At the start, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other close relatives, for the most part, know just what to do: send gifts and warm thoughts. But once you get home and life begins again, oftentimes extended family members have a hard time figuring out what to do next. Many are afraid—of needles, of highs and lows, and of making some kind of mistake while the diagnosed child is in their care. This fear can cause some extended family members to back off.
The Need for Family Help
Ironically, there is no time in life a parent needs the support of their parents and relatives more. Asked what would make dealing with the diagnosis of their child easier from the start, many parents answer that having an extended family member totally on board would change their life for the better.
But it's hard. First of all, diabetes and kids is a complicated combination. Just look at all you had to learn in the hospital. How can an extended family member expect to catch on to all of that? The simple answer is that you must invite them to do so. While in your grief and worry, you may think family members are letting you down, in fact, they may think you don't believe that they are educated enough about diabetes to help. So as you learn, allow loved ones to learn as well.
The Barton Center for Diabetes Education in North Oxford, Massachusetts, holds an annual Caretakers Weekend. Your child with diabetes attends with a grandparent or other caretaker, and the loved one comes back knowing how to care for her around the clock. loved one comes back knowing how to care for her For more information, visit
Some families who successfully integrate grandparents, aunts, and uncles into daily living with diabetes do it in the most obvious way: The relatives spend a lot of time just hanging around and watching. Ask your relative to come over each day for a week before breakfast, then before lunch, then at snack time, then at dinner, then at bedtime. By watching you develop your routine with your child, they'll develop into it as well.
Of course, this is only possible if you live nearby. For relatives who live farther away, education can be more challenging. Such relatives should be encouraged to read up on Type 1 diabetes and children, and to visit Web sites for information, support, and feedback from others in their position. Encourage distant relatives to make a long-term visit to you (particularly grandparents). A solid week spent with you and your child will teach them much about life with diabetes.
Another good idea in this time of high-speed communication is to start a family diabetes blog. Your blog can talk about days in your child's life with diabetes, offering tips and useful information. As you develop the blog, you will also be creating a database of your own information. Relatives across the world can log on, learn, and feel as if they're helping you and caring for your child.
Caregivers who have the help and support of their parents report adapting to life with diabetes much quicker than others. Being able to trust someone else with your child is a giant step toward your new normal, and your parent is the perfect first person.
You may also want to suggest that your parents and relatives attend a support group meeting with you or, better yet, one of your endocrinology appointments. Don't overcrowd a room, but consider bringing one key support person each time for the first few times you attend such events.
When Relatives Don't Want to Help
What about the relative who just does not want to help out? It happens, and there can be many reasons. Many people are simply too afraid of diabetes to learn more about it. If some of these people happen to be your relatives, it can be hurtful. You, as a parent, may feel abandoned in your time of need.
The best thing to do is to address the family member in a non-confrontational way. Tell her that you've noticed she's backed away from spending time with your child. Assure her that you were afraid at first, too, but with education, she can go back to those sleepovers or play dates your child used to love so much. Offer to stay close by the first few times the relative attempts to care for your child.
If even this does not work, it's time to accept that you are not alone. More than a few parents say they have no help outside of their own home. Perhaps some good friend will jump on board and learn all about caring for your child so you can have some backup, some freedom, and, most of all, some compassionate support.