Over the course of a lifetime, there will be many times that one or another family member will need to express the frustrations and worries of living with a chronic disease. As parents, you may feel resentment, jealousy, anxiety, guilt, fear and depression at the diagnosis and again at later stages of your child’s growth.
If you don’t recognize and express these feelings, you may find yourselves stuck in frustrating patterns. It is important for you as parents to express your feelings in satisfying ways for yourself and other family members.
The most important reason to communicate as well as you can is that your children are listening to you. You are their role models, and from you, they inherit attitudes about themselves, diabetes, food and blood glucose levels.
It is both exciting and frightening that your children listen so closely and will copy or rebel against your view of diabetes. The conversations that your children hear between you and your spouse will be the same ones they play over in their heads and will be similar to the conversations they have with you.
If you criticize each other, you probably also criticize your child. The voice that your child takes in and uses for her/himself will probably be a critical one, too.
John called his wife, Emily, to find out what their 5-year-old Alice’s pre-dinner blood sugar level was. Emily was already angry, anticipating his nightly call, where the first thing was always the hateful blood sugar question. She hated that he seemed to check up on her, as if she could not take care of their daughter’s diabetes. He never asked about how she was doing. Even worse was that she often felt like lying to her husband about the results. He would snap at her when the blood sugars were not in the normal range, which was often. “What did you do? Why is she 300?”
Freeze this picture. It is 10 years later. This time the questioning is not from spouse to spouse but from Emily to 15-year-old Alice. Alice is angry and evasive. Five years later, when Alice is on her own, the voice in her head about handling her diabetes is critical and demanding. Ten years later, Alice will have similar conversations with her husband.
Parent to parent: Your husband says he can’t believe you let your son’s blood sugars go so much out of line. Your response to your husband depends on whether you give yourself time to allow your feelings to surface, respect yourself for feeling them and take a moment to understand them. Your response might be:
1. “That’s easy for you to say. You do nothing to help.”
2. “It is just one more area I feel terrible about.”
3. “I am speechless that you said that.”
4. “I know you are as upset as I am, so I will try to forgive you for that comment. We are in this together. We have to be careful not to blame each other or our child. Our focus has to be on figuring out why there was such a drastic change and then we need to come up with some possible remedies.”
1. This is aggressive and won’t lead to mutual support or problem solving.
2. This reinforces your bad feeling about yourself. Nothing is accomplished, however. You’ve missed the point that your son needs help in his diab3etes control, and you need support from your spouse.
3. This response is honest and effective because you pause rather than react. It expresses anger and shock (ventilation). This gives your partner time to think about what he said and perhaps apologize or begin to face his own anxiety about his son’s well-being.
4. This is a strong and competent answer. You are going out of your way (empathy) to get some comfort from your husband and some teamwork (persistence). Understanding that your spouse is human and hostile at times when he is frightened or feeling guilty is important. Your generosity sets the stage for an eventual apology.
Start at the source. If parents can learn to work as a team, helping one another, that will filter down to the children. To establish new communication patterns: practice, practice, practice.
First you recognize the feelings. Then you express them. Then you validate the feelings.
Listen to your partner without feeling it is an attack on you. Just listen. Put compassion in the mix for yourself and others and, presto, you have better feelings, interactions, and even better diabetes care – something that money can’t buy.
Adapted from the book, “When Diabetes Hits Home”
By: Wendy Satin Rapaport, LCSW, Psy.D.