Friday, November 12, 2010

Family Feuds, Food Allergy and Thanksgiving

This classic Norman Rockwell painting certainly shows the ideal Thanksgiving meal--everyone anxiously anticipating the feast with a smile and a feeling of goodwill towards all at the table.

Obviously, many families don't meet the Rockwell ideal. They struggle with personality clashes, unresolved arguments and other emotional issues that seem to surface at the table along with the Thanksgiving meal. Even more complicated: What if you are the parent of a child with food allergies? Or you have them yourself? If your family is anything less than perfect (and truly, who has perfect relationships with everyone in their family) food allergies present a whole new way for relations to fight.

This is not a topic that is covered often and mainly because it is an awkward conversation to have. Too often the food-allergic (and their parents) are meant to feel as if they are taking away from the feast, the fun and the tradition if they ask for a certain food to be eliminated from the menu. This is especially difficult at Thanksgiving because the "traditional meal" is so iconic to everyone's idea about what Thanksgiving "should" be.

I've had so many people speak to me about in-laws, grandparents and other extended family members who just refuse to accept food allergies during the holidays. They're determined to serve that pecan pie or walnut-laden turkey stuffing despite the fact that their child, nephew or niece, grandson or granddaughter will be unable to partake of a large portion of the feast. Not only that, the presence of certain foods throughout the kitchen and the home may pose too much of a risk to a highly-allergic person. This is hard. What do you do?

First of all, try to remember the reason for Thanksgiving and the fact that you are in the driver's seat with your child's health and of course your own. If you are not getting reasonable accommodation--and by that I mean, a main course safe for your child or at least an effort to lessen food allergy reaction risks--then you may have to say "We can't make it this year."

Will this anger some family members? Probably, but that's really not your problem. Your problem is health. That's not to say that you close yourself off, shut down the communication and refuse to accept anything less than a full conformity to your rules. Compromise is key here.

One of the first things to consider is that the family members in question may not understand the very real danger of food allergies and that a severe reaction may cause death. When you live with this every day, it's hard to imagine someone won't get this but of course, many don't "get" it. Educate them. Show them this blog, the FAAN site and any information you doctor has given you. Share the details of your child's allergic reaction, if they've had one. Explain what can happen if an allergic person eats a certain food. Explain cross-contact. I talk more about how to do this here.

You won't be able to make inroads with everyone and in this way, you may also need to accept a less than "perfect" Thanksgiving. Family ties are important and so is health. You shouldn't have to choose between the two, but there are times that you will have to make that choice.

Even if you find yourself opting out of a feast this year or part of a feast, consider hosting your family in the future, where you will control the food. Try to keep family in the fold, because this is really what Thanksgiving is all about. Not pecan pie. Not pumpkin walnut bread pudding or pine nut bread stuffing.

Also, Allergic Living magazine will be featuring the topic of family feuds and food allergies at the holidays in their upcoming Winter issue. Stay tuned to their web site for details--today is the last day to subscribe in order to receive the Winter 2011 issue, so head over there! I'm a subscriber and it's a such a wonderful resource.

If you have Thanksgiving tales to share, good or bad, we'd love to hear them.


Susan Weissman said...

I found last year that there are two kinds of conficts when the big family holiday hit: One is the insurance of my allergic child's physical safety. But the other is the emotional safety - things like him having to watch the other children eat three or four desserts while he is regulated to one. I know that the emotional aspect of this condition is MY job to handle but it's made harder when other adults don't acknowledge it.

Kim Lutz said...

Last year, we had Thanksgiving with my brother-in-law's family along with our own. They were AMAZING. Every single side dish and dessert was safe for my family. It really made us even more thankful at Thanksgiving time. Thank you, Jenny, for bringing a stressful issue to light.


dannyscotland said...

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let me just say how thankful I am that my family--all of my family--has been very supportive and understanding of my daughter's allergy, which is (also thankfully) fairly mild. She can be around peanut products with no trouble, she just can't eat them.

I am so thankful for my wonderful family, and because of them, I still get to look forward to the holidays!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a wonderful and encouraging article that will surely help those who have this struggle walk into a Thanksgiving celebration "hopefully" conflict free.

Happy Thanksgiving & Many Blessings,


Unknown said...

Thanksgiving is so tricky because it's truly a holiday that's all about the food. It's easiest for me if I just host so I don't have to worry about allergens in the turkey and other dishes. I can ask other family members to bring the wine or maybe a dessert or two, knowing I have 3 or four other desserts that are safe.

Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...

I just found this post via Twitter. This is a great topic. My husband and I have chosen to host our large extended family on Thanksgiving for the past three years and it's actually becoming tradition. We host for selfish reasons -- while our family may be well intentioned, they may not be as conscientious as we would be about cross-contamination and we also ensure that my daughter has a variety of dishes to eat rather than perhaps just turkey and steamed veggies. The side benefit? We get to spend Thanksgiving with both sides of the family, which we are very thankful for!