“Katie, be careful with your words. Words are kind of like toothpaste. Once it’s out, you just cannot put it back in.”
When I was little, that verbal reminder usually came about because I was yelling at my brother for stealing and beheading my Barbie dolls. My mother would first listen, then pull me aside to address all the awful words I had just spewed at my baby brother.
Many tearful sobs later, I would apologize and my mom would hold me for a bit to reassure me that I was still loved. And then, being the stinker butt that I am, I’d do it all over again the next day.
But my mom would persist in her patient teaching, and eventually, the words stuck in my heart.
Admittedly, I’ve always been a mama’s girl and a daddy’s girl. For my entire life, I have held my parents up on a pedestal. Are they perfect? Of course not, but they are dang good parents. They are hands down my loudest cheerleaders and most loving advocates (besides my fantastic husband).
Because I grew up in such a warm and supportive home, I often feel how harsh the world can be. Now, let me clarify. My parents never coddled me. In fact, they continually used tough life lessons to help me understand the value of hard work, perseverance, forgiveness, and character.
But the reality is that most people are not like my parents. People are not always going to like me or care one bit about difficult things that I’m going through. They may not be respectful of my thoughts and feelings, even though I choose to honor them with mine.
When I initially discovered that my firstborn had food allergies, I didn’t know that managing other people’s comments would be part of the food allergy journey. Never in a million years would I dream of saying some of these things to another person.
Though I did receive support from some close family/friends, I was also inundated with underhanded accusations and, honestly, sometimes offensive words or suggestions by others.
Suddenly, I was gaining a ton of experience on what it felt like to be on the receiving end of the “toothpaste” lesson.
Words can hurt. A lot.
One of the biggest challenges in our food allergy journey has been trying to explain the experience. When you are not living the day-to-day of food allergy life, or another medical condition that involves food like our friends with celiac’s disease or diabetes, connecting food to a health risk is just not front of mind.
I know that was the case for me. Before my oldest’s diagnosis, I didn’t think twice about things like food labels, cross-contact, eating food on playground equipment, or how challenging participating in a social event that involved food could be for someone.
I didn’t think about it because I didn’t have to think about it.
And that is one of the most painful parts of being a food allergy mom. Often, you’re the only one in the room who has to closely examine the food and surrounding environment. You worry your child will be singled out, or not fit in. You know you have to make sure the people around your child understand the seriousness of the situation.
It can feel exhausting, frustrating, and really isolating at times. That’s why Lauren and I became such fast friends. We understood each other immediately because we were both dealing with similar experiences.
A lot of times, momma, people say things out of ignorance. They just don’t know. But an even uglier truth is that people can choose to be insensitive, selfish, and hurtful. Sometimes, they will say things that you’ll never forget.
Whether or not words are said foolishly or for intentional harm, they can cause a lot of damage.
Nowadays, it is normal to see online blogs or articles about “mom shaming” or unsolicited parental advice. Most of society hollers from the rooftops about how rude it is to shame new moms or tell parents that they are parenting incorrectly.
But does anyone ever talk about the very real and very painful experience of food allergy families being shamed for their child’s food allergy?
Anyone feeling this?
Perhaps that is your current season of life; trudging through the muck and filth of others’ judgmental comments about your child’s food allergy, or maybe even your own personal food allergy. If it is, I’m sorry. People can severely disappoint us sometimes and it is hard to know how to respond or navigate those situations.
Conversely, perhaps YOU are the person that is haphazardly throwing out unnecessary comments towards a family dealing with food allergies. I say this lovingly, but if people have repeatedly told you that you give harsh opinions or advice, then you should probably dwell on whether or not your continual feedback is necessary, constructive, or kind.
I wrote this post about words that people used to shame me, knowingly or unknowingly, about my child’s food allergies because of two reasons.
First, I want to validate the frustrations of other parents that have experienced this or are hearing these things currently. And, hopefully, this article will provide you with some factual information that you can use to confront naive words.
Secondly, I want people not dealing with food allergies to have tangible examples of things NOT to say to those that are already suffering greatly.
Trigger Warning: The following comments I plan to discuss are all examples of verbal, emotional, and spiritually abusive phrases. Please use caution. If you feel triggered while reading these, please be kind to yourself and exercise self-care before going further.
The Top 10 Things People Have Said to Me About My Kid’s Allergy That Broke My Mom Heart
1. “Why didn’t you eat enough nuts when you were pregnant?”
I did eat nuts and peanuts during my pregnancy. But I can’t give a specific number of occurrences. Does it matter? How much nut eating did I need to do in order to save my child from her allergy? Does the person asking this question have an actual answer? No, they don’t.
There are many preliminary studies that indicate that moms who eat peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy lower the risk for their children later developing those allergens.
However, there are tons of moms that eat nuts/peanuts and their children still end up developing an allergy. Asking this question makes it seem like we all did something wrong.
Lauren will tell you that her favorite comfort food during pregnancy was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Well, her son’s peanut allergy is life-threatening. Subsequently, she hardly ate any peanut butter during her daughter’s pregnancy and her daughter can eat peanut products.
I was asked this specific question because of my daughter’s allergy to peanuts, but I know many of you have been asked a similar question regarding your child’s own allergen.
The question of whether or not we ate enough of our child’s food allergen during pregnancy is basically holding up a giant sign that screams, “Did you screw that up somehow, Mom?”
Because the implication in asking the question is, “This must be your fault.”
I know that wrestling with guilt over your child’s food allergy is real enough without other people commenting. I encourage you to check out our post, The Food Allergy is Not Your Fault, Momma.
And I will say it again here, your child’s food allergy is NOT your fault.
2. “Did you breastfeed or formula feed? I’ve heard food allergies are worse for formula fed babies.”
Okay, first of all, I really don’t see how asking that question is anyone’s business. There are a lot of people out there that like to defend their right to express their opinions, whether or not anyone actually asked for it.
Even if someone is a close family member, that question indicates that they really struggle with verbal and personal boundaries. It’s an inappropriate question to ask someone. Basically, I’m saying this is not a YOU problem.
Two, where is the research that says formula fed babies have higher chances for food allergies? In fact, there is research (though limited) that indicates formula fed makes no difference in developing food allergies.
There are many children, breastfed or formula fed, that develop food allergies. For instance, I pumped for 4 months with my daughter before being forced to switch to formula. My son was strictly breastfed until 7 months when my milk ran out. They both have food allergies.
Lauren breastfed both of her children exclusively until they turned one. They never even tasted formula, yet they both have food allergies.
Why would this even be a question someone needs to ask you? What’s the follow up comment, pointing a finger in your face and saying, “Ah-ha! You DID cause your kid’s allergy!”
It’s not something you should be asked because it again implies blame for your child’s food allergies. I know the question stings. Remind yourself of the truth; you did NOT cause your child’s food allergies.
And if you’re thinking of asking someone this question, do everyone a favor and don’t let that question slip past your lips.
3. “You must have eaten a lot of GMOs when you were pregnant.”
Um, maybe? Honestly, I’m on a recent journey of not eating as many GMOs. I’m doing the best I can for my family to help us all eat healthier. So maybe I did eat too many GMOs in my early life.
But then again, what is the true intention behind this comment?
The statement pointedly makes the assumption that my child’s food allergy is my fault. Even if we knew for CERTAIN my child’s allergies were a result of me eating GMOs, which there is no evidence to make that conclusion, all that statement does is place guilt around my neck for the rest of my life because of my ignorance on the subject.
There will be times that people say things without tact or mercy. Their words will drip with ignorance. It will hurt you, but resist the urge to let their thoughtless words become a part of your identity.
Any question or statement that implies that you caused your child’s food allergy is an untruth that will drag you into darkness. Once again, beloved momma, you did not cause this.
Remember, you are doing your absolute best.
4. “Did you vaccinate? That probably interfered with their autoimmune system and that’s why they can’t eat that food.”
I’m not an immunologist, a scientist, or an allergist. Recent studies or new medical advancements are not in my wheelhouse of knowledge. I’m a normal mom with everyday problems. When I vaccinated my kids, I read up on the current data in support of vaccines as well as possible side effects.
My husband and I spoke to our kids’ pediatricians and felt that the benefits of vaccination outweighed the possible risks. On this side of heaven, we may never know if our decision to vaccinate caused our children’s allergies, but it still wouldn’t alter our decision.
I know vaccines are a controversial topic. I’m not here to debate it. All of us are trying to make the best decisions for our little ones. And Lauren and I are so supportive of that.
The statement is still a problem regardless of where we all land on the topic of vaccines because the implication is that you caused your child’s food allergies. The underlying statement is, “Your decision to vaccinate caused the food allergies.”
This type of guilt is a weight that is toxic for your to bear, Momma. There is no known definitive cause for food allergies. You didn’t cause this. Period.
People have the right to think what they want to think and have their own opinions. However, you ALSO have the right to be exempt from hearing their thoughts and advice. Especially if they are flippantly uninvited opinions, suggestions, or accusations.
5. “Are you sure they reacted? Did you look up holistic remedies? It can probably be cured.”
No, I didn’t look up holistic remedies. I guess I was a little busy watching my children’s faces puff up to the point of swelling their eyes shut and their skin turning blue. The hives crawling up and down their neck had me a bit preoccupied. *Insert dramatic eye roll here.*
I guess Lauren must have also imagined the hives covering her daughter’s neck or on her son’s face as well. Sorry, not sorry, but NO. A mother never forgets or somehow “misjudges” what an allergic reaction looks like.
I do not believe people are intentionally trying to suggest that we are delusional, but it sure is a rude way to make a mother feel like she is crazy by making her question herself. That’s not healthy for us, momma.
I’m all for natural ways to boost my kids’ autoimmune systems and ways to promote better gut health. But to insinuate that holistic remedies can “cure” my child’s deadly reaction to her allergens is just ridiculous. My child’s first line of defense is to not come into contact with the allergen. The second line of defense is the epinephrine injection.
Yes, some kids outgrow their allergens, but many do not. This comment is all kinds of uninformed about what actual food allergies entail. It’s also a bit cruel to families that are praying that their child’s allergen would disappear.
The good news is that there are more therapies and treatments coming for food allergies. There is hope. So we can hold onto the hope of future cures with the reality that there are no definitive cures at this time.
6. “Its not the end of the world. Just don’t feed it to them.”
DUH. I think every person dealing with food allergies is smart enough to know that it isn’t the end of the world.
All that was accomplished with that heartless comment was minimizing the feelings of fear, pain, and someone’s legitimate experience. If that is someone’s idea of comforting a food allergy parent, I wish they would have just kept their mouth closed.
It FEELS like the end of the world when you first get the diagnosis. You’re suddenly thrust into a terrifying world of labels, manufacturing, medical complications, and fear. Not to mention all your eating habits change overnight.
The problem is, until you have lived with food allergies, you just don’t understand how managing food allergies is vastly more complicated than “just don’t feed it to them.” Things like cross-contact, the incredibly complicated world of manufacturing and food labels, social gatherings where people are eating your child’s allergens, and finding your child’s allergens in the most bizarre places (like non-food products), are just a few of the challenges.
Lastly, intentional or not, that comment is a form of toxic positivity, which can be incredibly disabling to someone’s emotional well being. Read this definition of toxic positivity from The Phycology Group.
7. “Everything happens for a reason.”
Ugh, more toxic positivity? *Face palm.* Can we talk about how dismissive this comment actually is towards people’s feelings and emotions?
Using the term “everything happens for a reason” is often said with the intention of providing comfort. What it actually does is try to explain away the issue at hand or “sweep” it under the rug in order to avoid feeling uncomfortable.
It even goes a step further in suggesting that a higher power, or fate, ordained it to teach us a valuable life lesson.
I happen to be a Christian, and I do firmly believe the Lord will walk this path with us. However, I choose to not waste even a second wondering if my God purposefully made my children have allergies.
No one should say this to you. Not ever. What existential meaning are we expected to discover through the journey of our children having food allergies?
So again, how is saying that food allergies “happen for a reason” actually going to help anyone in their time of struggle?
It won’t help. Not one bit.
8. “It could be worse. At least it’s not cancer.”
Are you seeing a trend here with all these toxic positivity statements?
This one was hard for me. It is basically saying, “Shut up with the whining. Your kid could have cancer instead of a food allergy.”
The person saying that has effectively told the family struggling with food allergies that their feelings are invalid, that the challenges are not significant, and they need to suck it up and get over it.
The last time I checked, suppressing your feelings still cause major emotional and physical ramifications the longer that behavior persists.
So, thanks, but no thanks. People are allowed to feel their emotions.
That calloused comment also managed to take a jab at families that have a precious child battling cancer. According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, more than 15,000 children are diagnosed with cancer in America each year.
People that want to compare the intensity of whose health problems are worse do not validate or uplift anyone trying to overcome medical trauma.
9. “Haven’t you been praying about it? I guess I just have faith that the Lord will heal it.”
I am a religious person. Yes, I’ve prayed about it. I still pray about it. Praying about this is not the problem. The problem is that this comment suggests in a roundabout way that my kid’s food allergy could be my fault by questioning whether or not I was praying enough.
When someone says “they just have faith,” it can have several meanings. In this case, it was used to underhandedly insinuate that I lacked faith. A person that does possess strong spiritual faith would never feel the need to brag about their “holiness” or cheapen another’s experience.
When that comment was uttered, all I heard was that they thought it was my fault that my child wasn’t healed. It was said due to their assumption that my faith had somehow failed.
Maybe they didn’t mean to hurt me so badly, and maybe they were actually trying to get me to aspire to be a “better” Christian. Whatever the intention, they used some cleverly worded spiritual burden blaming to achieve their goal.
But the only thing it actually accomplished was to make me feel like someone drove a stake through my soul.
Momma, if someone is using spiritually abusive phrases to subtly accuse you, please hear me loud and clear when I say that Jesus would not accuse you.
You didn’t do something wrong and cause this to happen to your child.
We live in a fallen and broken world. Jesus’ heart overflows for the broken.
Similar to the times of old, when people give advice to those that are hurting, they often don’t stop to examine how much of Jesus’ heart they actually reflect.
Sounds a lot more like a holier-than-thou modern-day Pharisee, don’t you think?
Whatever your beliefs, your faith, or your views are, they have not caused your child’s food allergy.
10. “Kids these days are so sensitive. In my day, there was no such thing as food allergies.”
Huh, that’s really interesting. Society must have become really soft over the years. Perhaps that is why food allergies are on the rise around the globe; because we’re just too sensitive.
I’m trying not to roll my eyes again.
People that use that phrase are not considering other logical options. For one, there may not have been hardly any public information about food allergies 30 or 40 years ago. It is also possible that medical knowledge may not have been widely circulated when they were children.
Food allergies are not a new phenomenon. In fact, Hippocrates (a classical Greek physician) is usually credited for being one of the first doctors to document food allergy reactions. But an argument could be made that food allergies showed up in ancient Chinese writings (around 2735 BC) concerning food consumption.
That means that society has been dealing with food allergies for a LONG time. Unfortunately, it also means that children and adults with food allergies most likely died if they experienced anaphylaxis in ancient times.
There is only one known way to treat a serious allergic reaction and that is to use an epinephrine injection.
According to the Science History Institute, George Oliver first discovered epinephrine (adrenaline) in the 1890s. However, epinephrine wasn’t even CONSIDERED for everyday anaphylactic reactions until the 1970s!
Clearly, a lot has happened in the medical community in advancements for understanding food allergies. We’ve come a long way in the last 50 years, but it doesn’t mean that food allergies didn’t exist when people were growing up.
Some Friendly Advice for Non-Allergy Families
Words really are like toothpaste. If we are careful and gentle, our words will most likely be helpful and useful. However, if we carelessly (or violently) allow harsh and ignorant words to erupt from our mouths, we will have a real mess on our hands.
Families that are trying to navigate their way through food allergies are already struggling with fear, possible shame, and anxiety. If people are going to add to it, it would be best to choose to remain supportively silent instead.
Perhaps you are someone that really does want to connect with people living the allergy life. If so, that is truly a wonderful blessing for those that need someone to listen!
A great place to start is with the validating phrase, “I don’t know what you are going through and I don’t understand it, but I am genuinely sorry that it is so hard. Is there anything I can do to support you?”
You don’t have to have all the answers or lots of “comforting” cliques for food allergy families. You don’t have to be a detective and get to the bottom of why or how the food allergy happened.
We aren’t looking for anyone to fix it. We’re hoping someone will treat us with understanding in our time of need.
Some Encouragement for Food Allergy Families
If you are a family dealing with food allergies, Lauren and I want you to know you are not alone. You are seen and heard. Your feelings are valid and important. Reach out for support.
Everyday can feel like an uphill battle when you are trying to work out the kinks and wrinkles of food allergies. It can be mentally draining and physically exhausting.
You have the right to be treated with respect, kindness, and abiding compassion.
Do not let people belittle or degrade your situation for even one minute. Especially from those that have no knowledge of living with food allergies firsthand. Ain’t nobody got time for that nonsense.
You are going through a lot. Don’t feel guilty if you need to make tough decisions about limiting your exposure to toxic or thoughtless people, even if they are close friends or family members.
Setting physical and emotional boundaries not only teaches others what you are willing to tolerate, but most importantly, it protects your peace.
And trust me, you are SO worthy of that peace. Hold your heads high, mommas, and keep pressing on.
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