Thursday, September 23, 2010

Peanut Allergy Dilemma: Learning to Let Go and Let Them Grow

I started writing this blog when my daughter was in second grade; now she's in fifth. We actually discovered my daughter's allergy when she was four years old and in preschool.

Though the early years were scary for many reasons, I think our current and future situation is possibly going to be both the most challenging and also the most rewarding. Now that my daughter is 10, nearly 11, I can't really approach her as I could a small child. She's growing into her own person and wants to do more things idependently. She's clamoring for sleepovers "not at OUR house, at my FRIEND's house" and other activities that take her out of the realm of a controlled food environment and optimum safety.

I'm struggling with what I will let her do and not do, but mainly I stick to the principles that we've had all along. Safe is safe. Some things aren't safe and we don't do them, but we'll do something else. However, I don't want to squelch her independence or joy about new friends and new experiences. It's a very tricky balancing act and we're figuring it out as we go. These days, I often feel like I'm on a balance beam.

Like all of us dealing with a life-threatening nut allergy (she is allergic to peanuts and most tree nuts)I evaluate each situation individually and urge you to do the same. When questioning what you will let your child do, you have to ask: how allergic are they? How risky is the activity? Is an allergic reaction relatively avoidable with certain precautions? Do the adults in charge truly understand how to handle an allergic emergency? Finally, the last question is: How much does your child want to do the activity?

All of the above goes into my decision-making. From Day One of being a "Nut-Free Mom" I've always wanted my daughter to have the fullest, most "normal" life possible. However, this involves some work. I strongly believe in educating all of the parents of her close friends on the details of her allergy; I will even give them copies of her Food Allergy Action Plan just to keep it all straight. At the same time, my daughter and I go over scenarios and possible allergy risks and discuss the best way she can handle them.

Obviously, no matter how much your child wants something, you shouldn't allow it if it just seems too risky. Health comes first. However, I am finding myself on the balance beam much more frequently these days and it's a new kind of scary. We could fall off and we have to walk a very straight line to stay on the beam. However, getting out there is liberating to my daughter and ultimately to our family. And of course, we aren't walking a beam with no soft mats underneath to break our fall. Always carrying medication and following our "house rules" when it comes to food help us make it safely across the beam and back again.

As my daughter grows, it's not just providing safe foods and hosting play dates any more. It's about teaching her how to be responsible for her allergy without scaring her away from life and its many experiences. She is eager to try so many things and I support her in that. I know that she's going outside of our realm with knowledge, her medications and some confidence that she can handle herself. As she grows toward adulthood, these are going to be key in keeping herself safe.


lori said...

Whenever I was kid there was only certain friends that I could go to there house for a sleep over but like you my mom wanted me to have independance. As I got older I realized as a child there was quite a few times my mom bought the snacks for the other home just to be safe. And she always gave the parents an index card with all the information they needed. But also as I got older when at a friends home i learned to read every package just to make sure it was safe.

Laura said...

I really enjoyed this post. I think about how we will handle this when my son is older all of the time. He also has severe pet allergies and friends houses with pets will probably be impossible for sleepovers. I feel so sorry that he may miss out on some of these experiences, but I hope we will have some close pet-free friends who will be allergy aware enough to give a sleepover a try one day.
Good luck and I hope you are able to find a way to balance safety and normalcy :)

Jana said...

Hi Jenny, I found your blog through through the twitter #peanutallergy. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. My girl, 18mths old also is allergic to peanuts. I'm hoping she'll grow out of it as times goes on but I think about it all the will I let her go to b-day parties, sleepovers, etc.
Lori, I thought your comment was awesome and if my girl doesn't grow out of her allergies I will keep in mind providing snacks for the other home. I think it's a great way to feel safe and make the other family realize I'm serious about it. :)

Anonymous said...

thank you for this post. we are right behind you!

Lowbudget said...

Thanks for this post. It was very inlightening. Soon my husband and I will be in your shoes as our son grows older. So far he has a total of 4 other friends that have severe allergies. However, I know that someday he will have friends without them that will want to go places and have him over to play. Can you tell me a little bit about what you put on the emergency plan cards? I need to make some of these as well.

Jenny said...

Hi Lowbudget--Here is a link to the Food Allergy Action Plan provided by FAAN (
Paste this link into your browser:

It is a form for you and your doctor to fill out. We use it at school but it is also a great tool to share with friends, relatives, babysitters, daycare workers, etc. It explains each symptom and actions to take if they occur.

Anonymous said...

Hey! I just read your blog and I cannot imagine what it is like to have a child with a severe peanut allergy, but I do know what it is like to be a young adult (26) recently diagnosed with 47 food allergies, in addition to environmental allergies, and even more recently having airborne reactions to peanuts and latex (powder from gloves). It is definitely not easy to deal with at times. The most important thing is to educate people, and if they are not willing to be educated, unfortunately you need to stay away. My allergies are so severe that I almost had to go out of work on disability until all allergans were identified, as I was having about 2 anaphylactic reactions a month, plus less severe reactions. I was living on Benadryl. I have found that even though I do not like using the term disability to describe my condition, it sometimes help people to understand the seriousness of the condition. I was told that I might grow out of some of my allergies within a few years, but the most severe ones: milk, egg, peanuts, and cherry are not likely. I know most of you posting are far off from it, but dating is also a concern. It has been impossible for me to find someone who is understanding of my allergies. I cannot go out to eat at all or bring my own food with me and they have to be willing to avoid certain foods and be willing to call me an ambulance if a reaction occurs. This is a lot to put on someone your getting to know. I have not quite figured out a way to prevent this because it is not something you can keep a secret until a few dates in. Your kids are lucky to have you guys to watch out for them. Sometimes I feel like I am all alone, with no one who understands. Don't get me wrong, my parents are there for me, but they just do not get it. The holidays are tough. My family thinks that it is fun to joke around about my allergies and say that I'm "quarantined" to my corner of the table. They will pretend to not breathe on me and stay away. Unfortunately, they just do not get it. Maybe this is because I was diagnosed as an adult, but it may be helpful to let relatives know how hurtful this can be as your child gets older. I pray that your children outgrow their allergies. If not, at least they have great parents. I've come to accept that there are some things I will be able to do and some things that I cannot. It is my new life that I am learning on my own, one day at a time. Thank you for your post. It helps me realize I am not alone in this. It meant a lot to me. Thank you!!