Teen Tips: Learning from this D-Mom’s Mistakes

I read a lot of blogs that give great advice from their expert opinions and I love them. I learn so much. So I started thinking: What advice can I give? I went over and over it in my head and realized my “expert opinion” might need to come from another point of view: Learn from what I did wrong.

It’s not that I’m a bad mom – I’m not. Both my daughters (one with diabetes, one without) are well-adjusted and successful young women. But in the 14 years we’ve been on the diabetes highway, I’ve made my share of wrong turns. So what better way to help out and give advice then to share what I think I did wrong and how I’d do it differently if I could turn back time?

I’m going to focus on the teen years, since those are so difficult for so many, and since I seemed to have (so far) concentrated many of my mistakes to that time. So here goes: What I did wrong and how you can learn from it, D-Momma Style.

It's all about balance. Oh if only it was that simple

*Don’t trust your teen: I don’t mean this in a “be paranoid and watch them every moment” way. But, particularly if your child has had diabetes for a good long time (and been a so-called “model patient,” as mine was for so many years), it’s easy to fall into a place of just completely trusting them. For their sake: Do not do this. I did. And when the teen years and ways of doing things started to creep in, my amazing daughter with D even gave me a warning. One day, when I yelled out to her from another room asking her if she checked and what her number was (so I could diligently log it into the color-coded program I was using) she came in and said to me, “Mom. You shouldn’t always trust me with telling you this.” I actually laughed at her. A couple of months later she was in the ICU. She’d been lying about her numbers and her insulin doses. Had I taken her lead and “not trusted her,” she would probably not have been in the ICU. She never did have to go there again, and part of the reason was I did not completely trust her.

How do you do this without having them despise you? It comes down to this: if you actually watch your child check their blood sugar (and watch closely; teens are tricky!) and watch them put insulin into their body at least one time each day,  chances are they are not going to end up in the ICU. (I know. If your kid is younger you are thinking right now: are you nuts? I’m going to watch them every single time. But the reality is, if you want your child to live their life too, that is not always possible. This way, at least you know they are safe).

*Use your power.I’m thinking, of course, of driving. I was weak. While I got a “diabetes driving contract” and made my daughter sign it, I was too burned out to really use that incredible power. She’s my last child. I was tired of driving kids everywhere all the time. The lure of being free of that made me weak. Look, teens don’t care about down the road or what might happen to them in 10 years. They care about today. Maybe tonight. Perhaps Friday if there is a big party or event. But they don’t think beyond that. Driving is one thing they really, really care about. So if you set out rules ahead of time (like: you must check before driving, period and if you “forget” more than once you will not drive for a month) and stick to them, you’ll have in your hands a powerful tool to try to guide them to a responsible place. And what about bribery? In my experience, it did not work. Once they get what they want, you lose that power.

Say "Driving is a privilege," not "I'll buy you this if you check"

*Do something about your own burn out first: If your child has had diabetes for a while, there’s a good chance you might be burned out at the same time your teen is burned out. Be proactive with your own relationship with diabetes. See a counselor. Find a way to get some support. Even if you’ve kind of nudged your spouse or MIL out of this all these years, work at letting them in. because the combination of a burned out D Parent and a rebellious teen is trouble.

*Do not think you are alone or doing something wrong that others don’t do. It seemed like all I ever heard was every other teen with D was just fine, thank you. They didn’t mind checking and they really focused when their a1c “soared” up over 7.0. I felt like such a fool. Everyone else had it figured out. Clearly I was the worst mom out there. Then I finally asked our CDE about it. “Why,” I asked, “does every other family have no problem at this point?” She looked at my daughter and then me and said “Because most of them are lying to you. Trust me, I see them. This is a hard time for most families.” I think just knowing that from the start could have helped.

*Consider some treatment options: Sometimes I wonder if we had taken half of my daughter’s pump basals and had her take them as a Lantus shot if it would have helped some. I wish I had been more open to other treatment ideas during that time. I am a huge pump supporter but at the end of the day, so long as a teen is putting insulin into his or her body it really does not matter the method. Be open to ideas, even if they are not what you consider to be “ideal.”

*Set realistic goals: When my daughter was little it was perfectly reasonable for me to plan on her checking multiple times each school day and the rest of the day. But this is not always realistic with teens. Have your teen talk to his or her medical team to work out a plan that is reasonable and acceptable to them and him or her. It might be less than you want as a parent, but if their medical team can live with it, you should be able to as well. Sometimes I think if I had been more willing to accept less, my child might have done more in those years.

*Laugh. A sense of humor about it all can go a long way. I know from having a teen without D that they all lose their minds at times. I remember the first time my eldest daughter freaked out in a teen way. I thought to myself: My goodness. That whole Linda Blair thing was not actually fiction! They speak in tongues (even they don’t know what they are saying). Their heads sometimes spin all the way around. And there just ain’t no explainin’ it.

Maybe they just needed to increase her basal.

*Know that if you just stick with it and have some faith, it will work out. So long as you know they are safe in the immediate time, things will turn around. For my daughter (knock wood) it happened in college. She just finished her first year and she did an amazing job. Did she do all I wanted her to with checking and the like? No. But she had no emergencies. She lowered her a1c considerably. She did well in school and had fun and made a million friends. And her adult endo assured me that while his goal is to help her move toward tighter control in time, he has had many, many, many patients over the years who all had challenging teen years. The vast majority of them are fine, happy and chugging along even 40 years later. In other words, other than my really gray hair, things should be fine. My daughter is an amazing young woman. I admire the heck out of her. And there’s something to that.

Look, I’d do anything to have had our teen years be smoother. And I hope yours are too. But I think if you can find some kind of middle ground where you know your child is safe and you can stay involved in their care somewhat even when they claim to want to be independent, perhaps yours will truly be smoother.

Anyone else have ideas? Post them here. We can all use some great teen advice I think.

12 thoughts on “Teen Tips: Learning from this D-Mom’s Mistakes

  1. Moira, thank you so much for this. She is starting Middle School in August (I know, right?) and after 9 years I can see this coming at us. I will try to learn from your mistakes and I’m sure make several of my own.

  2. As a Mom of an 8-year old T1 who was diagnosed at age 3. THANK YOU! I realize every kid is different but it helps so much to read other experiences and to have a game plan or road map, if you will, to help navigate those wonderful teen years with D. 🙂

  3. Boy Moira, you have outdone yourself here! This speaks to my heart, and from my heart.

    I too had my last child be the one with diabetes. And I too got so burned out from being “on guard” every single moment. Being the one parent to go to all the endo appointments, after the first post-diagnosis meeting. Being the parent who was 75% of the time the “monitor”. I was so willing to believe my teen and college student was 100% ready.

    I too wish I had used my power over driving. I wish I had demanded to SEE the results of the pre-drive BG test, EVERY time, instead of asking “did you test?”, and being satisfied with “of course”, or “I always test in the car before I leave”. How dumb could I be? I’m still not satisfied that my son always tests before driving, and he is 28 – well out of my control. He’s never had a wreck from BG problems, but I wish I had used the big stick of driving privileges while I could.

    Unlike your case, my own son’s worst year was the year he went away to college (and the next two, actually). before that at least he’d kept his a1c at a level that made his endo happy, if not a level supposedly held by every other teen I “read” about online. He had no car his freshman year, thank god. But he did drive others’ cars.

    Anyway, in the end, he’s fine. I hope. But I agree – use the driving privileges, while you can. And, don’t expect too much. Be open to treatment options. My son is actually doing MUCH better on lantus and a fast-acting insulin than he ever did on the pump. And he prefers it – like the large majority of young adults that I speak to – at least those who were pumping since childhood.

    Finally, and this is the really really difficult thing – I’d add one more thing we must remember. This is not “our” disease. It is “their” disease. And, as adults, all the decisions will be theirs. Like many other things our grown children decide, we may not be happy with their choices, because they may not exactly reflect what we believe we would do in similar circumstance But if we have done our best to support and guide them through the difficult times, we must also learn to let them make their own decisions once they are in their twenties. And of course, we may as well suck it up, because when we try to interfere, we run into the pesky privacy laws! Can you believe, a young adult with diabetes is STILL an adult???? Astounding.

    So yes, use your power. Don’t always believe. No magical thinking. There is enough of that going on in your teen’s head.

    I’d say counseling, too. But remember – you can lead a horse to water…

    Great, great post!

  4. Thank you! My son is only 8 y/o, but I think I am going to get this blog framed, so I can remember it when the time comes 🙂 What you’re saying makes a lot of sense to me right now, very wise and down to earth, but I know in the thick of things I might loose my common sense. So I am storing all this in a corner of my mind and hope for the best…
    Thanks again!

  5. Thank you for writing this. We are only 1.5 yrs into this journey, just this past weekend I had a relative say to me, “You really need to let him do all of this.” After reading your blog, you have reconfirmed what I told her…. I will continue to do all that I do, while he listens and learns. He does give his own shots, but we help to count carbs, and fill syringes. He does his own BG checks. He was 13 at dx, he turned 15 in March. At one point he will have to do it all, but for now, I am going to help. (The relative by the way is T1D dx at 21 yrs old…a young woman, not a 13 yr old boy!)

    1. I think you are very wise. He has the rest of his life — until a cure — to have to do all this. Why not do it for as long as he will keep allowing you to? You rock!

      1. Thank you, that means so much to “hear” you say that… Some days I’m not always sure I’m doing the right thing. He slept at a friends house last night, and is still with his friend at a car wash, eating Chipotle, and having a great time being a 15 yr old!! He calls me with what he is eating and we hope we are close on carbs, etc. So far, so good! THANK YOU for the reassurance!

  6. Moira,
    I love your post, which is redundant, because I love all of them. Anyway, I’m feeling somewhat sheepish because I just posted about parents trusting their kids with diabetes the other day (http://www.janekdickinson.com/?p=217), and at the same time I totally get what you’re saying about not trusting them. I think it comes down to good communication. I know that’s easy to say, and not all teens are willing to communicate, but as long as parents explain why they are “watching” or “counting” or whatever, the teen might be less likely to resent it. I know at camp we always had this conversation with the older campers who hated having staff watch them check BGs or take insulin. We explained that it was our responsibility to keep them safe, so we had to know what was going on. True for parents too!
    In many ways I’m looking forward to my kids’ adolescence, while at the same time I’ll never be ready for the rejection I know is coming. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it would be to add diabetes into the mix and then try to balance the right amount of trust with the right amount of mistrust. UGH! I hope all you parents have a great group of friends to share Margaritas at least once a week!!
    I kind of cringed when I saw “It’s all about balance (which is my motto). If only it were that simple.” I think it is that simple, it’s just that we don’t always achieve it. As long as balance is always our target, and we’re always striving for it, we can achieve it some or even (eventually) most of the time. And just like a blue-sky day in New England, those moments of balance are well worth the wait!!

    1. Such great points, Jane. Sorry about making you cringe . . . . I think it’s even more of a challenge for parents now, this balance thing, with all the pressure on them to check a billion times a day, to keep bgs in such tight control and yet avoid lows . to do all that and still have them live their lives. I feel for the parents of newly dx’d kids. It’s GREAT we know more about control but it’s soooo hard for them I think.

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