Ray Allen and wife Shannon on parenting and their son's diabetes diagnosis: 'We felt the rug was pulled out from under us'

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Ray Allen and his wife Shannon open up about parenting and supporting their son in his treatment for Type 1 diabetes.
Ray Allen and his wife Shannon open up about parenting and supporting their son in his treatment for Type 1 diabetes.

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of child-rearing.

Calling Ray Allen well-rounded is a little too on the nose, but the former NBA star — who once went toe to toe with Denzel Washington in Spike Lee’s He Got Game — is more than a retired Hall of Fame athlete: the father of five is also a public health advocate. His teenage son, Walker, has Type 1 diabetes and as such Allen has been using his voice to promote the Abbott's FreeStyle Libre 2 app, hoping to raise awareness about diabetes and the importance of glucose monitoring. Diagnosed at 17 months old, the now-14-year-old Walker's treatment involved constantly checking his glucose levels every day. Today, he uses the FreeStyle Libre 2 system, which his parents can monitor remotely from their phones. 

Both Allen and his wife, Shannon, recently juggled getting Walker and his siblings ready to resume school during an ongoing pandemic. Yahoo Life caught up with the former sharpshooting guard from his home to talk about parenting a brood during the pandemic, being a sports dad and why he’s never let his kids play basketball exclusively.

How would you describe your approach to parenting?

Shannon Allen: We have five children (one daughter and four boys) and they're all unique and special in their own ways. We feel grateful they chose us to be their parents and with that comes a big responsibility to make sure that we’re providing them with all the love and support they need to live an authentic life of their own choosing. It's so incredibly special to have this privilege to be their parents; I feel like it’s such an honor. We have a responsibility to hold space for them to lead authentic, happy lives — however they define it.

Ray Allen: We’re different [in our parenting styles]. I believe in instilling confidence and competition in the house. It’s not a question of them playing a sport, it’s a question of how hard they’re going to play the sport. And when they’re playing a sport, it's about how well their schoolwork is. We start with the competition at home: Even if we’re sitting around the house playing board games and playing cards, they always want to compete and they always want to win — and that translates into them bringing better grades home.

Speaking of a competitive nature: You were likely cast in He Got Game because of yours. Have any of your kids inherited that from you?

RA: They all have it — even down to my 9-year-old. I encourage them to play every sport because it’s important they have muscle development from top to bottom. Overuse of muscle in one sport can cause injury and burnout, so I want to expose them to everything, and let them choose because they’re fully equipped. You can always tell the athletes that have played multiple sports because their skill sets shine.

Do you have any advice for fellow parents who may be struggling to get their kids involved in sports?

RA: My kids choose it for themselves. I advise parents to get involved. Parents will sit on the couch and do nothing and encourage the kids to do something. It’s important for parents to be active — we, as parents, have to perform the behavior we want our children to mimic.

What has surprised you about parenting? What were you least prepared for?

RA: Dealing with the different personalities of my children, you have to expect anything and everything. When Walker was diagnosed with diabetes, it set us back and we had to adjust, and learn how to deal with his condition to move forward.

SA: It was definitely the moment where we felt the rug was pulled out from under us.

How do you carve out time for yourself?

SA: It’s hard! We both work…

RA: Marriage is an institution, a partnership — but most importantly, we’re always Mom and Dad.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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