Self-care is Never Selfish for Parents of Kids with Diabetes
Being a parent can be one of the most rewarding—and most tiring jobs a person does. Add a child with type 1 diabetes to the mix, and all bets are off! On top of busy days, to-do lists, laundry, errands, homework, after-school activities, social events, carpools and your own work, being a parent* of a person with a complex, relentless, chronic medical condition is exhausting!
In order to handle of all of this and be ready for any challenge that your child’s diabetes can throw at you, parents have to be at their best! But who takes cares of you? This is one of the most complicated questions and one of the most ignored. The reality is, if you are completely overwhelmed with all that is on your plate, most people are not able to consistently keep up with taking care of child(ren), family, other responsibilities—and oh yeah, diabetes!—with a positive, calm approach. So, our mantra is: “Self-care is NOT selfish. Ever.” Go on, say it with us!
Let’s explore some ways to lighten your load and make time for things that rejuvenate you so that you can be your best for your family:
Ask for help!
Asking for help is tough. But why? We all could use a hand every now and then, and often there is someone who wants to support you but doesn’t know how. The key is recognizing when you need back up and what would be most helpful, and asking for it in a way that works for you.
- Make a to-do list – (actually write it down!) of all of your errands, the week’s projects, planned activities, purchases you need to make and diabetes-related tasks that need to get done. Try to break it into smaller, more manageable steps.
- Delegate where you can! – Start by picking one of the small steps and think about who can help with it? Ask them! Be specific about what you need in a way that they understand exactly how this will benefit you. For example, let’s say tomorrow’s list includes taking your 3-year-old daughter with diabetes to the endocrinologist, helping your 7-year-old son with a project for Scouts, walking the dog, running errands (grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions and dry cleaning) and making dinner—all after you leave work early to make the doctor’s appointment. Your neighbor’s son is also in Scouts, so she might be a good person to ask—try asking if the boys can do their Scout project at the neighbor’s house this week because of the medical appointment. You can return the favor next time.
- Now, try again! – Mix and match another item off your list and another person who cares about you, and let them know how much you’d appreciate a hand. (Perhaps your mother-in-law has been wanting to spend time with your kids, so she might be another good person to ask.)
Now that your load is a bit lighter and you have some items checked off of your to do list—use this extra time to take care of yourself!
Take care of you!
Now this is the fun part—think about what it is that you enjoy, what energizes you, what relaxes you. Come up with a list of self-care activities that appeal to you. Here are some examples to help you get started:
- hobbies you enjoy
- spending time with friends
- exercising or doing other physical activities that you love
- eating well
- getting enough sleep
And make a plan to do them! Even if it feels a little uncomfortable focusing so much on yourself at first, remember spending time on yourself to refresh your mind and body will allow you more energy to care for others.
Now is the time to make these small changes that have the possibility of making huge benefits for you as you juggle your way through each day with all of the ups and downs that your child’s diabetes can bring. Now go enjoy some time for yourself!!
* Hey, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and other caregivers—this all applies to you, too!
This work is funded by NIH R01DK102561
Marisa E. Hilliard, PhD, is a pediatric psychologist and behavioral scientist whose work focuses on clinical care and research with young people with type 1 diabetes and their families. Her passion is promoting resilience, and her research focuses on how youth and families overcome the challenges of diabetes to maintain good quality of life, adhere to treatment recommendations, and have optimal diabetes control. She is especially interested in transitional times in diabetes management, such as adjusting to life with a new diabetes diagnosis, how family diabetes management shifts across childhood and adolescence, and how teenagers prepare to manage their diabetes as young adults. Dr. Hilliard is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, in the Psychology Section of Texas Children‘s Hospital in Houston, Texas.
Wendy Levy, LCSW, is a clinical social worker with over a decade of experience working with young people with type 1 diabetes and their families. She is a project manager for several research studies in the Pediatric Psychology Section of Baylor College of Medicine at Texas Children’s Hospital. Wendy has done both clinical work and research studies focused on the parent child relationship, improving quality of life, preventing burnout and adjustment to a new diabetes diagnosis. Her passion is to enhance the family’s ability to work together in order to overcome any challenges of living with diabetes and optimize diabetes control.
Read Caregiver Burnout by Mark Heyman, CDE, PhD.