Playing The Odds

What happens when half the family has diabetes?

Karen HargraveBy Karen Hargrave-Nykaza

Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!

Septemer 2008 — Having someone with diabetes in the family affects the entire family. But what about when there is more than one person in the family with diabetes? Is the family overtaken by the tasks involved with managing the disease? Do the other members of the family feel like diabetes is all that is talked about or focused on?

A couple of years ago, a mom I knew from our kids' preschool days was diagnosed with diabetes. We had lost touch, but I heard about it and heard that it wasn't going smoothly for her. She was struggling with extreme sudden lows and also felt a lot of shame about having the disease. She didn't want people to know she had diabetes, to the point that it even kept her from getting an insulin pump. Eventually our paths crossed and we had several long talks about her medical care and her desire to have better control over her diabetes, especially her unpredictable low blood sugars. I did my best to support her and encouraged her to look into getting an insulin pump. She ended up deciding to go on the pump and I went to that appointment with her for encouragement. We have stayed in touch ever since.

The week before school started, she called me. Her daughter had just been diagnosed with diabetes. We talked about all that they were going through and of course it took me right back to what that felt like for us. We immediately began discussing the things she would need to get in place for her daughter at school. As she recognized immediately, being diabetic herself is very different than having a child who is diabetic. There were so many things she hadn't considered yet because they were all directly related to school issues. One of the only "lucky" things about her daughter's diagnosis was that she and my son were on the same team of teachers, so maybe they would have some classes together and her daughter could look to Joel for help when she feels unsure of how she feels or what to do. Also, we hoped that because they had two students with diabetes on the team, the teachers would chose to become well educated about the disease, especially with two sets of parents and the nurse to educate them.

This whole experience has gotten me seriously thinking about what it must be like when half the members of your household have diabetes. Does it feel to the other half of the household that the world revolves around diabetes? Do they get sick of hearing about carbs, insulin, and injections? Does anyone ever sleep? What about the child who does NOT have diabetes? And what about the parent who doesn't? Do they feel starved for attention? Are they sick to death of hearing about diabetes? Can the family put in the time the disease takes to manage and still have time to focus on other family issues? Are there even more control issues for a parent who has the disease themselves while trying to manage their child's disease? Do they compare their dietand blood sugars to their child's? If a family with one member having diabetes feels overwhelmed and challenged, what must it be like when there are two (or more) members who have it? Our family feels that even though diabetes is for the most part a huge pain, we do feel that it has caused us to grow and learn certain life lessons. When both a parent and a child have the disease, are those life lessons and growth also doubled? If nothing else, I hope for this family's sake it means that everyone feels their illness is understood.

Read more of Karen Hargrave's columns here.

dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.


Last Modified Date: July 12, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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