Congrats to Christy W! After a random drawing, you are the winner of the Sweet Alexis cookie giveaway! E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your address and also cookie preference--Christmas or holiday. I will forward your info to Sweet Alexis and you're goodies will be on the way! Thanks to all who entered and even if you didn't win, I hope you'll check out Sweet Alexis on your own. They are a great group with truly delicious baked goods.
And now on to a topic that many of you have contacted me about and commented on recently: holidays with food allergies. Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hannukah or any other winter holiday, food is a big part of the tradition and food allergies can present opportunities for family problems and strife. For those of you dealing with a nut allergy diagnosis (or any food allergy diagnosis) this time of year seems destined to make you feel stressed.
I wish there were an easy answer to all of the issues that come up when a family first learns that they have a severely food-allergic family member. The good news is that many issues can be worked out--but it might take time. Unfortunately, some people in your circle are going to be very slow to accept and adapt. I've heard from several of you who have said family members are sneaking unsafe foods to your child behind your back. Nope, can't happen. That's the kind of scenario that can end up with a visit to the ER--or worse.
What can you do? Educate, of course. Try not to lose your cool (easier said than done.) Most of all--trust your instincts. So many parents internalize it when others tell them they are "over the top" or "dramatic" when they are making necessary adjustments for food allergies. They question themselves and their actions and beat themselves up, feeling guilty, etc.
Please don't fall into this trap. If you have a child with a severe food allergy, there are certain steps you need to take and there is nothing over the top about it. If you don't take necessary and reasonable precautions prescribed by your doctors and followed up with common sense, then you risk an allergic reaction that has the potential to be fatal. How is it over the top to make your best attempts to prevent this from happening?
For any given issue, ask yourself: can this food or activity potentially harm my child? Can I minimize the risks? Can we make this work if I do A, B and C? If not, will it ruin the rest of our lives if I skip this event/avoid this person/sit out this activity for one year? Probably not, right? So feel free to dial down the drama when others try to make food and your child's eating or not eating the end-all and be-all of any holiday event. If you can't do something or your child can't eat something--so be it. Do a different activity and stay upbeat and confident in the knowledge that you're doing the right thing.
Don't get me wrong--I am all about participating in family events and as much inclusion as possible for everyone. I don't want allergy sufferers to be forced to stay home or skip things when they have the chance to celebrate with everyone else.
What I'm concerned about are the cases where people simply won't respect the food allergy. And by that I mean: getting angry if you bring your own food, offering your child food on the sly ("one bite won't hurt") or turning the tables to make the simple diagnosis of a food allergy all about your parenting skills and how you are wrong to be careful.
For those of you having problems getting family members to help you out on this, have you had the straight talk with them you need to have? Have you spelled out allergy risks in no uncertain terms or are you feeling uncertain and insecure because your child has different needs and requirements to stay safe and healthy? If you don't offer clear communication with the relatives, mistakes and accidents are almost inevitable. Not to put all of the blame on us, but we need to drive the bus here. We can't control others or the fact of allergies, but we can control how we communicate about food allergies and how we present ourselves with regard to them.
It's not easy, and for those of you who are experiencing difficulties (especially the first-timers) I want to tell you it can and will get easier, but it will take some effort on all sides. You may not believe this now, but you will gain confidence, enjoy new family traditions (with new foods) and enjoy the holiday season.
Give yourself time and don't feel badly when it comes to protecting your child from truly risky situations. If not you, who will do this for them? As they get older, they will be the ones advocating for themselves, so you have that to look forward to as well.
Here are a few other posts that I have regarding food allergies and holidays. This is a big issue for many people and you are not alone! Hang in there, vent here when you need to and know that many other families need to make food allergy adjustments this year.
Food allergies and family fights part 1
Food allergies and family fights part 2
Organizing school parties around food allergies--my article for Chicago Parent mag.