I first met Bennet ... wait a second, where did I first meet Bennet and the rest of the Dunlap crew? Where ever it was, I've had so much love and respect for the Dunlap family for years. They're a team, and a good one. And despite the fact that half of the Dunlap crew is living with diabetes, it doesn't dictate or define who they are. Today, I'm so happy - honored, really - to be hosting a guest post from Bennet about parenting diabetes.
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Team Dunlap at Disney
My goal of parenting kids with diabetes is to make their passion in life the my first priority and to bring diabetes along as second. I don’t profess to be the model parent or a expert in diabetes (but I have a little background in both, as we have two type 1 teens, who, for the most part, talk to us).
In my view, type 1 has to come second to living life. Not ignored, but in its place. I am not saying it is easy. It takes hard work to get it there. Here is a tip to knowing that you are on the right track: You forget the diabetes and do some other parenting issue, like rush to school late without a shot.
Normally, new diabetes parents kick themselves for forgetting the insulin. They pile on the guilt and have a lousy time. I know I did. I know the day we discovered a second diagnosis of type 1 in the family, we forgot to give the kid who already was a year into it his insulin.
I suggest that in that "forgetting," there is room for a small pat on the back, too. Diabetes was second. Ideally not everyone forgets the insulin like I did. Yes, I still had to get the insulin into who ever needed it. But pause and think about the "new normal" that this represents; something other than diabetes was more important. (Well okay, not the case of a second diagnosis. There, diabetes made me forget diabetes but in the school case, life and goals were at least equally pressing.)
I think it is okay to say to yourself as a parent, "I will help manage diabetes. It will continue to suck but it may not be all consuming. I will always worry about diabetes but I will pass the responsibility of managing as my child is ready for it. In all of that, I will not lose sight of the goal."
Our pre-diabetes goals for our kids were: college, a passion in life, a job in that field, and mostly having them moving out of our house. Why would diabetes change those? If the goals have changed, diabetes wins.
Don’t let it win.
Be involved with your kids passions. Our younger T1D is in the process of defining her passions. I think adolescence is brutal enough without blood sugar variations but she has both. She is also delightfully creative. She draws, paints, makes wearable replications of anime robotic prosthetics (Comic Con here she comes) and is learning to sew. Diabetes doesn’t fall into the passion category. That is cool. Maybe, as we work on the creative stuff, the idea that more creativity flows with incrementally better diabetes effort will become part of the process.
The older kid with diabetes is a performer, an actor. He has been since he was knee-high. He would watch the Princess Bride as a tyke and act out all the heroic parts, about a quarter second before they came on screen. I bet that movie is so ingrained into him that he would still involuntarily twitch at cues to some of the scenes.
No effing way would I let diabetes change those passions. Keeping the acting dream alive meant putting diabetes into second place. In part, that meant going to Children With Diabetes’ Friends For Life and having Jim Vail challenge the boy to become confident in his self-management. It meant learning to check blood before driving. Then learning to drive into Philadelphia for acting classes. (It also meant having the car towed for illegal parking on the first solo mission into the city.) All those things contribute, in some way, to the goal of acting. I think the same will be true as the creative sewing, drawing interest are distilled into the younger one's passion.
In auditions for college acting programs, my son was asked about a hard life lesson learned. "Let me tell you about type 1 diabetes," he replied. I hope his sister will have an equal, if different, love of life, an inspiring portfolio of original work, and the feeling that diabetes is not preventing that passion.
I think my son feels that part of caring for the character on stage means caring for the actor giving the performance. Sometimes I see a little pump tubing sneaking out of a costume at a show. What I see is a performance and that type 1 diabetes is being dragged along, second to his passion. As for colleges, he has been accepted to every program he has auditioned for. I assume because his passion is visible to others in ways as clear and hopefully as subtle as pump tubing is to me.
I hope that while her diabetes may vary, my daughter the same feeling about her life’s loves.
* * *Bennet and his wife Kimball have are the parents of four kids. The younger two are type 1 teens. The youngest was diagnosed in a Disney World hotel. That the family somehow worked out a relatively uninterrupted vacation in Disney while starting her life with diabetes speaks to their priorities.
Bennet tries to help families live better with diabetes. He is an ADA Safe at School advocate. He writes the blog Your Diabetes Many Vary, created the site DisneyWithDiabetes, and with his kids produces the videos at TheBetesNOW. If you happen to know anyone looking a passionate advocate for diabetes families, Bennet is finishing a masters degree in health communications at Boston University in a few months.