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Managing Caregiver Burnout When a Child has Diabetes

Taking care of your child while you take care of yourself


Updated September 30, 2011

Managing Caregiver Burnout When a Child has Diabetes

Caregiver burnout can be prevented if you know which signs to look for.

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When a child has diabetes, it can be seem like an all-consuming, never-ending string of tasks that gradually take over your entire life. When you begin to feel this way, you are either close to or in what is commonly called caregiver burnout. This is a term that describes many people who are caring for a person with a demanding chronic condition like diabetes. It is not unique to diabetes, but is very common among parents of children with type 1 diabetes.

The good news is that caregiver burnout is not inevitable. And, emerging from burnout is very doable if you are currently in that state. But to do so requires that you be vigilant to strike a balance between caring for your child’s needs and caring for your own.

Here are three of the most common signs of caregiver burnout and what you can do to avoid or emerge from this place.

Negative feelings toward your child

You love your child and are willing to do whatever is necessary to help them live a full and satisfying life. But, diabetes is not like any other part of your child’s life. Soccer, homework, play practices, and other activities can make life challenging because their schedules sometimes conflict with other priorities. But, they all end after a certain period of time. Diabetes never ends. Every day you must ensure that you child’s blood sugar is checked numerous times, insulin is correctly administered, appropriate amounts of food are eaten, emergency foods are available in case of low blood sugar reactions, and the list goes on.

Over time, this routine may begin to feel very burdensome, especially if you are struggling with your own issues, such as health, financial or relationships problems. When you feel resentment toward your child for the needs they have pertaining to diabetes, you know that you are close to caregiver burnout.

Social isolation

There are times when the care that you provide for your child can seem to crowd out needed time with others. A feeling of social isolation can creep in where you begin to feel very alone in this journey of parenting and diabetes.

Social isolation can also be a result of depression. When you feel discouraged, overwhelmed or hopeless, the tendency for some people is to pull away from those closest to them. You may tell yourself that no one completely understands or that if you did try to explain your situation it would only invite criticism. Social isolation is another cardinal sign that caregiver burnout may be lurking in the shadows.

Poor self-care

Parenting requires an enormous sacrifice of your time, energy and financial resources. Every parent knows well that many times you have to put your own needs and plans on hold or at least modify them in order to be there for your children. That is being a responsible parent.

But being a responsible parent and completely ignoring your own needs though are two entirely different matters. The latter stems from a mindset that devalues your worth and your needs and is a set-up for caregiver burnout. In fact, some parents who struggle with feeling worthy to have needs use their child with diabetes to justify ignoring their own. Not only does this potentially put your health and important relationships at risk but it also sends the wrong message to your child about responsible self-care.

Action points

Caregiver burnout may last as long as a few days to several months or longer depending on the person. But, regardless of length, you can emerge from it. Here are some action points to get you moving in the right direction.

  • First acknowledge the feelings of resentment, anxiety, depression, loneliness, among others, instead of trying to pretend they are not there. Don’t push feelings aside and try to distract yourself by keeping busy or numbing the feelings with food, alcohol, drugs, entertainment or other means.
  • Find a trusted adult to talk with about these feelings. This might be a good friend, pastor, family member or counselor. When you keep your feelings inside it causes more mental exhaustion and distorted thinking. In contrast, externalizing your feelings helps you to make sense of them.
  • Identify your biggest needs and find solutions to those needs. For example, you may need help on a regular basis with your child’s diabetes management tasks. Ask a family member, friend, neighbor with medical training or a trusted babysitter to help you. Or perhaps you are simply overwhelmed with your own life issues. Seek the help of a professional counselor to support you and work through those issues.

Diabetes is a rigorous condition to manage, especially when it is a child with type 1. But the primary problem is not your child or his or her diabetes-related needs, it is your inability to maintain perspective in the midst of caring for your child’s needs. In order to regain your perspective you may need to make some significant changes in how you go about managing your child’s diabetes and your own life.

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