Even if your kids don’t have food allergies, chances are you’re hearing more and more about them and their afflictions. As our children grow and become friends with other children, it's important that we take not of potential dangers, even if our children aren't directly affected. That's why there are things parents of kids with food allergies want you to know; because we're all in this together, so-to-speak, and as our children start to go out into the world, we become acutely aware that when we can't watch our children, other people can (and are.)
Children with severe food allergies have reached a record high number in our country, and the reasons why are not entirely clear. As a parent of one of these children, I have become an expert on reading food labels and deciphering restaurant menus. However, I can’t expect everyone to operate at that level of awareness, especially if they don't experience these fears and struggles first hand and on a daily basis. Before having my son, who is allergic to peanuts, our family breezed through restaurant meals, birthday parties and holiday feasts without a care in the world (aside from the tendency to overeat). Now, we pre-plan where we dine out, assess public areas for peanut contamination and conduct rigorous interviews prior to accepting playdates. It’s necessary, it's our new "normal" and it's just the way it is.
While it can be easy to assume parents of kids with allergies are overprotective and maybe even a little bitchy, I think we’re just extremely misunderstood. We will do everything in our power to keep our children safe, and sometimes that comes across as a little "much." Trust me, we don’t do it to be mean; we do it because we all benefit from knowing more about the threat of certain foods to certain kids and, in the end, we know that we can't always be there and, at times, require help. So, with that being said, here are a few things parents of kids with allergies want you to know:
There are a range of reactions some people with food allergies display if they eat certain foods. In my son’s case, peanuts cause anaphylaxis, which could lead to death. Every single food allergy-related death is preventable. There is an abundance of food in our world, and we can make safe choices without sacrificing culinary pleasure. So, please respect my reasonable wishes when I request that you consider doing the same when having us over to your house.
I know it sounds like we don’t trust you when we grill you about the ingredients of everything you’re serving at a birthday party, but that’s because what we don’t know might kill our child. I will ask a million questions, even if it makes me look like a completely unreasonable person, if it means my son stays healthy and safe.
It is better to be safe than sorry, and the only way I can keep my son completely safe (when no one can guarantee a certain food is peanut-free) is to turn it down entirely. I am sure it tastes amazing, and I understand how much effort you put into making it. I don’t appreciate those things any less when we opt for the packaged item that clearly lists its allergens and which I know won’t pose a threat to my son’s life.
That’s great that you came armed with snacks for your toddler during the playdate I’m hosting. However, I can’t permit them to be eaten if they contain any peanuts. I know I gave you a heads up about that, but it seems you either forgot or thought our house rule didn’t apply to you. We have plenty of safe snacks in our house so, please, feel free to leave yours at home.
While we don’t partake in pad thai or peanut brittle for obvious reasons, the options for us to eat well and treat ourselves are endless. Don’t make my kid feel bad that he can't have what your kid is having. He just takes advantage of different choices. If he wasn’t peanut-allergic, we might never have discovered sunflower butter, which we now love.
Enjoy all the peanut butter cups you want. By all means, give them to your child and give them to your child often. However, when we move away from you at the playground, or ask, on a crowded bus, if you could please put that back in your bag for now, understand that I am not trying to rob you of your dining pleasure. I am simply protecting my son. Nobody should die over a snack.
Upon hearing of our son’s peanut allergy, the next question is usually, “Does anyone else in your family have allergies?” The answer is “no."
However, the easiest way for all of us to live with his allergy is for all of us to eat like he does. We abstain from peanut products universally. I didn’t even have to tell his older sister that we would be showing solidarity as a family; she wanted to show her support and help her brother feel included, so she didn't eat peanuts all on her own. In our home, he is not the “other one,” with special dietary requirements. We are like him, mindful of what we eat, and keeping one another safe.