Until I recently sat down with an “allergy mom” from my son’s Kindergarten class, I didn’t know much about the realities of having a child with severe food allergies. In her case, all three of her children (ages 3, 6, and 8) have life-threatening peanut allergies.
I didn’t know how much work went in to keeping her kids safe — calling companies to double-check that their ice cream/cookies/popcorn is peanut-free (according to her, virtually no ice cream is 100% safe), making special cookies for class events, and bringing her own cupcakes to birthday parties. I didn’t realize her kids could never go out to restaurants, or go on unsupervised play dates, and that she always had to be on-call in case a school emergency came up. I didn’t fully understand the emotional toll that it takes on a parent — the underlying anxiety and fear that she can’t show to her kids. I didn’t understand the emotional toll on the allergy kids, either.
And I certainly didn’t understand what kind of comments allergy parents consistently hear — ranging from the ignorant to the downright hateful. With her help (and the input of other “allergy moms”), we rounded up the 10 most common things allergy parents are sick of hearing:
1. “Why should 20 kids have to give up their favorite sandwich just because of one kid?”
BECAUSE THAT ONE KID COULD DIE. D-I-E.
Pretty much every allergy mom has faced the outrage of school moms forced to pack something other than peanuts in their kids’ lunches. “But my kid will ONLY eat PB&J, what am I supposed to give them for their lunch?” they shout.
Obviously peanut butter and jelly is cheap and easy, and some picky kids would prefer to eat it three times a day. But when another child’s life is at stake, perhaps you could find something else for just one meal a day, five times a week.
Are we living in a socially responsible society, or is it every child for himself?
2. “I can’t send in cupcakes for my kid’s birthday? Ugh I want to punch that food allergy mom in the throat.”
The hostility is, sadly, par for the “allergy parent” course. Whether the rude remarks are face-to-face or in the comment section, there’s a surprising amount of skepticism and anger toward the subject of food allergies. Especially when those (air quotes) “food allergies” are infringing on their own child’s choices.
3. “Why don’t you just home school them?”
Because kids with food allergies will need to learn how to live in a peanut-filled world.
Because not all parents can afford to cut out a paycheck in order to home school, and not all parents are capable of instantly becoming effective teachers.
And because food allergies shouldn’t prevent a kid from getting the normal socialization that comes from the public school experience.
4. “Survival of the fittest. Just give him peanuts; let him go.”
I was utterly shocked to hear so many variations of this “survival of the fittest” remark in my research. Things like, “In a different society, they would’ve just gone to the woods and had an unfortunate hunting accident.” Or how about, “We should remove warning labels from everything and let natural selection work. That’ll get rid of the weak.”
YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT PEOPLE’S BABIES! HUMAN BABIES!
5. “Wow your kid is the one with the food allergies? I didn’t expect him to look like that!”
What were you expecting? Taped, thick-rimmed glasses? Despite the record high number of “allergy kids” in school today, that nerdy stereotype is holding strong.
6. “I read about how you can cure yourself by feeding small amounts of peanuts. You should try that.”
Oh the unsolicited advice they hear! Things like, “Yah know, if you stop wiping things down, her body will naturally build up immunity to her allergies.” Or, “You probably ate too much processed food while you were pregnant.” Or, “See! You didn’t breastfeed long enough!”
When you’re trying to give “expert” advice and prognoses to an allergy parent, please be aware that no one has done more research on food allergies than someone whose child could die from food allergies. You mean well, but stop. Please.
7. “Oh it’s okay; it’s organic!”
As one allergy mom put it, “That’s just a more expensive way to kill her.”
Allergy parents have to deal with plenty of down-playing. Things like, “A little bite won’t hurt,” and “Eh, she’ll grow out of it.” They also hear ignorant comparisons and confusions with other less threatening food allergies (like gluten) or specialty diets.
“Oh she can have a little bit and cheat, it never hurt anyone.”
8. “Oh I know exactly what you go through. I have seasonal allergies in the spring. It’s awful!”
No — just … no.
9. “So he’s safe with an EpiPen then, right?”
While an EpiPen is incredibly important — life-saving, really — it’s not a simple and sure solution. (EpiPens administer epinephrine, which is the only recommended first-line treatment for anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a scary, life-threatening allergic reaction that can progress extremely fast. The stuff of allergy nightmares.)
One allergy mom explained that you basically have 60 seconds to get the EpiPen and then 60 seconds to administer the EpiPen. And yet, even though doctors recommend kids or teachers have immediate access to one, some schools insist on locking them up in the nurses office, and many refuse to allow young kids to carry EpiPens in their backpacks. Not everyone knows how to use one, of course, in case a kid in anaphylactic shock needs help. Plus anaphylaxis is highly unpredictable, even with an EpiPen in near reach.
It’s vital, for sure, but not a cure-all.
10. “Oh I would just DIE without peanut butter, there is practically no reason to live if they can’t have it.”
If there’s one thing all allergy parents hear, it’s PITY.
“Poor little girl, what a sad life.”
“That sucks, I can’t imagine never experiencing a Snickers. He’s missing out!”
And it’s even more painful for parents to hear when their allergy kids overhear it. Their kids are living happy, meaningful, worthwhile lives, with or without a Reese’s on Halloween.
But they could do without the insensitive comments.