I have two small boys, and while I may joke my oldest, extremely picky, child is “allergic” to food in general, I do not know what it is like to raise a child who has food allergies. I do not know what it is like to spend hours in doctors offices. I do not know what it is like to rush my child to the E.R. because he accidentally ingested a harmful food. I do not know what it is like to overhaul my life to ensure I don’t endanger my child.
I do, however, know plenty of parents who know all about those things and more. They are living life as parents of children with food allergies. As their friend, I have learned much about their struggles and how they navigate the world a bit differently than the rest of us. I have tremendous respect for them, and as a fellow parent/decent human being, I want to do my part to help keep their kids safe.
Unfortunately, if you believe the Internet, anyway, the attitude toward kids with allergies ranges from indifferent to downright nasty. When I read some of the comments on posts about allergies, especially those having to do with school policy, I wonder what has happened to humanity? Then, I wonder if maybe people truly don’t understand food allergies. Maybe we need to hear from the parents themselves.
So, I asked them.
In a Facebook post early this month, I asked parents/caregivers of children with food allergies to share what they want other parents to understand about what their lives are like and how we can all be more compassionate toward others.
We all know those who care for allergic kids have to go to great lengths to avoid certain foods. For many this doesn’t mean just staying away from things like peanut butter, for example, but diligently working everyday to ensure nothing unsafe comes in contact with their child.
“What bothers me the most is people not understanding that just because there are not any nuts in the actual food does not mean they are not cross contaminated,” said Bailey Downey of Fruita, Co. Downey added that she wished people would take her seriously when she asks them to check labels or if she is concerned about a certain dish at a restaurant. “We have had situations where the waitress told us he should be fine and then the cook came out and said it was not safe,” said Downey.
Even those of us without allergic kids are trying to be accommodating, we may not be doing what’s best for those who do have an allergic child. Dora L. or New York City, offered this advice: “Please don’t suggest foods unless you have an allergic child and have done your homework. Most allergy moms have exhausted all options and have done more research than the FBI. We don’t want to hear “ how about…” again, unless it’s a new, top eight allergy-free brand.”
What you can do, however, as Jina Gregoria from Warwick, N.Y., noted, is check in with parents and see what they might need. “I’ve always loved when parents go out of their way to ask me questions such as if they can buy something for my little one for a birthday party (food wise) they’ll be attending or any other occasion. I usually say don’t worry about it but when someone asks, it really warms my heart that they care.”
All of the parents I heard from stressed the importance of washing hands and cleaning surfaces after consuming foods, especially in public spaces such as parks or airports. Casey Huff, a Colorado mom who blogs at Etched in Home, pointed out even the simple act of not tossing around peanut shells at baseball games can ensure kids’ safety.
Huff also noted the importance of having allies who can help in the event of an emergency. “I think it would be great if more parents were trained or at least familiar with how to use an EPI-pen, particularly if their child is friends with a kid that has allergies. Yes, it’s absolutely the responsibility of the allergic child’s parent to teach this, but it would be nice if it was more mainstream common knowledge as well.”
We all share this world with children who have food allergies. Though we may not all be equipped to save the life of a child, we can all do more to keep them safe. These are our kids’ friends; they are the children of our family, co-workers and peers. A little kindness, compassion and understanding can go a long way.
Are you raising a child with a food allergy? Please feel free to share your thoughts below.