Diabetes is hard on the person who has it. But it also affects your children and the rest of your family. How can we make living with diabetes easier — even positive — for ourselves and our loved ones?
Once again, I ask you to help me out — you haven’t failed me yet — because I’m speaking on diabetes and families this September in Denver. What problems does diabetes cause in a family? Several possibilities:
• The person with diabetes may want to make dietary changes that other family members resent: “What happened to the cookies?”
• Other family members may feel fear for your health and perhaps also for their own.
• The time, expense, and effort needed to manage diabetes may leave you less attention to give your family.
• Family, and especially children, may wish for a “more normal” family. Most kids hate to be “different.”
• Changes in your sexuality and energy levels can be tough on partners.
• Family members may try to take control of your diabetes management.
• The person with diabetes may get down on themselves for being unwell. Family members may feel bad about not doing more to help.
Are there other issues I haven’t mentioned?
What strategies have you used to make things better? When it comes to food, we know that a healthy diabetes diet is good for people without diabetes, too. We also know that children of people with Type 2 have a higher risk for developing it themselves. If we can get kids interested in being healthy while they’re young, they will likely be healthier later on. So we can tell them that. But will that help them get with the program?
Fearing for you can create a lot of worry for relatives. Fearing your potential complications makes it harder to plan for the future. If you’re struggling, it may cause them sadness. On the other hand, if you are managing well, that might give them confidence and inspire them in handling their own problems.
From my work with chronic illness, I would think that honest communication is key. How much does your family know about diabetes? You can provide or steer them toward as much diabetes information as they want to know. They may or may not be interested, though. It helps to make it easy and nonthreatening for them to find out about it, but how do you do that?
Other family members may resent the time and attention you give to diabetes. Maybe you used to visit or watch TV with them after dinner, but now you need that time for a long walk. How do you make that OK, or even a positive thing for them?
Certainly if there have been sexuality changes, you and your partner need to talk about them.
Then there’s the way they treat you. If a spouse or child gets into diabetes policing, how do you get them to back off? Family members asking “Should you be eating that?” all the time, or “Have you checked your blood sugar?” any time you get annoyed about something won’t help you monitor more effectively.
It’s always better to keep you family clued in about how you’re doing, and to ask them how they’re doing. This probably doesn’t need to be a big project. You don’t need to do it every week. But checking in with each other can help everyone cope.
Are there ways they could help you more, or things you could do that would make them feel better? It might be worth thinking about those issues and letting them know.
I also wonder, do your children motivate you to take care of yourself more? People often say they want to live to play with their grandchildren or see their kids grow up or something.
So how has your diabetes affected your family, for good or bad? Thanks in advance for letting us know.