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What Parents of Kids with Food Allergies Want You to Know

image source: heather neal
image source: heather neal

Being the mom of a kid with severe food allergies doesn’t really sound like a big deal: just don’t give your kid the food he’s allergic to. But in reality, it’s a whole lot more than that. We fret about what to pack for lunch and what will be served at playdates. We panic when someone says, “let’s just go out to eat” and we spend hours in the grocery store reading every last ingredient of every single item in our cart.

We fret and we worry, and then we try to figure out how to make it all OK. How to keep our kids safe from their allergies and how to empower them so they don’t feel left out, ashamed, or different. We learn and we conquer and we move forward. We share some of what we go through, but not all of it.

We’re lucky enough to have friends, families, and teachers that understand and empathize with our journey, but that’s not to say there aren’t challenges, obstacles, and hurdles. One of the things that helps us get over each bump in the road is having supporters, cheerleaders, and sympathizers — people who do their best to encourage us, support us, and make our journey just a little bit easier. Sometimes understanding what someone is going through, even just a little bit, can make all the difference.

When other parents ask about a food they can provide at a birthday party or a teacher calls to double-check an ingredient in a snack, it helps me realize we’re not alone. These aren’t things I expect from friends or parents of non-food allergy kids, but when it happens, it warms my heart. You may not think it makes a difference, but it does — in a big way.

Food allergies are everywhere these days, and even if you or your kids aren’t affected by them, awareness can be invaluable to a child or family that is impacted. In case it can help you relate to someone else, here are eight things parents of kids with food allergies want you to know …

1. Please don’t take it personally if we bring our own food to your party.

We are not judging your decision to serve pizza and cake at your kid’s birthday party by bringing a Sunbutter sandwich and homemade cookie and sneaking it onto our own kid’s plate at meal time; we’re simply making sure our child isn’t left out or going hungry while everyone else is eating. (Related: please don’t be offended if we ask what you’re planning to serve at said party so we can match what we bring for our kid as closely as possible.)

2. Having an allergy doesn’t single out our kids; making a big deal out of it in front of them does.

Contrary to what elementary-school cafeteria ridiculing suggests, simply having an allergy doesn’t make you weird or abnormal, but if you act like it does in front of our kids, it can make them feel out of place, different, and ostracized. There’s no need to make a big fuss or cause a scene, especially if it’s in front of the kid. If you need to know something about an allergy, talk to the parent in a one-on-one setting, or if the child is old enough, speak to them directly.

3. Don’t be offended if you buy something “safe” for our kids and they still can’t eat it.

Food allergies aren’t cut and dry, and neither are food labels. We appreciate it so much that you’re thinking about our kid, but there’s a chance they still won’t be able to eat the food for a number of reasons: multiple allergies, unclear labeling, or cross-contact, to name a few.

4. Allergens can be hidden in the craziest of places.

The food you eat isn’t the only scary place an allergen can hide. They can also be found in cleaning products, beauty supplies, and even dust. Don’t think we’re crazy if our restrictions go beyond what we’re putting on our kid’s plate.

5. Our kids do know when we’re talking about them.

Announcing special circumstances have to be made because of “an allergy” isn’t going to fly right over our kid’s head. They know they’re the one with the allergy and therefore the one that needs the special situation. Don’t think you’re passing one over on them. Kids are resilient, but even small things can be a dent in their tough armor, and this is one that’s easily avoidable. For instance, a parent once complained in front of my son’s class that they couldn’t decorate cupcakes for a party like they had in the past because of “some kid’s problem.” Without his name being mentioned, my son knew he was the “culprit.” If you have complaints, concerns, or questions about an allergy, please pull us parents aside and talk to us in a more private setting. This will help prevent feelings from getting hurt all around.

6. Meal planning is crazy.

Imagine planning a weekly dinner menu that will please your whole family. Potentially impossible feat at times, right? Now add in a list of restrictions, possibly different restrictions for different family members. Now it’s just insane, and you haven’t even factored in the cost of special ingredients or finding the time to cook everything from scratch, as is often needed. If we seem exhausted and stressed, this could be a reason why.

7. Dinners out and vacations can be super stressful.

As overwhelming as meal planning at home can be, eating out can be even more stressful. You have to put your trust in a stranger and a thousand other variables. Restaurant waitstaff sometimes think they’re answering a question correctly, but they may be misinformed. Often it’s easier just to eat at home, but you can’t always make that happen. Vacations are like eating out times a thousand — not only are you away from your own kitchen and safely stocked ingredients, you have unfamiliar and sometimes limited stores to choose from. Planning in advance for food alone is a bigger task than packing for the whole family. This may makes us seem difficult, resentful, or even stubborn leading up to a trip or while on vacation. Please, don’t take it personally — we’re just trying to think everything through and make the best decisions for our kids so they don’t get sick (or hungry!) due to us overlooking something.

8. We constantly worry.

Constantly. Will a teacher forget to give my kid his own snack at school instead of the class snack? Will there be a sub who doesn’t know the rules? Will he grab a bite off the kid’s plate next to him at a birthday party? Will the allure of a cupcake just become too much? Did someone with contaminated hands grope the grocery cart before we used it? Is the waiter sure our food wasn’t prepared on the same cutting board as everything else? Parties, babysitters, playdates, and drop-in daycare become big things, not just another part of our kid’s day.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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