Families and Self-Care

Text Size:

Lately I’ve been noticing what a difference my family can make in how I feel and how well I take care of myself. They can really help, or they can interfere. Have you noticed anything like that?

We’ve had nieces, brothers, and children coming to visit and stay with us over the holidays. It’s great to see them, of course, but I find it harder to take care of myself. But even in normal times, family makes a big difference.

When my wife and I are getting along really well, there’s much less stress. When things are tenser between us, it seems like I have trouble relaxing or eating right. When a problem comes up with one of our two (grown) children, I may have trouble sleeping or finding time to exercise. Do these things happen to you?

Research on Families
Studies have found that family conflict interferes with diabetes self-care, and that family support predicts better adaptation to the demands of diabetes. A study published in Diabetes Care reported that, “When family members behaved in ways that supported the diabetes care regimen, the individual with diabetes was more satisfied with his or her adaptation to the illness and reported less interference in role function due to emotional problems.”

In his book Diabetes Burnout, William Polonsky, director of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute in San Diego, warns about family becoming the “diabetes police.” Family members asking “Have you checked your blood sugar?” any time you get annoyed about something won’t help you monitor more effectively. But “diabetes saboteurs” aren’t much better, are they? People bringing your favorite cookies into the house when you’re trying to lose weight can make your job harder.

I think most people want families first to realize how difficult living with a chronic illness is. Some families get this and some don’t. I’m not sure about mine. But you don’t want them feeling sorry for you either. You might help them learn about your condition by bringing them to a support group meeting. (If you’re interested, you can find a support group near you here.)

Then you might think about what you would specifically like them to do and not do. Write your ideas down and think about how best to present them to your family.

Illness Affects Families Too
Just as families can make coping with illness harder, illness puts a big strain on families. You may have had physical, sexual, energy level, or emotional changes that make you seem “not the same person” in some way. Our relationships may change because of illness, and there’s no sense pretending they don’t. If we ignore what’s going on, things may become much harder than they need to be. Families may be grieving or scared, and there is much less support for them than there is for patients.

The important thing is to talk about all the issues that come up in our relationships, including, but not limited to, illness-related ones. It is sometimes useful to get help from a counselor, therapist, or clergyperson who knows something about chronic illness.

How has diabetes affected your family life? And how does your family help or hinder your self-management? What do you do to make family members more of a help and less of a problem? Let us know by commenting here, and enjoy your holidays!

End Note
If you’re interested in books for holiday presents, check out mine at I’ll send you an inscribed copy. But I think this year, with all the hard times going on, I’m not giving gifts. I’ll make contributions to food banks and other charities instead. What about you?

Get Diabetes-Friendly Recipes In Your Inbox

Sign up for Free

Stay Up To Date On News & Advice For Diabetes

Sign up for Free

Get On Track With Daily Lifestyle Tips

Sign up for Free

Save Your Favorites

Save This Article