Is there any parenting struggle more stressful than the feeding of our children? I personally reached the breaking point one fateful taco night when my daughter declared that from that moment on she was only eating kosher style. On taco night! The best night of the week!
It’s hard enough to make sure a picky child gets enough nutrition without adding in any food sensitivities, allergies, or lifestyle choices. (More on this in my new book: Bake Sales are my B*tch: Win the Food Allergy Wars with 60+ Recipes to Keep Kids Safe and Parents Sane).
You may be able to control what goes into your kiddo’s mouth at home, but once you release your child into the wild of birthday parties, lunchrooms and sleepovers, food issues get even trickier. Especially if your child is the unlucky 1 out of 25 that has a food allergy whether mild, or deadly serious.
I get it when parents look sideways at other moms and dads who hand over a list of dietary restrictions along with their 8-year-old for a Saturday night sleepover. Keeping it together while listening to Zayn vs. Harry debates are enough to drive a parent to drink, and now you’ve got to rethink your famous homemade pizza dinner. But I also know what it’s like to live with a serious food issue, and to not have people take it seriously even though it’s seriously dangerous to my health.
Having been on both sides of the food allergy wars, I’d like to share with you, the food allergy skeptic, 7 important things you’ve got to hear, and right now.
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1. I’m Not Judging You
I have a theory on why so many people get their panties in a bunch when you announce you can’t have dairy or you’ll wind up in the hospital. Rather than skepticism, I believe the root of the negative reaction is that those who DO eat dairy feel like the anti-dairy brigade is judging them. And no one wants to feel like they’re “doing it wrong.” So defensive language sounds offensive to the parent who is simply trying to avoid a medical emergency. Honestly, parents of kids with food allergies don’t care what you eat personally, as long as you’re not giving it to the allergic kid or smearing it all over the table where my child will be eating her allergen-free meal.
But . . .
2. I Need You to Put on Your Listening Ears
You do need to pay attention when you’re told that a child in your sphere has a deadly tree nut allergy. We’re not coming for your almond butter, but you absolutely cannot pull out the marzipan when an allergic kid is in your house. You need to listen when a mom tells you where her child’s Epi-pen is located, how to use it, and what you have to do if for some reason the kiddo comes into contact with the allergen. You need to listen again when a mom explains the hidden sources of the allergen and that almond butter on a knife you’re also using for SunButter, means that SunButter sandwich is contaminated and therefore, deadly.
3. It’s Not On You
Even though you’re hearing that the bake sale really needs some allergen-free treats, no one is going to make you bake gluten- and dairy-free cookies for everyone. I swear. Would it be nice of you? Yes. But parents of the allergic are more than happy to provide a safe treat for their own kiddos during a class celebration or bake sale, because we know it’s safe and didn’t take a run through the allergy garden before landing on her party plate. (Here are 9 totally unexpected foods that contain gluten)
What I do need from you is to let me know if you’re sending cupcakes in for your munchkin’s birthday, so I can send something for my allergic kid. I don’t think any of us want a second grader crying alone in the bathroom during a birthday party because they feel left out of the best part of the celebration. (If that is your goal maybe let me know that too so I can start my epic sabotaging of you because you totally deserve it.)
4. Your PB & J is not Equal to My Child’s Life
I know I said I wasn’t judging you, and that is true. Mostly. The judging you may be feeling is when a parent stands up in Kindergarten orientation and shares that little Tommy has a severe reaction to peanut butter, and makes a request for a no peanut butter classroom. If you’re like one mom in my kid’s pre-school, you then throw a fit because the only food Stevie will eat is peanut butter and jelly.
First of all, if your child is only eating PB & J for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you need to see a doctor because that child is suffering from malnutrition, as you cannot get all of your vitamins and minerals from those three ingredients. Secondly, a sandwich is not more important than a child’s life. Ever. This should not even be a conversation.
So, yeah, send something else for lunch and let your little nutter butter eat the heck out of PB & J when he gets home.
5. I’m Terrified Every. Hour. Of. The. Day.
If you’re still hating on the food allergy parent, let me lay this bit of info on you: Parents who have children with deadly allergies worry every single minute of every single day that they are going to lose the most precious person in their life because someone forgot that dairy was an ingredient in a shared snack.
Imagine living with the very real fact that your child could die by eating the wrong thing. Put yourself in the mom or dad’s shoes who has to send their tiny child out into the world every day and not know if this is the day they get the call from the school, or the hospital. Now do you see why your irritation at making a school safe is petty in comparison to a parent’s fear over losing a child? Good.
6. Yes, I am Annoying
I just called you petty, so you’re totally annoyed with me right now. I get it, but I have one question: What of it? Once you become a mom, an inexplicable number of people already find you annoying, what with that huge shift in priorities thing.
Allergy parents are going to be annoying all over the place if it means keeping their child safe. We make no apologies, because our job is harder than yours so we need to be jerks every now and then. How about we let you have the whole “Sanctimommy” thing? Even trade?
7. We Don’t Know What’s Going on Either
Why do so many kids have food allergies? What’s happening with all of these special snowflakes? Don’t food allergies weed out the weak?
Other than that last question, parents of the allergic have been asking ourselves these same things ever since our baby turned red and broke out in hives. As studies continue to be conducted, perhaps one day we will find out why food allergies are on the rise. Ideally with that information will come the antidote to food allergies, which we all hope and pray for every day. (Here's the single biggest thing you can do to give your kids a healthier gut.) Until then, we have no idea. No one does. We’re just focused on keeping a clean kitchen and lunch box, and hope you’ll join us in keeping all of our children safe.