From One Parent to Another

August 21, 2014
Moira Mccarthy
Four years ago my daughter was jumping up and down screaming with joy, holding the admission letter to her dream college, which was 500 miles away from our home. I was cowering in a corner, wondering how we would ever survive.

Today my daughter’s final semester is set – her schedule chosen, her internship in Congress extended. She’s almost ready to go out in the “real world” and she has rocked college, life and yes, diabetes. If I knew then what I know now … since I cannot go back, I’m going to share some with you, parents of kids getting ready to go to college. I hope it helps you help your child spread their wings.

It’s their college experience, not yours. I was good at this – even if it was hard. The reality is: college is practice for the “real world.” It’s a semi-safe little mini-society in which they can practice real life before they have to really live real life. For that reason, it’s their time to step up, make decisions and take action (or choose not to take action). Things like letting an RA know about their diabetes, deciding about registering with the disabilities office, finding the medical center and going in to say hi – those are theirs to do, not yours to do. Sure, you can help them figure out what to do, but it’s time for their voice to be the one speaking to people about such things. That’s part of the benefit and beauty of college: they learn to do such things. (I do think suggesting they connect with The Diabetes Link makes sense. Just make it their connection and not yours. Let them do the chatting there.)

It’s not a roommate’s job either. Parents stress about who the roommate will be and how they will deal with diabetes. I have heard it so often. Will the roommate learn glucagon/wake up to do checks/treat lows/help with highs? This is my take: they did not sign up for that, and if they are not interested it does not make them a bad person. Kids starting college all have their own things to deal with. It’s a huge transition in life. Expecting a roomie to take on such things is simply not fair. And in the end, it all works out. Both my children (one with d, one without) had icky first-year roommates. It was stressful for a day or two and then this happened: Each kid made friends on their floor, in their hall, in their classes and around campus. Just like at home, those friends they made cared enough about them to learn about them. In the case of my daughter with diabetes, her friends learned about diabetes by their own choice because they care about her as a person. I just found out recently that one of my daughter’s apartment-mates sleeps with my daughter’s Dexcom receiver after pub crawl type nights, so she is sure if it alarms someone will hear it and get up and take action. Isn’t that sweet? And that’s how life works. Someone does not have to be forced into helping you. You make friends who want to. Happens in college all the time. (A chapter at a college can help them make friends with diabetes too, or at the least help them get some first-hand tips. But remember, they may want to use The Link for support alone. Just because someone has T1D does not mean they are your child’s lifelong BFF).

“The reality is: college is practice for the “real world.””

Your involvement will shift, but does not have to go away. I don’t know what my daughter’s average blood sugars or even daily numbers are anymore. That’s up to her and her amazing endocrinologist to discuss. I don’t know how often she checks or how she decides to make dose changes. Again, that’s up to her and her team. I don’t ask because she does not want me to. Hard to do! But I do still fill her scripts for her. It has always been a way I could give her support through this transition into life with D as an adult. I don’t mind it at all, and it’s one less thing for her to worry about. I figured I’d do it forever if she wanted. But a funny thing happened the other day: she mentioned that she’d just called in some refills. She did it on her own because she’s ready to. I don’t know what my involvement will be as she graduates and goes to work but I know this: by not demanding she share daily numbers with me, she moved to a place of owning them and caring about them at a level I’d never seen in her. And now, funny thing: she does not mind talking about diabetes with me. Because it’s on her terms and her level of need. (The Link has a parent section where you can vent about it all and learn how to support without smothering. Use it!)

Perfection is not a reasonable goal: If you know me, you probably know that my daughter did not head off to college as the “model person with diabetes.” Her care was lax at best, her a1c was high and she was holding on by a thread. But thanks to that amazing endo who encouraged me to let her live her life, I let her go. But I did set up some rules. Because in my mind, college is not a right, it’s a privilege (at least while I’m paying!) But I did not demand she send numbers or check a certain amount of times a day or even use a CGM. What I said was this: “You need to come home in reasonably good health and with decent grades. What defines ‘reasonably good’ and ‘decent’ is completely up to you. If you do not, you can stay here and go to community college for a while.”
By leaving that definition up to her, I think it awoke something in her. What is reasonably good health? What are decent grades? She was raised in a good home and had been shown what we think, now it was time for her to ponder it all and decide what was “Good enough” for her. Part of growing up, right?

“I raised her up to let her go, diabetes or not. Letting her own her college experience was the right choice. ”
Here is how she responded, I like to say it this way: she left home with a low GPA and a high a1c and came home with a high GPA and a low a1c. Given the chance to define success on her own terms, with diabetes and with life, my girl chose to crush it in a good way.

Now she’s a senior with excellent grades, a passion for her career choice (“Mom, I cannot imagine doing anything else!” a coveted internship on Capitol Hill, a million friends and more. She wears a CGM by her choice (but is in her third year of a pump break, by her choice). She understands that taking care of her diabetes brings a positive impact to not just her classes but also her internship work. (Okay – and her social life.)

Now she’s shopping for her first real-world apartment and real-world job. It will be a time for adjustment for me again and a time for me to have some faith and put things in her hands.

I raised her up to let her go, diabetes or not. Letting her own her college experience was the right choice. Four years ago she was jumping for joy and I was cowering. Today, we’re both jumping for joy. I could not be happier with how she’s turning out.

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