I’m gaining diabetes chops

I feel weird being “proud” of being good at diabetes. I mean, I’m not super proud to have it in the family–I’m not ashamed, either, it’s just a thing for me to deal with,like gray hair–but it’s a special combination of being both a monotonous, frustrating grind and super scary.

It’s been a while since I’ve reflected on all of this in writing, so I thought I’d try to make a list of the things that I’ve learned or am trying to do.

  • Bad sugar is not (always) his fault. I come from a family that expects kids to take responsibility for themselves and my first instinct is to be angry at bad sugar. That’s not super helpful and it’s not always his fault. I don’t always estimate sugar correctly, and I would be the kind of person who forgot a shot when sweets are passed around at school. Being angry doesn’t help. At worst, it probably makes him not want to talk about his sugar.
  • I try to connect his blood sugar to immediate things. This is hard for me because he’s an eleven year-old boy and not super aware of his feelings, anyway. Asking him to sense if he feels different with his sugar high or low–when it’s not an emergency–hasn’t been super helpful. However, I do point out that he had a rough day–and that’s the kind of thing he knows–and I say his sugar was high all day. If I’m doing this correctly, I’m not rubbing his nose in it, but just saying “one of the strategies you have to avoid bad days is managing your sugar.”
  • I try to avoid telling him to take shots. Partly, this is because I want him to learn to get shots on his own. What I’ve been doing for the last weeks is noticing that his sugar is high and saying “hey, this is a great time to do a workout video.” I try to not make it a punishment, but instead to say “then you won’t have to eat any carbs to do a video later, and we want to stay active during the lockdown.” My goal is not to present the workout as a punishment, but to have him notice that my feeling a need to jump into his sugar management is less fun than him managing it himself. (And, to be fair, I also run and do the videos that I ask the kids to do, and he would be doing videos anyway.)
  • I’m getting older and wiser. This doesn’t really belong on the list. I don’t do anything, but I’m gaining experience. I can give a shot before going to bed and don’t feel the need to set an alarm to make sure it wasn’t too much. I understand diabetes–at least, his diabetes–enough to take an active role in the “why didn’t his sugar do what we expected?” conversations, and that makes me feel more competent as a dad.

Christmas is a rough time to have diabetes and, to a lesser extent, rough for the people trying to set up a nice Christmas without sending the kids on a diabetes roller coaster.

But, winding the year down, I feel better about my role in the whole thing.

Blood sugar and behavior

I might not be the smartest person you’ll ever meet, but, given enough time, I can pick up on a pattern. The problem is, when our eleven year-old, diabetic son is moody and aggressive, it’s easy to think he’s heading towards puberty… because he is.

However, sometimes, he’s our little boy again and wants to hold my hand on walks. And I really enjoy those times.

High blood sugar days

It’s become clear that, with high blood sugar, our son is in the middle of his rebellious teenage years: he’s cruel to his siblings, he uses a tone with his mother that shouldn’t be tolerated, and he’s accused me of not loving him. Recently, he even asked what boarding school cost. (When I asked why he wanted to live at a place that he hated, he just rolled his eyes.)

We’ve had several of those days, and, sometimes, several in a row. Especially when he’s already in a mood, he’s not motivated to get his sugar down.

Is autonomy the problem?

Sometimes, if his sugar isn’t super high, we’ll let him deal with it. His mom and I can both see his current blood sugar on our phones, so we have an idea. But, beyond not letting him eat if it’s not where it should be, we let him do his own thing.

The thing is, that tended towards a downward spiral: he’s primed to be angry at us and then we don’t let him eat. Then, when his sugar is down far enough to eat, eating sends it back up before it comes back down again.

By the time it’s down, either the anger has become the day’s defining characteristic or he’s in bed.


Some other ideas

As I keep saying to him, I want him to be the kind of adult who can move away from home and be independent, so it seems ridiculous that I should start monitoring his blood sugar for him. After all, what will he learn from that?

But, as I’ve written, all of my incentives are to keep an eye on it, in the name of harmony at home.

So, I’ve adopted a pair of strategies. First, I point out the correlation to him. Often. I’ll tell him that I had a good day with him, and that he seemed to have a great day, and I’ll point out that his sugar was a factor. Having a good day seems like more of a motivation than some abstract long-term damage.

And, when we’re having a rough day, I’ll point that out. I try to do this in a way that says I’m not blaming him for it being high, but… I’d be the last to say I’m perfect at dealing with him in that state.

The other strategy I’ve only been able to get out once or twice has been fitness instead of insulin. Especially in the lockdown, I’ve been the family’s activity ambassador, putting on mandatory exercise videos or getting out for walks. The family has even started a couch-to-5k program that’s showing results.

With him, when I notice his sugar is high, I’ve said that it’s a good time for he and I to get out for a running workout, since he won’t have to actively load sugar. Or, another time, I just said “you’re sugar is pretty high. This is a good chance to get the rowing machine out and row it down to six.” (We measure sugar in mmol/l.)

Needless to say, most people aren’t living in a state of wanting to be surprised by a workout and it’s definitely negative reinforcement, but I try to not make it into a punishment. “It’ll give us a chance to check that off our list,” I say, or, “you told me you want to do a backflip. Remember the guy in the video who said the first thing to do is to get your body stronger? We can do that now.”

So, I try to point out that high blood sugar is an opportunity to do some unplanned fitness (and, to be fair, I spend the day doing random sets of pushups or wall stands and am always ready to join a kid in a workout video) and hope that he’ll decide to become aggressive about monitoring his own sugar, if only in the interest of fending off my fitness.

It’s an ongoing experiment

Whenever I think I’m in a parenting groove that works, some kid decides to grow in a way that throws me for a loop. I’d love to hear about how other parents are managing the tension between seeing our own reasons to keep blood sugar levels in line and wanting the kids to develop their own motivations.

And, most of all, finding ways to avoid making it seem like he’s being punished for having diabetes.