Q: My ex-husband and I share custody of our recently diagnosed son. We don't get along, and this is making an already stressful situation that much more difficult. With so much anger and mistrust between us, how can we rally to care for our son?
A: Things may be tense between you and your ex right now, but it's the well-being of your son and his ability to feel safe and cared for that are the real priorities here. What I like to tell divorced parents, especially in cases where feelings of hostility and mistrust still remain, is this: You don't have to be a team. Because you are maintaining two separate households for your child, you -- and your ex-husband -- must each rise to the challenge of being "the expert" when it comes to your son's type 1 diabetes care.
What does this mean in practical terms? You should attend medical appointments together to make sure you are both present when necessary information about your son's health is shared. It also means not assuming that your ex-husband won't be able to take good care of your son when he has custody; it's not a competition. But if, before the divorce, you shouldered most of the responsibility for managing your child's type 1 diabetes, it is completely reasonable to expect your ex-husband to receive refresher training in how to check blood sugar, count carbs, and correctly dose insulin. Some parents who plan to share custody even have diabetes educator training written into their divorce decrees!
As your ex gets up to speed, you might be tempted to point out that his lack of type 1 diabetes knowledge is somehow proof that he never cared about you or your son. Try not to think the worst. I liken the situation to driving together in a car to a new location. If you are the driver, you must stay focused on the road in order not to get lost. But the passenger doesn't always need to pay such close attention and, as a result, might not be able to tell you every turn you took along the way. It doesn't mean the passenger wasn't on the same trip and didn't want to reach the same destination. In terms of managing your son's type 1 diabetes, it is simply time for your former spouse to start driving his own car.
If things remain bleak between the two of you, don't hesitate to get counseling. The family therapist or psychologist assigned to your diabetes care team is a good professional to reach out to, but some parents may prefer going back to a mediator. Just like working out an agreement for physical custody, a mediator can assist you in establishing expectations that you both feel comfortable with when caring for your son.
--Wendy Satin Rapaport, L.C.S.W., Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and adjunct professor of medicine at the Diabetes Research Institute, University of Miami.
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.
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