Solving The Babysitter Dilemma

Patient Expert

Once your child has been diagnosed with Type I diabetes, you probably feel like you'll never be able to leave him with anyone outside of your immediate family. (Even then, maybe not - my mother politely declines to give shots because she's so worried she'll make a mistake.) At some point, in order to get some sanity back into your life - and into your marriage - you'll need to find a babysitter. Here are some tips:

First, get used to the fact that your days of being able to hire an eighth-grader for $5 an hour are over. You simply can't leave a child with diabetes with anyone but an adult. Unfortunately, it's going to cost you - here in Washington, D.C., I now pay between $15 and $20 an hour for adult babysitters. Chalk it up to the "Diabetes Tax" - the cost this disease imposes on individual families as well as to the economy at large (add it to the cost of glucose tablets, protein/carb snacks, and medic alert bracelets that you wouldn't have to spend money if it weren't for diabetes.)

If you have an unlimited supply of money, the best option would be to leave your child with a nurse - someone trained to give shots, who understands the disease, and who knows what to do in an emergency. There are two places to find nurses who babysit: first, through word of mouth at doctors offices, hospitals, etc. Don't be afraid to ask next time you are in your pediatrician's office if any of the nurses are interested in sitting; they have normal hours and may need the extra money. The second way to find nurses is to call a child care agency. Child care agencies supply families with nannies and babysitters; they are usually insured and bonded, and have passed a criminal and immigration check. Some agencies require all of their sitters to know CPR and basic first aid. Occasionally these agencies will have a nurse among their ranks for special needs kids.

A cheaper option is to call your local nursing school, which most universities have, and ask if they maintain a list of students interested in babysitting. They may have a job listing service or a bulletin board that you could post an ad on. Medical students would be great too, but most of them don't seem to have time for babysitting. Nursing students are great because they seem to have a lot of friends who are available too; unfortunately they may also have boyfriends who take them out on Friday and Saturday nights.

I've had good luck recruiting from the staff of child care centers around town; caregivers at these facilities are also checked for criminal and immigration issues, and must know basic first aid. We've used young women from the child care place at our gym, and the one at school for the teachers' children. They're used to being around lots of kids and are usually pretty calm in a crisis. Plus, their day jobs are so chaotic that if your child is even moderately well-behaved they think it's the Second Coming.

Another idea is to approach your child's former teachers. Most schools have a rule that teachers may not babysit their current students (a rule at our school, for a variety of good reasons), but former teachers are great because they already know and love (hopefully) your child, are responsible adults, and also have a basic understanding of first aid.

No matter who you approach, you should always mention in the initial conversation that your child has type I diabetes and that it will require either giving shots or overseeing a pump - and will that be a problem for the sitter? Most say it's okay, if you offer to show them the ropes the first time they come to your house. Tell them it's like giving an allergy shot - just into the fat - and they don't have to find a vein or anything. That usually helps. For a long time, we only went out after Annie had her dinner shot, so that it was less work for sitters trying to calculate carbs and the right dose. This meant we didn't go to a lot of 5 o'clock events; but rather we'd go out at 7 o'clock and get back for a late-night check before going to bed.

As our daughter has gotten older and more self-sufficient with her diabetes management (she can check her own blood and calculate her own doses, with an adult double-checking her), the babysitter dilemma has become less of a burden. Over time, it will get easier for you, too.