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The Joys of Boys

Every day, Brent and Betty Vander Ark face challenges—and victories—in parenting their four sons and fighting the disease that affects one of them

The Vander Ark Family
Brent Vander Ark Age:33
Occupation: Business Executive
Betty Vander Ark Age: 32
Occupation: Full-time Mom
Married: 10 years
Hometown: Overland Park, Kansas

CPT: You have four sons. What are their names and ages?

Brent: William is eight, Jackson is six, Owen is two, and James is five months old.

CPT: Betty, you're certainly outnumbered. What is it like to run a household of men and soon-to-be men?

Betty: Well, the budget for my clothing and day spa visits has certainly turned in my favor! Seriously though, I consider it an honor to be the mother of four boys. It's my hope that they will maintain the high standards of integrity that their dad has in both his personal and professional life, and that they will put Christ first in all that they do.

CPT: Your oldest son, William, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes last summer. What does it take to treat his illness?

Brent: To avoid getting sick, William must take insulin up to five or six times a day. He takes a shot before every meal, including some snacks, and also a larger dose at night of a different kind of insulin that helps regulate his blood sugar throughout the day. If William's blood sugar goes too high, he runs the risk of short-term complications like ketone acidosis (high levels of acid in the blood). If William's blood sugar goes too low, he can go into a coma if not treated quickly.

CPT: Are there things William can't participate in due to his illness?

Brent: Not in theory, but there are a number of practical complications. If his blood sugar is too low before pe class, for example, he needs to sit out or the physical activity will make his blood sugar drop even lower. It's the same thing with playing sports or even going out to recess. And William is precluded from attending a lot of summer camps unless Betty or I chaperone him the entire time because they don't have medical professionals on staff, and they don't want to deal with the liability.

CPT: How does William respond to these limitations? Does he get upset that he can't go to soccer camp, etc.?

Betty: Sweet William is just like any other kid. He doesn't want to be excluded. This was to be his big year, his first summer away at camp. Unfortunately the head of the camp's medical facility made it clear they could not take "Type 1" kids. The risk is too great. I hate that William has had to learn disappointment so young. But I know dealing with diabetes will greatly shape his character, and I hope he will be able to draw on experiences like this to help others know more about the disease and how God can use any negative for his glory.

CPT: How has this illness affected your family life?

Brent: It really threw our family for a loop. William just naturally consumes more attention. Even though he's very responsible for helping to manage his own care, he's only eight and requires a lot of parental supervision. That inevitably pulls us away from our other boys. I think that's been toughest on Jackson, our six-year-old. Any family activity, from a bike ride to a trip or baseball game, needs to be planned out beforehand for supplies, blood sugar, etc.

Also, we have to stop at the beginning of each meal for William to test his blood sugar and take his insulin shot. Sometimes we can get that going before the food is ready, but he can't take the shot too soon or his blood sugar will drop too low. So, that often means his brothers need to stare at a full plate of food while they wait. It's really been hard, but his brothers are his biggest supporters.

CPT: It sounds like there's real camaraderie between the boys. Do they get along?

Brent: Yes. You know, after a lot of prayer, Betty and I decided to have our third and then our fourth child, with the express hope that the relationship benefits provided by additional siblings would more than make up for the reduced time we'd have to spend with each child individually. And so far that hope has come true. We thank God every day for the friendship our boys have with each other. Certainly, they have their squabbles like any kids. William's working on whining, Jackson's working on anger, Owen's working on sharing, but in general, they look out for each other.

CPT: Are there any ways you intentionally foster that camaraderie?

Brent: We've always taught them that part of being a good big brother is helping with your younger brothers. So, whether it's feeding James a bottle or running upstairs to get a diaper, that's an expectation of all three older boys, and they usually deliver.

Betty: One thing we feel pretty strongly about is having the boys share a room. William and Jackson really enjoy talking in their beds at night, and it's creating the foundation for a bond that will last long after Brent and I are gone. Owen and James share a room too, but their current bond isn't so glamorous.

CPT: What about the two of you? Having four young children has got to be a challenge to any relationship. What kinds of tensions arise in your marriage from this stage of parenting?

Brent: Tensions arise from limited time, more than anything.There's often a short window after I get home from work where we can sit down for dinner (which is usually pretty crazy in its own right) and I can spend a little time with the boys to get them started on homework, bedtimes, etc. Betty has just spent the whole day trying to communicate with these guys, while I've been talking to adults. She needs a more advanced conversation at that point, and I feel stretched to connect with her and yet take advantage of my limited time with the boys. We haven't completely solved that one yet.

CPT: On the flip side, what pleasures do you experience together that you think might be specific to this stage of parenting?

Brent: Seeing our kids do something for the first time—whether that's taking a first step or moving to another reading level in school—is a joy and a privilege. The older two boys are at a stage where they're working through a lot of questions about God and their faith, trying to piece things together. It's exciting to hear the questions they come up with. The intense busy-ness of this time also makes Betty and me value our limited one-on-one time with each other. Not that I didn't look forward to date nights with my wife before kids, or even after one or two, but now I consider them pure gold.

What About You?

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