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The Huge Myth of Control

I was no expert. Probably why I was perfect for the job.

There are so many incredible parenting bloggers out there. So many! Often times I read posts and wonder—how did you know that? How did you figure that out? Of course, the bigger question is: How did our parents, and their parents, and their grandparents figure it out?

I wrote this awhile back. It's not entirely about parenting, but it is about control and choices (both Top-10 parenting topics, for sure). In my very first job out of graduate school, I worked in a peds diabetes clinic. This is where I gained the utmost respect for my young patients, the remarkable staff who cared for (and about) them, and the disease itself.  It's where I saw how some things we have no power to control unless, that is, we have that power—which, more often than not, we don't.

Who knew that so many years ago I was receiving training for being a parent without even realizing it? (In fact, you can substitute the word "parent" for "social worker," and on many levels it works.) Obviously, when children are younger the issues are different than when children are older. Still, many parents of newborns have told me that, for example, when the baby doesn't want to eat, the baby doesn't want to eat and (ruling out a physical problem), there is nothing that Mom or Dad can do until, well, the baby wants to eat. The "letting-go" part, I think, is a challenging river to cross. But once at the other side, the relationship, particularly as every gets old, can be the relationship it was meant to be because all parties can be...themselves.

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I was no expert when it came to diabetes. I think that's why I was perfect for the job.

I was a brand new social worker fresh out of graduate school who found herself (luck?) working at one of the most prestigious teaching hospitals in the world. The medical center was known for its cancer research, but it had money to expand a little-known pediatric endocrinology clinic. The doctors wanted someone young who could relate to the teens and ‘tweens who'd been newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. They wanted someone who spoke the same language (slangauge?) to help them cope.

I confess, at the time I did not know the difference between blood and blood glucose. Pumps, needles and monitors were familiar terms, but not in the context of diabetes. During my interviews I'd been honest about my lack of textbook knowledge and was told to leave that to the physicians. Other words were used to describe what my job entailed: I was to help the children grieve, deal, cope, adapt and accept their diagnosis.

"Okay," I said, not knowing how to help these children do all those things but thinking it sounded vaguely like what a social worker was supposed to do. I must have looked confused because one of the interviewers said: "You help them stay in control."

Diabetes is sometimes referred to as a disease of control. You either have it (control) or you don't. Your diabetes is either in control or out of control (often noted in black pen in the clinical chart as "OOC"). Coincidentally, adolescence, like diabetes, is all about control (hormones, blood sugar, take your pick). What the docs (and the parents, I suppose) really wanted was someone who could kind of, gently, convince (control) patients into compliance. I knew, in a deep, gut, intuitive way-but had a hard time putting to words back then-this was never going to work.

Okay, so most kids were in touch with the bummerness of not being able to eat Milky Way bars for lunch or a donut for dinner. But because I didn't know the difference between a bowl and a bolus, I offered little to no advice but asked a lot of questions (I was trying to learn something). In a fairly short time many moved beyond the sadness and segued pretty uneventfully into acceptance. The diagnosis empowered these kids to take control of what they could. Having diabetes offered the opportunity to feel empowered. These kids tested their own blood sugar, gave their own insulin injections, shopped with Mom or Dad to buy the groceries and fixed their own lunches. I didn't know enough to focus on the food, blood sugar, diet and exercise-I referred the kids back to the docs like I was told to do.

I was young and inexperienced when I started that job but enlightened about one thing when I finally left it: Diabetic or not, no one is an expert about your life except you. No one can control you and, by proxy, no one can control your diabetes. The beauty of diabetes, as my young patients taught me, is that control is what you make it.

That goes for being a parent, too.

This post inspired by A Sweet Life.

Photo: Leasing News

 

 

Meredith Resnick, L.C.S.W., is a health writer and licensed social worker. She is also the mother of two adopted daughters.

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