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Parenting, Working, and Diabetes During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Cheryl Alkon

For some, school cancelations and working from home have added stress that can make diabetes management even more difficult. Here are the perspectives and strategies of several parents who are navigating this environment

With COVID-19 spreading through the United States, every state in the country has closed public and private elementary, middle and high schools. As a result, many of us are living and working at home full time with our kids.

How are you overseeing your diabetes during this time? Several parents with diabetes shared what they’re doing, how they’re managing, and their best advice.

Go Easy on Yourself

Ellen Sheng, of New Jersey, pulled her 11- and 6-year old sons out of their schools three days before the schools closed on March 13 for at least a month. While the fifth grader had online instruction the day after the schools shut, the younger child had a week off from any school-based learning. Sheng’s husband is also working from home during this period.

“I’ve been trying to come up with lessons and activities while also juggling work deadlines,” says Sheng, a financial journalist. “Between the lack of exercise (I usually go to the gym), and all the stress, my numbers have been trending high. I activated my ‘stress’ basal setting on my insulin pump, which is usually reserved for that time of the month or visits from my mom. I’ve still had to do a lot of corrections. I guess I need a special ‘pandemic’ basal setting.”

Sheng suggests focusing on what you can to help ease into what is admittedly a historical and unprecedented period in time. “It’s only been a few days with everyone home, so we are still figuring things out,” she says. “I’ve been focused on getting enough sleep, meditating, carving out time for exercise such as walks with the kids and doing a short high-intensity interval training workout outdoors with my husband, and watching some comedy. I’m also trying to keep to my usual diet instead of stress eating, which I’m prone to do. It’s starting to help: I went back to my usual basal setting today [after about a week of kids being home].”

Take It One Day at a Time, and Be Realistic

Focus on what you can control, advises Theresa Hastings in Denver, Colorado. Her kids are 9 and 6 and have been home since March 13. Overseeing the stress of the pandemic, unexpected homeschooling for her kids with learning differences (autism and ADHD), stocking the pantry, cancelled vacations, and ensuring she has enough diabetes medications on hand, “has taken me from great diabetes management to less than optimal management,” she said. “The entire thing is stressful from top to bottom.”

For supervising her kids’ online learning, Hastings broke the process down into manageable steps. She took the school’s lessons and divided them into daily checklists. That way, her kids can see exactly what they need to do, and once they finish, “know they can play as if it were the weekend,” she says. To work around her son’s hatred of journal writing, which is expected in school but causes a battle and tears at home (and makes Hastings’ blood sugars skyrocket), “I adapted that into something my son would enjoy, which is writing letters to friends and family on a topic with three things about that topic. I communicated with the teacher to make sure my change met her expectations.” The adaptation has worked both for her son and his teacher, and has helped Hastings keep her glucose levels stable.

Making things reasonable helps lower stress levels and contributes to more manageable blood sugars. “While I’d love to do so many amazing Pinterest learning projects and experiments with them, I know my limitations in this current situation,” she says. “I recognize I don’t have the bandwidth to put the activities together and execute them. I’d rather use my creativity to break their lessons into something they won’t fight me on. I also recognize that letting them watch Bill Nye the Science Guy for their science lesson is OK. We don’t have to build papier-maché volcanoes.”

Develop and Maintain Routines

Melissa Lee lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where California’s governor said on March 17 that all schools would likely remain closed through fall of 2020. While Lee works from home for a remote/distributed company and while her diabetes management is already part of her routine, her 10- and 8-year old have been home since March 16, “and their rather robust independent study coursework that our schools sent home has been our biggest challenge,” she says. “I find that keeping to our routine has been key: mealtimes, food types, snacking behavior and bedtime. The more we can feel like business as usual, the more predictable my diabetes will be.”

Leaning into the familiar is a way to foster normalcy when things are very much not normal now, says Lee. “Accept that there will be some things that can be controlled, like your routine and behaviors, and some things that can’t, like your stress level and how that may impact your glucose levels.” While having family in close quarters may make it harder to spend time on yourself, she says, “consider how you might use this time to nurture some new habits without the pressures of having to be somewhere.”

We’re All in This Together

Know that everyone is doing the same as you—living with the same pandemic situation, working from home, parenting kids—and even if everyone you know doesn’t have diabetes, just about everyone has something they are concerned about, whether that is another health condition, concern for family or friends with health issues, economic worries, and so on. Do what you can to manage stress.

“Stress is the main contributor to fluctuating glucose levels,” said Shannon Brumley in Boston. At work, she directly oversees a staff of two and indirectly oversees a staff of ten. “To manage stress, I ensure my staff and I are comfortable taking breaks—some to tend to children,” she said. Exercise, particularly for those in sedentary jobs, is also important. “Not getting outside, especially when the weather is crummy, will compound stress levels. Today, when the weather was nicer, I took advantage of the day and my kids and I jumped on our trampoline and took our dogs out for a much-needed walk.”

Overall, know you are likely doing your best. “Everyone is in the same boat and employers should be adjusting expectations and ensuring family comes first,” Brumley said. “I am very fortunate to be able to work from home and still be available to my kids during these trying times.”

About Cheryl

Cheryl Alkon is a seasoned writer and the author of the book Balancing Pregnancy With Pre-Existing Diabetes: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby. The book has been called “Hands down, the best book on type 1 diabetes and pregnancy, covering all the major issues that women with type 1 face. It provides excellent tips and secrets for achieving the best management” by Gary Scheiner, the author of Think Like A Pancreas. Since 2010, the book has helped countless women around the world conceive, grow and deliver healthy babies while also dealing with diabetes.

Cheryl covers diabetes and other health and medical topics for various print and online clients. She lives in Massachusetts with her family and holds an undergraduate degree from Brandeis University and a graduate degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

She has lived with type 1 diabetes for more than four decades, since being diagnosed in 1977 at age seven.

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