parent of a child with type 1 diabetes is equally necessary. Learning to view this as vital to the family's well-being rather than as a luxury can make a big difference."
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the "typical" experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.