To say I have three kids automatically throws out the notion that I am one very busy person, to say the least. My oldest is going into first grade. He’s extremely smart and needs to be kept busy to stay out of trouble! Even this summer, he has spent the majority of his time at summer camp doing various activities and going on field trips once or twice per week. Twice a week he also goes to Karate, working towards earning his yellow belt. My daughter is cut from a different cord; she’s at the in between stage of wanting independence yet needing attention. Keeping her occupied and happy is somewhat of a challenge, but she loves to play outside, swim and do arts and crafts. She’s extremely anxious to start PreK this fall, where she’ll be going full days and being kept as busy and engaged as she could imagine.
My kids are unique, brilliant and so loving. When I got pregnant with my youngest son, Carter, I wanted all my kids to be close. I never wanted my kids to resent the baby because he got a ton of attention, being an infant. I encouraged both my older kids to help me whenever they could, rocking the baby’s vibrating chair or giving Carter back his pacifier. They both received such praise for being nice to the baby and they are always encouraged and rewarded for being nice to each other. So when the baby received his diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes, I began to feel a little over my head. It became that much harder to give everyone the attention they need and deserve and ensure fairness all around.
Because all of the sudden, life isn’t fair to any of my kids. They want mom’s attention, always, and to put it bluntly, I’ve never felt such zombie-like exhaustion in my entire life. I try to be everything to everyone, but at times, whether anyone likes it or not, Carter’s needs have to come first. It might be breakfast time and everyone might be starving, but if Carter’s Omnipod pod failed or expired, it takes precedence of everything else for that moment. If Corey and Hayley are just about to jump in the pool to go swimming and Carter’s sugar is dropping, life gets put on hold for a few minutes while we raise his blood sugar back to normal. It’s not always fair and it’s sometimes just downright NOT fair and there isn’t anything I can do about it.
That doesn’t mean I’ve waved my white flag, though. I read anything and everything having to do with managing siblings when a chronic illness is involved. I want them to feel involved in Carter’s chronic illness, not resentful or guilty or sad. My daughter is four and I don’t think she fully understands what goes on in Carter’s body just yet. Here are some of the ways we try to make life with Diabetes normal for our kids.
- Being Honest. We try to explain what’s going on and why, without blaming Diabetes or Carter himself for anything that’s happening. We tell our kids WHY Carter’s Omnipod pod needs to be changed out or what the “death song”, as we call it, means when we hear it coming from his pod (it means that insulin delivery has stopped, for whatever reason, and the pod needs to be changed immediately). Corey, being almost 7 now, understands Carter’s blood sugar levels are much different than his own and how we can best manage this. He takes frequent glances at Carter’s Dexcom receiver to check what Carter’s current levels are at and will often ask me why they are that way. He strives to understand what we go through with Carter and reiterates his own knowledge of Diabetes to anyone who will listen. Though he definitely didn’t like the process, he understands why his own blood had to be drawn to check for any potential signs of Type 1 Diabetes. For Corey, understanding how everything works settles his anxiety surrounding his younger brother having a chronic illness and the constant fear that something will go amiss and we will end up back at Boston Children’s Hospital. The more Corey understands about his brother’s illness, the more confident he seems that we have things under “control” and try our best to keep Carter out of the hospital.
- Make One-on-One Time for Each Child, Whenever Possible. I do this often with Corey when we go to karate class – it’s usually just him and I or he and my husband. It gives us the chance to talk on the 15 minute ride to and from class and before class starts. He and my husband also play “Pokemon Go” together, which Corey absolutely loves. He waits excitedly for my husband to get home from work each day so he can tell him which character he caught or how close one or more of his eggs are to hatching. It’s something only he shares with Daddy and I think that’s really helping him feel close to his parents overall. Hayley is slightly more challenging. Being four, she wants constant attention from both parents. She wants to go on a bike ride, go to the park, play Barbies, play on the trampoline and go swimming, all in the course of an hour! Obviously, this isn’t realistic. I do my best to accommodate her wishes as often as possible, but there’s only so much I can do with just her. I try to spend 20-30 minutes of each activity with her and then let her continue on her own.
- Make Diabetes Part of the Routine. If it doesn’t feel too out of the ordinary for our kids, it just becomes routine. We cannot leave the house until everything is packed, including all of Carter’s extra insulin and Diabetes supplies, along with bathing suits, towels, etc. We can’t go swimming until we have sunscreen and Carter has his wrap for his Omnipod and we have reduced his basal so he can go run around with his siblings. Dinner does not start until we have carb counted and bolused Carter for the meal. All of these things, alone, do take up time and make our other 2 kids wait, which they don’t like, but they are beginning to see that T1D is just a part of life and they have to roll with it like anything else.
I found a great article about siblings of children who have a chronic illness. It reiterates some of the ideas our family utilizes and gives some signs to watch for of distress, anger, resentment, etc. and how to better manage those feelings. Click here to go to the website!
How do you all balance life with more than one child when there is a chronic illness involved?!