Q: I'm back at work full time, and just getting my child to school every day feels like a major accomplishment. Making sure all his type 1 needs are being met? That's making me one frazzled mama. How can I create a positive work-life balance?
A: You're wiped out after a long day at the office and all you want to do is crawl into bed, but instead you're up late monitoring your child's too-low or too-high blood sugar numbers. Finally, just as you put your head on the pillow to go to sleep—poof—it's time to get up and do it all over again. Sound familiar? An untold number of parents of type 1 children have been right where you are now, so please believe this: with a little creativity—and persistence—it does get easier.
Start with open communication with your boss and coworkers. It's a good idea to feel out how much your boss already knows about type 1 diabetes. With so much media attention paid to type 2 diabetes these days, don't be surprised to find that your employer has been thinking something along the lines of, "Why doesn't she just have her child get more exercise?" One useful way of explaining it is to say, "This isn't the diabetes you read about all the time, which can be managed by changing your diet. This is what's called 'type 1 diabetes,' where the child needs multiple insulin shots a day to manage his blood sugar. It's a life or death disease." This might be a bit melodramatic and is obviously an oversimplification, but it should get the message across that your child's situation is more serious than your employer may have believed. If this isn't enough, though, have your pediatric endocrinologist send in a note to officially document your child's health needs.
Even if your child generally has excellent blood sugar control, you know it's inevitable that there will be times when he does not. Since you just returned to work, you need to be upfront with your employer that the need to leave early or come in late when blood sugar fluctuations and other diabetes-related issues crop up is a non-negotiable part of parenting a child with diabetes. Be proactive, though, and help your supervisor come up with contingency plans for the times you need to attend to your child (e.g., finding a coworker willing to cover for you, finishing the work at home, coming in early to make up missed time).
Next, you need backup, especially when your child is newly diagnosed. Your partner, your day care provider, a grandparent or a trusted friend—people close to you and your child who know how to care for your child's type 1 are invaluable members of your support network. Let them help you. If you have a big presentation at work this week, make sure your husband knows that it's his turn to be on call should your child's blood sugar suddenly fluctuate. Need to make up for missed time at work? It's okay to take your day care provider up on that offer to keep your son for an extra hour. Got a grandma who likes to cook? Let her fill the freezer with healthy family favorites.
If you're a single parent or your social circle is just too small to offer much support, contact your local chapters of the JDRF and the American Diabetes Association. From parent support groups to lists of babysitters trained in type 1 care, these organizations offer a wealth of resources and encouragement for working moms and dads.
Finally, you need to make time for yourself. Yes, of course, this is easier said than done. But using your time management skills to carve out as little as 45 minutes a day to exercise, meditate, surf the diabetes support message boards, cook a healthy meal, or just take a nap is not being selfish. In fact, self-care may be exactly what you need in order to keep your career-family balancing act on steady footing.
--—Elizabeth Platt is the mom of a 5-year-old with type 1 diabetes and coauthor of a new book for parents of children with diabetes.
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.