I was driving along in the car with my daughter with diabetes when I remembered a question some parents of teens with diabetes had asked me to ask her.
What the best tool a parent can use to help their teen with diabetes?
They’d wondered if it was a CGM. Or a communication system that would send parents blood glucose results. Or texting. I wondered too.
Lauren thought about it for a while, and then said this:
“The best tool? It’s compassion, Mom. Compassion. There is nothing you – or anyone else – can say to us or threaten us with or make us feel scared about that we’ve not already told ourselves. We know the deal. And we know we should be doing better. Compassion is what we need – that’s the best tool a parent can use.”
Well: wow. I thought about it for a while and realized she had a point.
I can remember in her rough years getting pretty frustrated. (Okay. I can remember wanting to pull all my hair out, run up and down the street screaming on the top of my lungs “I’m mad as hell and I don’t want to take it anymore!” and wanting to just shake some sense into her. But we’ll go with “frustrated” to save on space).
It’s frightening for an educated, caring parent to see their child’s blood sugars hover just above “this is an issue.” And the “solution,” on the face of it, just seems so simple.
Check your blood sugar. Take some insulin. Done.
But life with diabetes – particularly for a teen (but really, for all!) – just isn’t that simple. There’s the monotony of it all. Check, dose, count, dose, check, dose, count, dose again, dose again, check again, check again, dose and again. Rinse and repeat. And repeat. It must be grating; the endlessness of it all; the way you never, ever, ever get to “There. It’s all set.” And when you take into account they could very well do everything “right” and still have a very “wrong” day …. You have to get it. (and that’s just the technical part. What about the emotional toil?) It has to be so beyond daunting.
I would imagine it is much like I described life as the mom of a toddler, back when I was a parenting magazine writer. “It’s like every day you get up and there is this giant pile of blocks for you to stack. One by one, so carefully, you stack them; each block one at a time. You cannot really look away from it for too long – if you do, something (or someone) might sidle up against it and eek it over. By the end of the day, you are just about ready to place that final block on the top. And then, it crashes to the ground, ready for you to wake up and begin stacking again. And again.”
I bet it’s like that.
And then there’s the fear many have. Commercials and old studies and people they might see in the waiting room of the clinic with complications. It’s been drilled into them, and it’s not necessarily true. But it’s not totally out of the realm of maybe …. Is it? That must be hard to carry around in your subconscious. Teens don’t care about their future for the most part. But teens with diabetes are choked with scary (and again, mostly untrue) negative information about their future.
So yeah, I can see where a little compassion would go a long way. And yet, this is often the last suggestion I hear folks give parents of teens. On boards recently, I’ve seen parents suggest showing teens photos of complications (really? No. I mean: REALLY?), punishing them, taking away things and events they love, grounding them and more. They want to shock their teen into compliance. They hope to “deny” their teen into facing their diabetes more directly. Take away the prom and then she’ll check. So they think.
To that, my daughter would say, “pull out your compassion instead.”
Compassion does not mean you’re looking the other way. Compassion does not mean you don’t have concerns. Compassion does not mean you don’t see that your child needs some extra help to deal. It simply means that before ANY of that, above any item on any list for your child’s needs you just plain care about and love your child. And you feel for them. And you know they are good souls. Compassion.
It makes sense. I remember when I worked as an editor of 23 newspapers. Once a week (or sometimes more often), I used to go down from my pretty office and eat lunch in the semi-grungy pressroom with the composition and press folks. I had a boss who felt that was a bad move; giving them the chance to see me as “one of them” might make me seem weaker. But for me, it made sense. I wanted those folks who had to do the most monotonous, dirty, sometimes infuriating and yet absolutely vital work to see that I knew what they were up against. I wanted them to know that when I asked them to dig deeper, I knew I what I was asking of them. And I wanted them to know that I cared. Compassion. And it worked. When I asked them to bleed for the sake of deadlines, they did. Because they knew I cared and I was on their team.
Might a teen respond the same way? I think so. Because like Lauren said: they know what they are dealing with. They are beating themselves up already. They have oft (as was the case with Lauren, we discovered later) assumed “well, I’m already ruined. Why try any more?” Every day, sometimes every hour, they are reminding themselves that in the eyes of many, as they struggle with their daily care, they are failures. Imagine how that hurts to the core? Caring, and empathizing, might help all that.
So the next time you want to pull all your hair out, run up and down the street screaming on the top of your lungs “I’m mad as hell and I don’t want to take it anymore!” and just shake some sense into her/him: take a breath. Calm yourself, and then: try a little tenderness.
Compassion. I think my daughter might just be on to something. And it doesn’t even require a copay.