Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Food Allergy and Family Fights: Part 2

After my previous post on food allergy and family fights I heard even more stories about family strife revolving around food. Some of you have shared that you feel a lack of respect from family. Many of you have experienced a lack of communication with family members with regard to food they are serving. Others find that family members get angry about food restrictions.

These are very common occurrences, unfortunately. However, I don't believe that most people want drama and bad feelings. The best way around this is to be clear, consistent and positive.

This is not always easy. As I've mentioned in other posts, food allergies can bring out bad feelings simmering below the surface that may have more to do with existing relationships and less about the food allergies themselves. For example, if you never really got along with one of your in-laws or they are critical of you to begin with, expect friction. Many people don't understand food allergies and love to imply in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that they don't respect your parenting. Ask yourself if food allergies are really the cause of the friction. If not, you may be better equipped to handle hegative comments and actions when they occur.

From my own personal experience, here are a few suggestions on coping with some common food allergy scenarios that may cause fights:

Provide concise factual information. I think the number one reason for trouble is lack of understanding. Please give your close relatives any relevant brochures or medical information that you have (perhaps provided by the doctor) and suggest web sites to them such as The FAAN website for more information. Be honest about the seriousness of food allergies and keep it simple. Explain that you must protect your child and that they need to do certain things to protect your child as well. This is not an opinion; it's a fact. So be factual and businesslike when explaining the situation.

Describe the allergic reaction. Many of us have the "moment" when we first witnessed our child in the throes of a serious allergic reaction. If others (such as grandparents or siblings-in-law) weren't present for this, give them the details. Likely, they will be appalled. Explain that no allergic reaction is predictable and that you must do what you can to avoid one in order to avoid a life-threatening scenario. A lot of people mistakenly believe that food allergies result in a hive or two and a stomach ache. The people I've shared our allergy story with come away with a much better understanding of why I handle it the way I do.

Once you've made a decision, don't keep explaining or apologizing. Let's say that you just don't feel safe serving your child from a large dinner menu because you question the way the food was cooked. You decide to bring your child their own meal or maybe you greatly restrict what you allow them to eat at that meal. Some people are going to want to talk about it. They'll want to know why you're doing this ("it doesn't have nut in it"), they'll start asking about how your child copes at school, they'll question your logic, you name it. It's human nature and simple curiosity in some cases; in others, people may be angry that you don't want your child to eat their food.

While educating and explaining has its place and I certainly advocate for those things, I don't advise making this the main meal topic, especially in front of your child. For one thing, many kids really dislike being focused on in what they view as a negative way. For another, discussing life-threatening reactions to foods isn't exactly appetizing table talk. If you are getting peppered with questions about what your child eats, simply say: "My son has food allergies. We need to restrict his diet." And then change the subject. If they keep it up say, "I'd love to explain this to you later, but for now let's enjoy our meal."

Family relationships with regard to food allergies may take years of adjustment. Or, you may find that some accept it immediately and some are really skeptical. You can't let your own actions be swayed either way. It's your job to protect the health of the allergic person whether it's your child or yourself. Do what you have to do and be as upbeat as possible but don't let it get you down if you can't convince everyone.

There's another thing I've learned and that's that food allergies aren't for the faint of heart. Neither is parenting, for that matter. Hang in there, everyone. And please, keep sharing your stories here!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog and information! It helps a new mom with a new food allergy deal with everything a little easier!! Thanks

Anonymous said...

i don't understand how my daughter will ever be able to eat out at a restaurant. the advice is to speak to the chef, etc... but if the kitchen is not 100% nut free how can i allow her to eat there? as of now, we do not eat out at all. i am not sure how to handle this as she gets older?

Kate said...

The "describe the reaction" advice is good, but not necessarily in my case. We have been so fortunate to not have a hospital trip yet, to not have had to use our Epipen yet. I'd of course like to keep it that way. But, I will say that it leads to people forgetting how potentially serious a reaction could be. We've gotten by with Benadryl for all of my daughter's reactions thus far, but the general population (and even a lot of allergy moms, in my experience) do not understand that 1 reaction is not predictive of the next, and that there is no true medical test for the severity of one's allergy.

(There's no real point to this comment.) : ) I am just always at a bit of a loss for words sometimes when at parties where acquaintances find out my daughter has food allergies, and being unfamiliar with it the first question out of their mouths is always, "Oh - is it severe? Like does she have anaphylaxis and you have to use an Epipen?" My short answer is always just "yes," but I feel like that's leaving out half the story. But if you reply, "Oh, she's never gone into anaphylactic shock, and we've never yet had to use the Epipen," then they immediately assume they may classify the allergy as no big deal, ya know?

Jenny said...

You're right, Kate, that can be tricky but you can still tell them about potential outcomes from a reaction.

No one can predict the severity of any reaction but some tests that measure levels of antibody in the blood can predict whether or not a severe reaction is likely in a person.

To the person who asked me about dining out if the kitchen is not 100% nut-free: it can be done but you must be really clear with the restaurant and they must be a trustworthy establishment. More on that soon!

no nuts for us! said...

Oh I know too well the "friction" between families over allergies. Our daughter has a severe peanut and treenut allergy. She is also allergic to dogs. She's now 4.5 and was "diagnosed" at 2. Almost 3 years later and my in-laws still don't "get it". We had an agreement regarding food and the dogs and they never stick to it so we've finally come to the decision to just not visit as often. We normally are there when we have to, holidays, birthday etc. and only when there is plenty of notice. We've found it easier to just avoid the situations. It may seem harsh to some members of our family but she's our daughter and it's our job to protect her and we'll do whatever it takes!