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Image: Ginger Vieira

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Type 1 diabetes is a full-time job. And you only have to live with it for a day or two to realize it will impact every single part of your life. In fact, real life with type 1 diabetes often feels much like a non-stop circus act.

Being a mother with type 1 diabetes? That’s more like a magic show!

First, you overcame the intense demands and challenges of pregnancy with type 1 diabetes. There are books and doctors and coaches to support you through that wild adventure

But there is no manual for the daily challenges that come with motherhood and type 1 diabetes.

I’ve lived with type 1 diabetes for over 20 years, and I have two daughters, ages 3 (Violet) and 5 (Lucy). Oh, yes, they are cute and hilarious and wonderful. But they’re also these little humans who require a tremendous amount of my daily energy and attention.

Allow me to share a few personal strategies that have helped me juggle the dual demands of managing type 1 diabetes and being “mommy.”

A blood sugar roller coaster is doubly draining and exhausting when you’re also trying to keep up with the needs and activities of your children. If I can start the day off with predictable blood sugars, it sets me up for smoother blood sugars throughout the rest of the day.

This means striving to wake up in my goal BG (blood glucose) range, and quickly pinpointing the cause if I’m consistently waking up high or low.

It also means eating meals I’m familiar with for breakfast. If I know the insulin dose I need to cover a couple of different consistent breakfast choices, I reduce my risk of juggling high or low blood sugars on top of parenting for the rest of the day.

I also know my energy is best for kid-management if I start my day with protein, some fat, and vegetables — usually a big bowl of microwaved broccoli or vegetable medley. It’s quick and easy real food.

Excuse the pun, but I don’t ‘sugar-coat’ anything with my kids, including my diabetes. I’ve taught them to give me space when I’m taking an injection. I’ve taught them that the bag of gummy candy in my nightstand drawer is to help me treat low blood sugars during the night. (Their candy options are kept elsewhere!) I’ve taught them that “Mommy needs some quiet space” when my blood sugar is low.

I’ve been thinking it may be time to teach my 5-year-old how to open my phone and call her father if necessary, because while I’ve never had a low blood sugar I couldn’t treat myself, that doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen.

I know a mother who lost consciousness during severe hypoglycemia while parked in her car with her 4-year-old. Fortunately, he had been playing with her cell phone during the drive and was able to call his grandmother when he realized something was really wrong with mommy. Grandma called daddy. Daddy arrived at the scene soon after and injected his wife with an emergency glucagon kit.

We all hope a situation like that never happens to us, but we should educate and prepare our children regardless because that situation could happen to any of us.

If you’re unsure about an upcoming activity or event, you’re better off running a little high than facing the risk of a dangerous low.

Perhaps my all-time least favorite mix of diabetes and motherhood is experiencing a low blood sugar at the playground. Trying to chase my kids or push them on a swing (especially when they’re very small) while enduring the symptoms of a low blood sugar is not fun. In fact, it’s really *&%*ing stressful! Panic. Frustration. Exhaustion. Blah.

With kids, it can be hard to predict exactly how intense the playground visit will be, which makes it hard to predict how that activity is going to impact my blood sugar. I could say the same for swimming pools, trail walks, and simply walking around our neighborhood with scooters. One day the kids are zooming around like crazy and mommy has to run after them, and the next day they just want to lie in the grass and watch the squirrels.

As a parent with type 1 diabetes, it is absolutely one of my number one goals to avoid experiencing low blood sugars when I’m the primary caretaker at any given time. Sometimes, this means letting my blood sugar hang in the high 100s or above and not taking a correction dose of insulin to get into my goal range. Or it means ingesting extra carbs when my blood sugar is 100 mg/dL but I know I have active insulin still on board.

Even with a continuous glucose monitor, low blood sugars are still incredibly stressful when you have young kids demanding your attention, energy, and care. Do what you need to in order to stay safe.

Kids are remarkable food-wasters. Some days they clean their plates, other days they take three bites and claim to be full. (I’ve even seen this happen with bowls of ice cream!)

It can be very tempting to munch the remaining Pirate’s Booty, take the last three bites of that sandwich, or gulp down the remaining spoonful of Parmesan noodles.

As much as I loathe wasting food, I know picking at their leftovers will only lead me to screw up my blood sugar and consume extra calories I didn’t plan for and don’t need.

If you give yourself an across-the-board “no snacking on kids’ leftovers” rule, it can help prevent that extra munching.

Almost every time my children see me prick my finger or take an injection of insulin, they ask me if it hurts.

“Yes, sometimes it hurts,” I tell them. “But I try to be really, really brave because it helps me stay healthy.”

As a result, when my oldest is getting her vaccinations at the pediatrician, she is downright stoic. The girl does not cry, and she tells me she is going to be “really, really brave” every time.

Kids are smart! They absorb so much more from us than we realize — both our good and bad habits. The daily courage you muster (whether you realize it or not) to face another day with type 1 diabetes is something you can easily pass on to them by creating that dialogue and offering positive yet realistic words of wisdom.

The first time I ever experienced true anxiety was when my oldest was 3 years old and my youngest was about 7 months old.

The youngest was no longer a sleepy newborn, and both kids were suddenly demanding my attention and care at the same time. I suddenly found myself yelling more than I ever had in my entire life. Thankfully, a friend of mine shared that she had dealt with anxiety as a parent, too.

Anxiety. It never occurred to me that my in-the-moment anger was anxiety. I thought it was my Italian bloodline rearing its head. But the moment I heard the word anxiety, I suddenly gained a completely new perspective on both my behavior and the situation creating it.

I tried anxiety medications for a few months — an antidepressant commonly used for anxiety — but I couldn’t tolerate the side effects so I weaned off of it fairly quickly. Regardless of medication as a coping tool, simply realizing that what I was feeling was anxiety gave me so much more awareness and power in managing it.

My anxiety doesn’t get the best of me now the way it did in the beginning because I acknowledge it more quickly. After acknowledging it, I can take a deep breath, and do something to lighten the demands I’m feeling.

Lately, thanks to COVID-19, it comes down to telling myself: “OK, you’re not gonna try to work full-time this afternoon with two kids home all day because schools are closed. You’re just gonna be mom.”

Diabetes can’t take a backseat just because you’re a mother. Diabetes is a priority because you’re a mother. That fact and reality is a big part of what makes this combination so overwhelming some days.

Even without type 1 diabetes in the mix, it’s very hard for mothers to make themselves a priority. Everybody wants a piece of your time, your energy, and your heart.

But your needs matter, too, Mama! Like they say, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”

So think about what you need in order to create more balance in your life as a mother. Maybe it’s 30 minutes in the morning to exercise, or informing your children they are now responsible for cleaning and folding their own laundry. Maybe it’s assigning each child some clean-up duties after dinner every night, or signing up for a fitness class twice a week that means dad is in charge of dinner those nights.

What do you need in order to maintain more balance and peace in your own health? Your needs matter, too, Mama! Don’t forget it!

That right there may be the best kept secret of being a mom with diabetes.


Ginger Vieira is a type 1 diabetes advocate and writer, also living with celiac disease and fibromyalgia. She is the author of “Pregnancy with Type 1 Diabetes,” “Dealing with Diabetes Burnout,” and several other diabetes books found on Amazon. She also holds certifications in coaching, personal training, and yoga.