Last week, I felt like absolute garbage. More specifically, I felt like diaper trash that had just been ignited inside a dirty dumpster.
And I don’t mean that I felt physically ill. I felt mentally and emotionally HORRIBLE. I was a gross, stinky, dumpster fire mess.
Honestly, I had more colorful words to use, but thought I had better spare you the word vomit.
So here’s the story.
Our family went to a Halloween event at our local zoo a week prior to Halloween. This activity had been in the works for at least 2 months.
Many different companies from our city were going to be representing themselves at the zoo. They typically each have their own booth and candy buckets.
I planned extensively and meticulously through the details of keeping my children with food allergies safe, or at least I thought I had.
My daughter’s costume included gloves specifically so that she had a buffer between her skin and any potential allergens. I planned to keep my young son in his stroller so he wouldn’t come into contact with any food.
Next, we created a visual “Safe Candies” list after double checking the ingredients and calling companies. It was printed and then laminated to take trick-or-treating with us.
My daughter was over the moon excited to use it as a tool to advocate for herself (because she’s an amazing little human).
Y’all, I even packed a separate Halloween bag FULL of safe candy to take with us on the “off chance” that one or two booths wouldn’t have safe candy. That way if there wasn`t anything for her at the booth, she could run to me instead and pick safe candy from me.
We have attended this event in the past, so I knew what to expect…right?
I knew there would be peanut butter and nut candies, but thought for sure other common brands would also be present. For example, the Tootsie Roll brand and DumDum lollipops are some of the safe brands that my oldest can eat. She is allergic to both sesame and peanuts.
In my defense, when have you ever NOT seen Tootsie Rolls or DumDums in a Halloween basket? I mean, come on! They are classics!
But I kid you not, there was not A SINGLE booth in that entire zoo that had safe candy for my children.
About 4 booths in, I was starting to feel uneasy that my daughter hadn’t been able to get candy from a booth yet.
Then, I suddenly realized that all the candy wrappers looked suspiciously similar. I felt my heart sink. Something was off. It was not the same variety of candies we had seen the year before.
So I found a staff member working the event and asked about it.
Lo and behold, the zoo had purchased candy to give to ALL the companies. I was told that only two types of bags had been purchased for each booth, chocolate candies (many with nuts and cross-contact issues) and sugar candies.
But neither type of bag had a single safe brand of candy for my kids.
So there would be no treat variety. No additional options. Which meant there would be zero chance that my kids would find safe candy at any booth that evening.
Once that realization hit, it felt like someone had slapped me across the face. I felt embarrassed, shocked, disappointed, and most of all, ashamed.
How had this problem not occurred to me beforehand?
Why did I not think to call ahead about what brands of candies were being served?
Well, the honest answer was because I thought each company was going to bring their own candy, so naturally there would be more than enough variety.
I had expected there to be unsafe candies. I just hadn’t expected there to be such a limited mixture of candy brands.
It wasn’t the zoo’s fault and none of the companies were at fault either. In my heart, I knew I had tried my best to plan ahead, but I really do feel like I should have called beforehand.
Maybe someone could have told me that the companies were not in charge of bringing their own candy. Safety wise, that actually makes a lot of sense in the grand scheme of things.
Though I had the best of intentions, I cannot help but feel like I SHOULD have known better.
I’m a food allergy mom for crying out loud. We always expect the unexpected. But I totally missed the mark on this event.
I’ve Felt This Way Before
Feeling like a complete failure concerning my children’s food allergies is not a new concept for me.
In fact, I first felt that way after my kids were initially diagnosed, like it was somehow my fault that their bodies developed food allergies. The shame spiral and mom guilt was overwhelming.
You can read our thoughts about dealing with food allergy mom guilt HERE.
Besides the above examples, I have made many additional mistakes on this food allergy medical journey.
A few examples:
- Not carrying 2 epipens at all times
- Not realizing that the epipens expire yearly
- Forgetting to read a label before feeding my child a food
- Failing to hold extended family/individuals to food allergy safety boundaries that potentially put our kids at risk
- Accidentally feeding my child her allergen right after we were diagnosed
Many of those mistakes were a result of not being properly prepared or informed. We were brand new to allergies and trying to understand how to keep our child safe.
Our allergist at the time did not give us information about caring for the EpiPens and we were told to read labels and avoid the allergen.
Well, we came to realize that there’s a lot more to food allergy safety than just that.
We struggled to explain our experience to others and had trouble helping our extended family navigate the information too.
Lauren likes to compare the initial food allergy information overload to people having to drink from a firehose.
And she’s not wrong. There is SO MUCH to learn.
We Will Make Mistakes
After each one of those mishaps, I would ask myself, “Am I a failure? Am I always going to fail my kids like this?”
And the answer to that question is a loud and resounding “no”.
The reality is that I made mistakes. But it is also true that I will continue to make mistakes in the future. That doesn’t make me a bad parent.
Because I am learning. I will be better educated and more equipped in those new situations. I have done my best, and will continue to strive for excellence, but I’m simply not perfect.
And neither are you, sweet parent. You are not perfect, but you ARE doing your best.
Again, you are a real life, flesh and blood person. You are not a machine that can be programed to always perform a predetermined outcome.
Though we sometimes feel like failures, we are not. We don’t purposefully intend to harm our kids or seek out dangerous situations regarding their food allergies.
We are only human.
Knowing that truth in your brain is one thing, but convincing you heart is entirely different. You might be thinking, “Yeah, Katie. Easier said than done.”
And I agree with you.
The reality and weight of the responsibility in caring for children with life-threatening medical conditions is not lost on me.
It would be great if the consequences of my human moments only impacted me. But when they impact my children, the horror and shame feels unbearable.
I have felt the guilt. Lauren has felt it as well. We lean on each other often when we are overwhelmed by the weight of our worries or anguish.
Jumping down the rabbit hole to enter into shame is something we’ve done as well. We see and hear you in your suffering, which is why we want to lovingly remind you that you are not a failure.
But we are not here to force you to believe these words. We are here to speak truth over you and plant a seed of hope in your weary soul. Nourish that seed.
You will have days that you fail, and it will hurt like heck, but don’t stop looking for hope. Keep pressing forward through the muck. Take the necessary steps that you need to take in order to try again.
5 Next Steps in Addressing Failure
1. Grieve It
Go ahead and grieve it, sweet momma. It is really okay to do so.
Whatever it was, it needs to be laid to rest and mourned properly. Whether it was your unmet expectations, a scary situation, an allergen mistake, or a scary reaction to food, it is worthy of your attention.
I’ve always heard people say to not have a “pity party” and to just try again. Well, I don’t like the negative connotation associated with that phrase. Not one bit.
Because a “pity party” is actually a necessary step to moving forward. So I want to rephrase that sentiment a bit. I want you to have a “heartbreak hiatus.”
Make room and some time to take a break. Then it is important to feel all your emotions associated with what happened.
Maybe you accidentally fed your child their allergen and it resulted in a reaction. Most likely, you will feel guilt and multiple other emotions about the incident. Identify each and every emotion your are experiencing in order to process through your thoughts.
That’s part of grieving. Take time to cry, think about what happened, identify your feelings, and to rest your soul. Those are all important factors in moving forward.
2. Dispel the Lies that Shame Whispers
Sometimes, after we make mistakes or feel that we have failed horribly, we sometimes hear lies about ourselves that we are tempted to believe.
For example, you might say to yourself:
- “I’m a bad mother.”
- “How could I have made that mistake?”
- “My child deserves a better parent than me.”
- “I suck at everything I do.”
None of those statements are true, but we might think them nonetheless. And that’s okay, but don’t continue to repeat that cycle with future mistakes.
It’s important to verbally and emotionally reject those statements. When those thoughts become invasive, go find a mirror and look yourself in the eye.
When you hear, “I’m a bad mother,” you say, “No, I’m a good mom. I made a mistake, but I’ll learn from it and try not to repeat it again.”
Remind yourself that you are doing hard things. Over and over again.
And when you cannot be kind, or speak truth over yourself, it is important to turn to a safe person that you know will not rain judgments down on you or berate you.
After the zoo incident, I talked about it with both my husband and Lauren. They each gave me space to cry and to verbalize how upset with myself I felt. Lauren encouraged me and spoke truth over me about my positive qualities as a mother.
I felt safe enough to process through the situation with two people that I love and respect. The validation I felt from their words and their comfort was just another part of the healing process for me.
I was able to forgive myself instead of choosing to remain in my shame.
3. Analyze & Adjust
I think this step is important because once you have grieved and forgiven yourself, it is important to reflect on the situation and how certain things came about.
For me, it is easier to do this step after the sting of guilt has subsided so that I approach it as logically as I can.
First, think through the event in great detail. Sometimes I even make a timeline of what I think happened. If you accidentally fed your child their allergen, write down what was going on before, during, and after the incident. Were you merely distracted, or was there more to it than just that?
If you attended an event, but something happened, or maybe something blindsided you, write down the order of events and key details that you think were important.
It will help you to identify what went well and what the main problems were. Potentially, it might even help you figure out that something deeper was going on.
For example, I practiced writing down key details of things that upset me at family events around food. Eventually, I realized that the commonalities were certain family members that continually made very judgmental comments about my parenting choices around food allergy safety.
I realized that I was often feeling rejected by those people and on guard in order to defend myself. In the middle of that, it was harder for me to stay mentally alert for my kids in those types of environments.
Once you analyze what happened, you can then set to work adjusting the details of your new plan. Talk through how you’ll do it differently in the future. Maybe you need to adjust your family’s safety rules or create strict boundaries with extended family members.
Or as another example, maybe you only were checking the labels of foods at the store before you bought them. That is great, but maybe you can adjust that practice by making a family rule to always check food labels 3 times instead of just once.
You can check at the store, then once again when you get home, and then right before serving it.
Whatever it is that you need to do to adjust, go for it! You’ll be more equipped and feel more confident.
The literal definitions of the word “regroup” are:
-to form into a new grouping
-reorganize after a setback for renewed activity
-to alter the tactual formation of a military forceMerriam-Webster
All of that! Regrouping after making mistakes as a food allergy parent is essential to creating a safe environment for both you and your child.
One way I decided to “reorganize” my plan to safely include my children in social events (after the zoo setback) was to reach out to them and see if I could involve them in helping food allergy families.
I told them about our experience and asked if we could discuss options for implementing The Teal Pumpkin Project at the zoo next year.
Their response so far has been positive and I am so excited to see if we can accomplish it!
Next, I want to especially point out the last part of the definition of “regroup” above.
“Military force” refers to a group of people actively changing their formation of attack or defense. They are creating change together in order to reach a desired outcome.
The key word there is “together.”
Who is in your safe circle of people? Your spouse? Your in-laws? Parents? Friends or coworkers? Who will sit down with you and listen to what happened and help you brainstorm ideas?
Those safe people can help you regroup. They can support you in your time of need or while you are grieving a part of this food allergy journey.
Some practical examples of what this might look like are:
- assisting you in coordinating with event leaders at public events (for example, my husband is going to help me work with our local zoo to advocate for non-food treats next year)
- helping you call companies about food
- researching safe snack brands or food brands
- going over the new plan for a specific situation with you and working out the kinks
- pointing out details you may not have thought about
- coming to your home and helping with whatever needs to be done
- sitting with you at the hospital
- watching your other children (or even pets) in an emergency
Again, it is important to not stay isolated as a food allergy parent. But we recognize that finding strong supports to help you regroup doesn’t just happen overnight.
If you have no one to lean on, we definitely suggest checking out support groups. You can find one near you by checking out FARE.
FARE is the trusted source of information about food allergies and their link to finding a local support group can be found HERE.
Lastly, implement the new plan on a daily basis. Hold yourself accountable to keep at it until it becomes an ingrained habit.
But don’t forget to leave room for grace when it doesn’t go exactly to plan. Your child is worthy of grace, and so are you, beloved.
Mistakes are a part of life, but you will continue to learn from them and adjust the plan and rules to fit your needs as your food allergy family grows in awareness and confidence.
If you’ve been reading our blog, then you already know that Lauren and I encourage others to consider therapy.
We have benefited greatly from finding a licensed counselor to help us manage our food allergy anxiety and complicated emotions.
Food Allergy Counselor is an incredible resource for the food allergy community. These are counselors who specialize in working with families living this medical journey. Check them out HERE.
Also, the Centre for Clinical Interventions has a free download that discusses addressing how we process failure. Sometimes, being a food allergy parent cultivates a perfectionist mindset due to the type of care we do on a daily basis.
We DO have to be careful and constantly think about our actions and behaviors. That’s a reality of what we live.
However, I love that there is an example of how to do a “thought diary” that targets whether or not our beliefs about ourselves are correct. For example, believing that we are failures as parents. That is a false belief that needs to be addressed.
Check out CCI’s free download to practice a “thought diary” HERE.
You Were Chosen
Your child has you.
The best parent they could ask for is already working, sacrificing, learning, and advocating on their behalf. You were chosen to raise them up well.
And you WILL.
You are a food allergy parent. That makes you a warrior. Take up your armor along side millions of other food allergy families and battle.
Battle hard. Fight the good fight. Advance and press forward.
When you fall, other parents will stand in the gap to guard you. Take a rest, breathe deeply, and scream out your frustration as you find your footing.
Then rise. Rise up and keep going. We will also fight beside you and for you.