An Apology

As you may know, a quote from me in Friday’s Los Angeles Times has upset many, many people in the type 1 diabetes community. Some have asked for an apology. Some have rejected the one I made. Others threatened my livelihood and called me names.

I am deeply sorry for the pain my out-of-context and massively condensed quote caused. I hope this heartfelt apology and fuller explanation help ease that pain.

As Los Angeles Times reporter Benjamin Oreskes and I discussed the college cheating scandal and also the fine line between parenting and overparenting, I told him a story about a mother I met last year after giving a talk at a college. The mother approached me with a question relating to her daughter’s type 1 diabetes.

The mother said she monitors her twenty year-old daughter’s blood sugar on an app she keeps on her phone. The app allows her to see blood sugar highs, lows, averages, and long-term trends, and she can better understand what her daughter needs based on real-time data. The mother said she would contact her daughter when blood sugars were too high, or too low, and that the mother was the one in charge of adjusting insulin doses and diet in response.

We marveled at the app for a bit, and how it was an incredible improvement on the old-fashioned ways I saw blood sugar monitored in my family. Based on that family experience, plus my work supporting many students with type 1 diabetes, I said I saw how monitoring glucose through that app could help the mother be a crucial safety net for her college-aged daughter.

Then the mother asked me another question, saying it was the question she’d approached me about in the first place: How does a parent of a child with a serious illness walk that line between supporting a child with increased health care needs and doing too much for them? She said she wanted her daughter to learn to manage her own self-care at the same time she worried that she might be getting in the way of that maturation by always taking charge of her daughter’s diabetes management. She said she could not find a way to step back now even as her daughter had entered her twenties. She confessed she had no plan, and wasn’t sure how to make one.

I empathized as best as I could, given that I do not have a child with a serious illness. Then I offered the advice she asked me for. I suggested that she talk with her daughter about a long-term, gradual plan to shift the bulk of the responsibility for monitoring her diabetes to her daughter. We discussed some possible strategies that might work for her family … and that was it. She thanked me for my talk, I thanked her for sharing her story with me, and we went our separate ways.

In Friday’s Los Angeles Times, this long story was condensed down to 42 words, and Los Angeles Times reporter Benjamin Oreskes added his own characterization of the mother’s blood sugar monitoring, “this seemingly basic task,” a description I never would have used, since monitoring diabetes type 1 is anything but basic or simple.

As someone who has dedicated my career to the health, welfare, and education of children, I am deeply sorry for the way my quote has affected the parents of children with type 1 diabetes. I see those parents as heroes. As my children will eagerly tell you, I am far from perfect as a mom, and the last thing I would ever want to do is add to the challenges parents in the type 1 diabetes community face every day.

I hope this apology, and clarification of what I actually said, helps ease the pain my quote caused. I have learned a lot from the past two days, including that the type 1 diabetes community is strong, vocal and activated. That spirit of self-advocacy and empowerment is exactly what our children need.