A Parent’s Perspective: Communication in College

August 29, 2019
Karlyn Gale
Karlyn’s daughter, Courtney, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in May 2013, just two years before she headed off to college. Since then, Karlyn and her husband Ben and her two kids Brandon and Courtney have become advocates for type 1 diabetes and have volunteered at many type 1 diabetes events over the years. She strongly believes in doing your type 1 diabetes research and making the best decisions that work for you and your family. Karlyn teaches in an elementary school and in her spare time, she enjoys reading and writing, going to the beach, and spending time with her family and friends.

It’s that time of summer when I usually start mentally preparing myself for my daughter to move back to college. I mentioned “usually” because she graduated from college in May 2019. As I reflect on the past four years and how quickly they went by, I am forever grateful for my daughter Courtney’s willingness to communicate and keep my husband and me in the loop with her diabetes management. I’m not saying there weren’t struggles but what I am saying is we communicated….the good, the bad, and the ugly!

“I am forever grateful for my daughter Courtney’s willingness to communicate and keep my husband and me in the loop with her diabetes management.”
Communication, Communication, Communication
Courtney’s communication with us was HUGE and made us stop and realize we were being overbearing parents. But as the days went on I felt myself struggling with not talking to her as often, so I texted her and asked her if we could talk that night. I explained to her how hard it was for me and how I just couldn’t go cold turkey with her diabetes management. I asked her if she could help me ease into it better and if we could come up with a plan that would allow both of us to sleep at night. So we did. We communicated AGAIN and came up with a plan and it worked.

We kept up with our plan throughout all four years of college but we definitely tweaked it over time. There were times when I would get a text from Courtney saying “Mom, you’re doing it again” or I would text her asking her what the plan was when she was going off-campus for a weekend, but our baseline plan always stayed intact.

Can you say “helicopter mom?”
I’m not going to lie, it was rough for me when Courtney was a freshman in college as I was a big part of her diabetes management and she was hypo unaware. Although she shared her Dexcom data with us, it was so hard for me to not physically see her and be around her, and that’s when my helicopter mom status kicked into action: “Hey Court, you’re high”, “Hey Court you’re low,” “Hey Court, are you awake?”, “Hey Court, you should have a juice!”, “Hey Court, should you change your site?” and the list goes on and on and on. I was OUT OF CONTROL and what I didn’t realize was that my husband was texting and calling her too. This went on for a few weeks and then came the text from Courtney saying “Hey, can we talk tonight?”.

She called that night and asked us to stop texting and calling her all the time about diabetes. She told us she could manage it on her own…except for at night because she doesn’t wake up to her lows. And then she said, ” feel free to call or text and ask about my classes, school work, friends, etc….just don’t make it all about diabetes all the time.”. She was right…what were we doing? We actually had no idea because we had never done this before….we had never sent a kid off to college with type 1 diabetes.

“We actually had no idea because we had never done this before….we had never sent a kid off to college with type 1 diabetes.”

Our plan
Our plan is highlighted in the Off to College booklets for both students and caregivers but I will summarize it here:

  • We agreed to not call Courtney during the day about her blood sugars UNLESS she was fifty and dropping.

  • At night time, since she doesn’t wake up to her lows, she would text us an emoji or Bitmoji letting us know she is taking care of it. If we didn’t hear from her within fifteen minutes and/or her blood sugars continued to plummet we would text her multiple times, if she didn’t respond we would start calling her, if she didn’t answer, we would start texting/calling her roommate, if she didn’t answer we would call the phone in her dorm room and then as a last resort we would call the Department of Public Safety (DPS) on Campus. We only had to call DPS three times in her four years of college, not bad right? One of the times it was a compression low at night, another time it was during the day at her sorority ritual and she was actually fifty and dropping (no phones were allowed and YES DPS did walk into the ritual telling Courtney her mom called and she needs to have a juice!), and the last time was in the middle of the night and it was a legit serious low. No regrets.

Courtney may not have talked to me for weeks after these DPS visits but again we communicated how we were feeling and understood each other’s perspectives. And now that she has graduated from college, we laugh about it.

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