Q: My wife feels a lot of guilt and pain as a result of our daughter's diagnosis and has started giving in to her every wish to make her happy. It's getting out of control. How can we get things back to normal?
A: This is often a very difficult truth for parents of a newly diagnosed child to accept, but the goal of treating type 1 diabetes is not happiness. Rather, it's making sure your child is equipped with the tools she needs to lead an independent, productive life -- in which she pursues her own happiness. While wanting to indulge your daughter's every whim is certainly understandable (what parent doesn't want to "make it all better"?), it may backfire. Children who receive a great deal of special treatment or gifts solely because of their health issues may actually end up worried that something is terribly wrong and that their parents are withholding information from them -- the opposite of what your wife intends.
A good way to start getting things back to "normal" is to touch base with the social worker or child psychologist assigned to your daughter's diabetes care team. When a child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, it's typical for parents to experience a mix of anxiety and guilt over both the diagnosis of the illness and the challenges their child will now face in life. A certain amount of sadness or longing for the past is expected, but if negative emotions persist, it's time to get help. Your therapist can work with your child, and with you and your wife, to help each of you process these complex emotions. We tell parents that before they can move on, it's important to first take time to acknowledge their shock.
Next, come up with a definition of what normal means for your family. What are your guiding philosophies and values? For example, is it important for you to spend time outdoors together, go out for pizza every Friday night, and make sure everyone's in bed before 9 p.m. on school nights? Maintaining a consistent family routine can become a great source of comfort. Just when you feel like your world has been turned upside down, it's amazing how doing something normal like reminding your daughter again that it's time for bed can feel great -- for both of you.
--Drs. Frank and Laurie Zelinger, Ph.D., are practicing child psychologists in Cedarhurst, N.Y., providing counseling to both kids and parents.
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.