It seems like someone says something about food allergies at every class party or food day at school. "OMG, why do we have to bring pre-packaged food? When I was a kid my mom baked cupcakes for school." I also hear the, "Why can't my kid bring PB&J to school? That's all she will eat," question, too. Sometimes I hear, "Yeah, right, I bet she's not actually allergic." But as a mom to kids with food allergies, there are so many things I want you to know.
First off, hearing those comments hurts. The idea that some people think my kids' right to be safe at school is less important than their child's ability to eat what they want or like is pretty unbelievable. And it's not like I don't understand, either. In my experience, meal time is one of the hardest parts of parenting. But as a mom to both kids with food allergies and kids who will eat almost anything, I can tell you that food allergies make meal time so much harder. So it annoys the hell out of me to have to explain their medical conditions to strangers and, as a result, receive unsolicited advice about how to "cure them" or comments that their allergies might not be real.
My kids' food allergies are not only real, they could kill them. It's terrifying. With help from my daughter's teachers, administrators, and doctors, we've come up with an allergy plan to help keep her safe, but despite all of our efforts she's still had allergic reactions when I wasn't there. Then, there's my youngest. As of now, the list of foods he can't have is almost as long as the list of foods he'll actually eat.
So believe me when I say there are so many things food allergy moms want you to know, including the following:
It Hurts When People Joke About Food Allergies
When I heard that the new Peter Rabbit film contains a scene where Peter and his buddies try to deliberately harm their enemy with food allergies by causing a reaction, I wanted to throw up. This actually happens in really life! In fact, kids bullying allergy kids is actually a growing problem, according to Food Allergy Education and Research (FARE). Also, and I am not sure how to stress this enough, food allergies aren't a joke. The same goes for people "kidding" about proving my kids' allergies are made up. Not. Funny. At. All.
In the past eight years, I've seen my kids have reactions ranging from an upset tummy and hives, to explosive diarrhea and trouble breathing. There's pretty much nothing more terrifying than watching your child struggle to breathe. Your heart stops.
Food Allergies Aren't Dietary Preferences
I'm a vegetarian. That's a dietary preference. The same goes for not letting your kids have sugar, giving up carbs, or not eating dairy because you feel sorry for cows. All are legitimate choices to make as a person or parent.
According to FARE, a food allergy is a medical condition impacting one in 13 children, which causes your body's immune system to react to certain foods. I didn't choose this for them, nor would I if I had the ability to. I seriously wish that people would stop calling their preferences allergies, because they totally aren't.
My Kids Could Die
According to FARE, food allergies should always be treated seriously because you never know if or when they will be serious. In other words, my kids could die because someone forgot about their allergy, gave them the wrong treat, or didn't read a label.
Let that sink in for a second.
It’s Hard To Feed Kids Without Allergies
Between picky eaters, ever-changing preferences, and kids who yell “I’m not eating that!” or “I want grilled cheese, instead” all the time, feeding kids is one of the hardest parts of parenting. Seriously, the worst.
It's Sometimes Impossible To Feed Kids With Food Allergies
When you add food allergies to the mix, feeding kids becomes damn near impossible. I have to explain to my daughter that she can’t have nachos because they contain peppers, read every label, ask questions at restaurants, and get to find out the hard way — usually by hives and/or explosive diarrhea — that something my toddler ate had traces of soy or dairy.
If you think I am exaggerating, you should know that I made my son a dairy, egg, and soy-free cake for his first birthday. It was actually pretty good.
We Feel Guilty About Making Your Life Harder
I get it, and I know how frustrating it must be for you to have to limit the foods you send to daycare or school. I know how hard it is to be a mom period. I'm sorry to make your life harder. Really, I am.
Please Don’t Ask If We Breastfed
Almost every time I talk about my kids' food allergies online, someone asks me if I breastfed, usually because they read an article about how breastfeeding can prevent food allergies. First, research from the American College of Allergies, Asthma, and Immunology shows no difference in food allergies between kids who were breastfed and kids who were formula-fed. Also, it's rude to ask me about something I can't change now, and imply that it's even remotely my fault that my son has allergies.
In my son's case, he is allergic to milk, soy-based formula, and something in my breast milk. After learning that he couldn't have my breast milk, because we couldn't figure out what he was allergic to, people shamed me for giving him hypoallergenic formula. Moms can't win.
We Don’t Want Your Advice
Everyone thinks they are an expert, but we don't want your advice. Every kid and food allergy is different, and I take medical advice from my kids' Board certified Allergist/Immunologist, not someone on the internet who likes to use Google.
Food allergies are no joke. If you or your child has been diagnosed with one, visit Food Allergy Education and Research (FARE) at foodallergy.org for resources and support.