Feature: Parenting From a Place of Grace

IMG_5235I had the distinct pleasure of writing a post for Bougiemama.com.  This site is special.  It’s a place that highlights women of color bloggers and focuses on five key areas: parenting, wellness, style and beauty, and prosperity.  I’m all about all of these things!    Enjoy…

I sometimes look in the mirror and ask myself, “Did I do enough for my son and daughter today? Were their needs met?  Should I have done more?”  My goodness we can consume ourselves with concern for our children.   I have more complicated questions when I consider my daughter, Anabel, who was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (“T1D”) a year and half ago. The questions I obsessed  over became even more prevalent and their weight felt almost suffocating.  T1D is different than Type 2 Diabetes, which usually is a result of lifestyle related choices.   T1D is caused when the pancreas stops producing insulin.  This has historically been considered a complication of the immune system.  So, Anabel is insulin dependent, meaning we count all carbohydrates before she eats and she has an insulin pump and a monitor for her blood glucose levels attached to her at all times.

When Anabel, or my sweet one as I often refer to her, was initially diagnosed with T1D I did not handle it gracefully.  To be honest, the day of her diagnosis began one of the most challenging times in my life, and the life of those in my family, as we learned about what this diagnosis meant.  I was overwhelmed with information, could barely articulate the nagging questions that kept me awake most nights.  Her blood sugar would spike and I would, invariably panic.  Her glucose levels would plummet and I became almost manic, searching for candy or a glass of juice.  There was nothing graceful about those days, we were just trying to make it day by day.  One day I reflected on these moments and wondered to myself, “Why can’t I be like Sally Fields in the movie Steel Magnolias?”  She so calmly and effortlessly managed her daughter’s low glucose episode in the beauty shop.
Over the last 18 months I have discovered that being a mother to a child with a chronic medical condition is not necessarily different than parenting without this type of complication.  However, it highlights and brings greater awareness to the nuances of parenting.  What parent doesn’t want independent children? Anabel’s ability to exercise independence, in light of her condition, is of paramount importance.  All children face a range of emotions, but I believe children who have chronic conditions face more complicated emotional responses more often due to their conditions.  Most parents have times of self-doubt and spend time beating themselves up.  Having a child with special needs will often place a giant white spotlight on those inadequacies. Not only are we working as a family to support our sweet one’s overall health and wellness, but I must consider her social emotional wellness in the face of her condition daily.  Admittedly, there have been times when the condition found its way to the forefront and the little person we were trying to nurture was inadvertently placed in the shadow of T1D. Although I have over a decade of experience in the field of education, serving children just like mine, I sometimes fall into the same pitfalls that many parents do.  These include not validating my children’s emotions, spending more time trying to fix what’s wrong and not being kind to myself.  I continue to learn that caring for children is a learning experience for me as an adult. Along the way I’ve discovered some important things and now follow a few tips to parenting the grace:

Treat the child, not the condition.  
This is something parents of children with chronic conditions often hear.  When Anabel gets home from school we frequently want to ask her about how she feels physically or how her blood sugars were that day.  She wants to talk about what happened with her friends or in the class.  We go there first!  The medical side can wait, most days anyway.

Emotions Matter.  
Marc Brackett of the Yale Institute for Emotional Intelligence said it best when he said, “Emotions Matter” for adults and children.  There needs to be a space in our home to allow Anabel to discuss her concerns and frustrations or ask questions.  We then need to spend time not only validating her feelings, but sharing ours too.

Build independence in your child.  
Having a child with a medical condition makes you want to nurture more than you are already naturally are inclined to.  However, the “helicopter approach” where we parent by constantly hovering over our sweet ones ultimately does a disservice to our children. Development of independence continues to build resilience which will only serve your child in the long run.

Finding Grace – Be kind to yourself!
As parents, we often place a spotlight on everything we didn’t do or didn’t do well.  The author and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown identifies this as the ‘never enough syndrome’.  It is this chronic feeling of never doing enough, having enough or being enough.  If you haven’t read ‘Daring Greatly’, may I suggest reading it?  We could all use some validation that vulnerability is not only okay, but powerful in almost any circumstance, including parenting.

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