Navigating life as a parent of a chronically ill child - SE3EP14 - Dr. Maureen Michele Petersen

Navigating life as a parent of a chronically ill child - SE3EP14 - Dr. Maureen Michele Petersen

Today, our guest is Dr. Maureen Michele Petersen, a remarkable individual whose personal and professional journey is nothing short of inspiring. Maureen, a mother, physician, life coach, pediatrician, an allergist/immunologist, specializes in helping parents of Type 1 diabetic children navigate the complexities of their unique parenting challenges. As a mother of three, including a child with Type 1 Diabetes and one who faced neuroblastoma, her experiences have equipped her with profound insights into managing life's unexpected turns. Michele is also an author, with her book 'RECLAIMING LIFE: A Guide for Parents of Chronically Ill Children' offering a deep dive into the emotional landscape of parents in similar situations.

Connect with Dr. Petersen:

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AI-generated transcription:

Jamie (00:01.142)

Hello parents and welcome to Parenting in the Digital Age. The podcast where we delve into the unique challenges and opportunities of raising children in today's fast paced tech driven world. Each episode features conversations with experts and thought leaders who provide actionable insights and practical guidance for navigating life as modern parents. Today, I'm honored to have Dr. Maureen Peterson, a remarkable individual whose professional and personal journey is nothing short of inspiring.

Maureen's a mother, a physician, a life coach, pediatrician, allergist, immunologist, specializes in helping parents of type 1 diabetic children navigate the complexities of their unique parenting challenges. As a mother of three, including a child with type 1 diabetes and one who's faced neuroblastoma, her experiences have equipped her with the profound insights into managing life's unexpected turns. Michelle's also an author with her book, called Reclaiming Life, a guide for parents of chronically ill children, which offers deep insights and deep dives in the emotional landscape of parents in similar situations.

Jamie (00:00.904)

Maureen, welcome to the show. First of all, could you share with our listeners a little bit about what you do and what you're passionate about?

Dr. Maureen (00:07.466)

Yeah, of course. Thank you so much for having me here and allowing me to chat with your audience for a little bit. So I am a physician. I'm also a life coach, but my favorite job in the world is being a mom. I'm a mom to three kids. And I have always, since I was a very young child, dreamt about being a doctor and being a mom.

and got to achieve both of those dreams. When I was in pediatric residency, my second child, who's my daughter, was diagnosed with pediatric neuroblastoma, which is a type of pediatric cancer. I had taken care of patients with that same type of cancer before and knew

what that meant. So my world kind of immediately came crashing down. I felt very scared. I felt overwhelmed. I felt guilty. And I felt like this dream of being a mom was kind of being taken away from me.

Things got better. She did well with surgery and chemotherapy. And as we got farther away from that diagnosis, life got a little bit better. Fast forward to when she was 12, I had the honor of being the physician to diagnose her with type 1 diabetes and felt like my world once again was coming crashing down. I...

Knew though, I didn't want to wind up in that place where I was previously. So I was very proactive about my own emotional health at that time, became very involved and aware of coaching. I benefited from having a coach. And then years later, when I was a leader in the hospital setting,

Dr. Maureen (02:25.31)

became certified in life coaching to help with mentorship at the time, but realized it was really helping parents of patients I was taking care of in clinic. I am now passionate about sharing those tools that I have learned through coaching and through my own journey to make the lives of other parents who

have kids with health challenges, make it a little bit easier than the journey that I went through.

Jamie (03:00.412)

Yeah, thank you for sharing that. That's deeply personal. And before I get into some of the coaching stuff, which I'm very interested in, how does parenting a child with say chronic type one diabetes, how does that affect family dynamics?

Dr. Maureen (03:18.27)

Oh my goodness. It affects it more than folks realize because you start with a mom, and I'll just say mom just because that's the role that I was in my own family, but it impacted me personally, which then it'll impact other relationships in the family because...

the child with the health issue is getting a lot of focused attention, necessary focused attention, but it's being, that attention is taking away the mom's ability to care for herself, but it also, you know, takes away from the ability of having space to allow other siblings,

to express their emotions or give them the attention that they need. So the dynamics of the entire family shifts when one individual is affected with any sort of long-term health issue.

Jamie (04:37.42)

And I suppose, how did you manage those dynamics? Like you mentioned you got a coach, but this was when your daughter was diagnosed with type one diabetes. So how did you manage those family dynamics? Like you mentioned the coach sort of helped in that second part, but maybe when she had that neuroblastoma or that cancer, I guess it was different. Maybe can you share how you did that?

Dr. Maureen (04:57.838)


Dr. Maureen (05:06.258)

Yeah. So, you know, I would say at the time when I look back on the journey that we went through when my daughter had cancer, like I did not do things well. I did not take care of myself very well. I became very consumed with a lot of negative emotions. My oldest child was two years.

two years old at the time. And I think looking back at that time, it was almost like he lost his mom during that time. It, you know, a two-year-old doesn't really understand or get what's going on. So it's hard for them to really express

in words how they feel, but my attention certainly wasn't on the two-year-old. And, you know, I did have family and friends that stepped in, but it's challenging because the other problem that I had personally, and then a lot of folks that I help now have, is this fear of asking

thought at the time, you know, I had always dreamed of being a mom. And so asking for help was this kind of thing that was going to make it mean that I was a failure. So that was the story that was playing in my mind that asking for help was bad. It is absolutely not that.

a limiting belief that I had at the time. I am much better at asking for help now because I realize, no, it's actually strength, strength in understanding how full your plate can be and what your limits are. And it's okay to ask for help because it allows other individuals the opportunity to

Dr. Maureen (07:27.842)

serve others, which we all know serving others gives us such good feelings and pleasure in life. So allowing them to have this gift to help us, it can be very rewarding.

Jamie (07:47.024)

Yeah. And it's almost fulfilling a purpose, you know, contribution to others gives us that sense of purpose as well. So it's so important. When did you like or what made you get a coach? Because for some parents, that's an interesting decision, one that I completely believe I have a coach. I believe in the coaching and what you know, how it can help you mentally and in other areas of your life. But when your daughter was diagnosed with type one diabetes, you mentioned earlier that you.

Dr. Maureen (07:51.18)


Jamie (08:15.664)

I sought out the help of a coach. Was it because of that? Was it a coincidence? Like what made you get that coach?

Dr. Maureen (08:19.159)


Dr. Maureen (08:22.41)

Yeah, so because of the experience I went through when she had cancer years earlier, I was kind of in this very dark place years earlier, where I was functioning like a zombie, that if somebody asks me, hey Maureen, are you okay? I'll be like, yeah, I'm fine, I'm fine. But I knew I wasn't okay.

But it was again, this acknowledgement that you're not okay. I felt like it was me failing. And so I couldn't acknowledge the fact that things weren't going well. So I just kind of drove on in this zombie fashion. Well, when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I knew because of the...

many kids with type 1 diabetes that I had taken care of in the clinic setting, it's a diagnosis that doesn't have a cure. So it's not going away. So I needed to figure out how not to go to that place that I was in years earlier, but rather figure out how I was going to live a life.

with diabetes, but not live the life that I thought I was going to live. And I will say that's an important thing that a lot of parents face when they have a kid who gets diagnosed with something that is a long-term health condition, that there's this grieving process that

Dr. Maureen (10:18.882)

that you once thought you were going to have that was gonna be all unicorns and rainbows with your child. And now all of a sudden, this massive challenge has become part of your day. So knowing that it wasn't gonna go away really made me proactive in trying to sort out how I was gonna help myself. And the coaching piece came in because

of I immerse myself in books and podcasts. And so the podcast journey just led me to understand more about coaching and seek out a coach.

Jamie (11:02.06)

Wonderful. That's a great realization. When faced with these life altering diagnoses, many parents, I suppose, let their health, wellbeing, mental health, take a back seat. I guess partly to do with that grieving process, we want to focus on that child or that family member. And all this other stuff takes a backseat, maybe almost regale. I'm not really sure how the psychology of it all works. But how do you maintain your own?

Dr. Maureen (11:25.922)


Jamie (11:31.176)

you know, mental wellbeing, physical wellbeing and resilience while managing the challenges of parenting in your professional life.

Dr. Maureen (11:38.454)

Yeah, great question. And the very first step in all of that on managing yourself is to let go of the guilt that goes along with it. We talk a lot about self-care now, and when people kind of throw around like, oh, you have to participate in self-care, they're often...

thinking, well, I don't have time to go to the spa. And don't get me wrong, I love a good spa day, but that's not what we're talking about when we're talking about taking care of yourself. That focusing on a consistent daily basis on something that rejuvenates you from an emotional standpoint is really important.

as a parent who's trying to take care of someone else. Because, you know, we're reminded of this when we fly, the flight attendant always tells us, put your oxygen mask on first before you help somebody else. And the same thing applies, is you have to carve out a few minutes on a regular basis to take care of yourself.

so that you are 100% when you're trying to take care of your child. So it just means making sure that you are prioritizing that and it becomes even more important when you have a kid who has health issues to do things like exercise, because exercise from a medical perspective

can change your brain chemistry as much as antidepressants can. So knowing that, like prioritizing exercise, that's a phenomenal thing, but it can just be something simple, like spending a few minutes journaling or spending a few minutes deep breathing or meditating. Those things are all part of self-care.

Dr. Maureen (14:00.83)

and are so necessary when we're doing hard things.

Jamie (14:05.904)

Yeah, it's fun. You mentioned exercise so critically important to, you know, find your own mental headspace and change your state and your physiology or contributes to mental health. You mentioned journaling, which is interesting. Where would someone start if they want to journal? Is it just about, you know, sitting down and writing some positive thoughts or is it deeper than that? Like, how would you what advice would you give to parents on perhaps someone wanting to pick up journaling?

Dr. Maureen (14:35.566)

I loved that you asked me that question because I love journaling and it is such a valuable tool. And the place to start is just allowing yourself a few minutes on a regular basis with a blank sheet of paper. It can be something where you're responding to a journal prompt

It can be something that any thought that comes to your mind, you just write it down. It doesn't matter when you start, that having that space with that blank sheet of paper on a regular basis will allow your brain to actually develop the habit of allowing ideas to flow on that paper. And,

I love journaling for two big reasons. One is it allows you to write those thoughts down on the paper so that you can then objectively see what your brain is thinking and what stories your brain is creating so that you have the ability to pick and choose what you believe and pick and choose

how you're gonna retrain the focus of your brain. The second reason I love journaling is if somebody is really stuck that they don't know what to write, I always tell them, you know what? Start the journaling practice with writing three specific things that you are grateful for. And it can't be something general like I'm grateful for my kids. It needs to be very specific.

like I'm grateful for the phone conversation I had with my daughter yesterday. And doing three specific things on a regular basis has been shown to clinically change the lens that we're seeing the world through and refocuses our brain on good things that are happening throughout our day. So that's

Dr. Maureen (16:59.83)

can be a very powerful tool to change our mental state and change our mindset. But the biggest thing in all of it is just giving yourself a few minutes on a regular basis to start the practice.

Jamie (17:18.548)

Thank you. That's incredibly practical advice on how to start. Because I imagine that whether it's now or at some point in the future, someone's listening to this podcast and is saying, yeah, okay. You said journaling. I wouldn't know where to start. You know, how do I put pen to paper and what am I writing? Why? Like you really articulated that why. And it's wonderful to hear it. Like your perspective as a physician and coach is a unique perspective because I'm not sure all physicians would necessarily come at it with that view. So thank you for sharing.

Dr. Maureen (17:47.402)

Yeah. Well, and you know, the other thing that you just said is like, somebody would say like, I don't know where to start. And so oftentimes with anything in life, if we don't know where to start that kind of thought, I don't know where to start causes us to never start. And the, the real thing that we need to realize is just starting something.

you're gonna stink at it at the beginning. But if you start and take that first step, that you learn from what you're doing and you get better with it because it becomes practice and that practice is honing what you like or dislike about the activity that you're doing.

Jamie (18:39.192)

Yeah, it reminds me of action is more important than intent. You know, people set goals, you know, like everyone can set a goal, but only a few people get it's the activities, the actions and the habits that are going to cause that outcome. So we're well said. OK, so let's there's someone listening to this podcast now in the future. They've the child or someone close to them has been, you know, given a maybe a long term health diagnosis.

Dr. Maureen (18:42.614)

Absolutely. Yeah.

Jamie (19:06.12)

They're in a state of overwhelm at the minute, panic and all sorts of feelings. What's one piece of advice? And I know this is a tough question, but what's one piece of advice you'd give to a parent in this situation is just beginning their journey with perhaps a child has been diagnosed with something like type 1 diabetes.

Dr. Maureen (19:24.874)

Yeah, I would say the biggest thing that I hope that they hear me say today is that it's going to be okay. That any time we are faced with challenges in our lives, whether it be a child with a health problem or financial difficulties or career problems, whatever it is, we have two choices.

It's the choice to crumble up into a ball and pretend like it's not happening to us and allow life to happen to us. Or we can choose to believe that challenge is really a gift and that life is happening for us. Now, it may not feel like it at the time, but the...

Believing that it can be a gift and it's going to be okay will allow someone to move forward in their journey with it. The other big thing that I hope they hear me say is that whatever they're feeling at the time that their child gets that diagnosis, it is absolutely normal. So, you know, I'm talking about

how I was overwhelmed and fearful and guilty, and I am not in that space now, that took work and practice. But all of those emotions that I was feeling in the moment, that is supposed to happen. I would worry about a parent,

who didn't feel overwhelmed or scared or guilty or whatever emotion they're feeling at the time when they've had this big shift in their lives. So it's don't feel like you're alone and that you're this alien feeling these weird emotions that this is a normal process and it's going to be okay.

Jamie (21:44.392)

Thank you, great advice. What role does building a strong support system play in the lives of parents with type one diabetic children or other sort of chronic illnesses? What's the role of that, or the importance of building a strong support system?

Dr. Maureen (22:00.106)

Yeah, so relationships in our lives, even if you don't have a child with a chronic illness, are absolutely important because one of the things that can actually decrease life expectancy of any individual is loneliness. So having good, healthy relationships

so important, but even more important when you're facing a challenge, because a solid support system allows the individual to be vulnerable and allows them the space to have people they trust who can ask for help, and that they can delegate to if need be. So,

This life is not one that is meant to live on our own in our own little bubble. That our worlds are constantly colliding and doing it in a healthy meaningful way is so important because that support system can not only take some of the load off, but it can also emotionally

and take away some of that loneliness that has been known to be a early killer of individuals in this world.

Jamie (23:42.492)

Now, you also wrote a book, Reclaiming Life. Tell us a little bit about that.

Dr. Maureen (23:48.362)

Yeah, so the book, this will get back to kind of why I'm super passionate about journaling also when I tell you this kind of quick story. So I initially wanted to write a book because my kids would always come to me and say, mom, tell us the story of when Kylie had surgery or tell us the story of when she had chemotherapy or tell us the story of diabetes.

So I wanted to write down these stories so that there was some historical reference for my kids and their kids, et cetera. Well, as I was thinking about these stories, I realized, you know what? Our stories can actually help other people in their journey with their children. And the book kind of changed to where

Each chapter of the book deals with a different subject, like there's a chapter on fear, a chapter on overwhelm. And it has stories of my daughter when she had cancer, when she had diabetes, and then stories of patients that I took care of in the clinic, along with tips that readers can implement in their lives today. The book, though, I read it,

thought when I started, I was going to crank out these stories within the matter of a weekend because I had lived them, but quickly realized that when describing what went on in detail for the readers, I had to relive those moments in detail. And I can remember

writing the very last sentence of the book and I just closed my laptop and just started crying because it took me way longer than a weekend to go through and write everything, but it was so healing to be able to do that. So the book is called Reclaiming Life, a Guide for Parents of

Dr. Maureen (26:10.114)

And I love hearing about how readers have taken those tools and have really changed things about their lives.

Jamie (26:22.312)

Thank you for sharing. Now, as we wrap up the podcast, there is one question that we ask all of our guests on the show, and that is, if we were to put you in a time machine and you could go back to your 12 year old younger self, what would Dr. Maureen say to her younger self? What's one piece of advice you'd give to yourself?

Dr. Maureen (26:43.146)

The piece of advice that I would give to my 12 year old self is life is hard, but totally worth it. And it goes back to now what I said earlier about how challenges are really gifts in life. I am so different than my 12 year old self now.

And if I could bottle up all of the wisdom I had from all of these challenges I've gone through in life and given it to my 12 year old self, like it would be a much more relaxed journey with this anticipation of all of this greatness that was gonna come from all of these difficulties.

Jamie (27:34.772)

Well said. Tell me just quickly before we finish up, a little bit about the coaching, because I think there will be people at some point listening to this saying, hey, I could benefit from this, or I should engage with a coach to help me through this process or help our family. Is it a one-on-one thing? Is it a group thing? Is it a, like, how does it work? What does that look like relative to you?

Dr. Maureen (27:58.702)

So for me right now, I'm doing one-on-one coaching where I meet with folks over Zoom for one hour weekly sessions. We work on a variety of topics. The big things that often come up that I frequently teach on is

advocacy and how to do a great job of advocating for your child, organization and how to get your home and mind organized, along with building a good support system. We work on other things outside of those three pillars, but those are the common kind of recurring ones that often come up.

Jamie (28:54.642)

Thank you. And for those looking to reach out to you, get in contact or stay connected via social, how can they do that? Well, and we'll share these in the show notes, but share them now, please.

Dr. Maureen (29:04.35)

Yeah, absolutely. So my website is Maur Michelle is spelt with one L. And then I'm also on Instagram as MaureenMichelleMD. Again, Michelle is spelt with one L.

Jamie (29:22.952)

Dr. Maureen, thank you for joining us. Thanks for your openness and wonderful thoughts on this that I know this, one of the things I love about podcasting is that, you know, this will just be out in the universe and someone in a year from now is gonna benefit from this conversation and that just makes my day. So thanks for sharing. I hope we cross paths again soon and bye for now.

Dr. Maureen (29:43.278)

I hope so. Yeah, no thank you.

Jamie (29:47.444)