“Yeah, I’m sure food allergies are hard but did you ever consider that maybe your child didn’t really react? You may just need to switch your child’s diet to improve their gut health. They will stop having trouble with that food if you do that.”
Believe it or not, that has been said to Katie in response to her sharing some of the hardships of food allergy life.
That was not the first time Katie heard a sentiment along those lines. I have also had similar statements said to me.
And it won’t be the last time we hear it.
As food allergy mommas, most of us desire to reach out, away from ourselves, to find someone willing to help us. We really do need support.
Maybe you long to help a family member or friend living the food allergy life.
If so, this post is for you!
Bless you, for being open to learning and willing to come alongside that family. We need more people like you in this world.
We hope this post gives you some background in understanding how a food allergy parent might feel and some practical steps to follow.
1. Listen Rather Than Advise
Admittedly, this is such simple advice.
And yet, for whatever reason, it seems to be a rare quality to have someone truly listen.
I think it’s human nature. When you see a friend or loved one upset, there is a deep instinct to try and fix it.
The thing with food allergies, and many other life issues, is that there is no cure. There is no fix for this.
Believe me, if there was a fix, the food allergy mom would have tried it already. Our role as moms is to learn how to manage food allergies so that we can then teach our kids how to manage their food allergies. This is a daunting task.
Another problem with trying to fix it instead of patiently listening is we wind up saying things that, although often well-intentioned, could be received by the food allergy mom as a judgment.
For example, statements beginning with “You should…” or “You need to…” can invoke those feelings of inadequacy or judgment.
We don’t want advice – we want to feel heard.
I know I’ve needed to feel heard as a food allergy mom. One of the most unexpected feelings I’ve had as a food allergy mom is isolation. After my son’s diagnosis, I felt truly alone in navigating a medical circumstance I knew very little about.
Especially in the first year, trying to learn everything you need to learn about raising littles with food allergies is hard. Honestly, it is like trying to drink a sip of water from a fire hose.
It’s truly overwhelming. Many food allergy moms, myself included, feel anxious and unsure of themselves. Often, food allergy moms even blame themselves for the food allergy and/or have guilt for how the decision they are making in navigating it.
For more on this, check out our post, The Food Allergy is Not Your Fault, Momma.
We don’t need more advice in those moments. We need to feel like we’re not alone.
2. Be Flexible
Especially in the beginning, I was unsure what to do to keep my kids safe. I needed time to learn about their specific needs concerning food allergies.
Just like anything, kids are different. And food allergies are different, so families with food allergies can have different levels of comfort and safety needs. This is ok.
This is why you will see one family with food allergies totally comfortable with one scenario, and another would say no to that exact same scenario.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I needed flexibility from the people around me as I figured out what my kids needed.
We went on a weekend getaway with some friends early into our family’s food allergy journey. Both families had 18-month-old boys. At this point, we had been advised to keep nuts out of our home but to keep dairy in the home as my son was tolerating baked dairy at the time.
We had booked to share a suite with our friends on this getaway, and I was nervous about how we would do the food. This was one of our first vacations away after the diagnosis. I was also nervous about navigating a new environment with food allergies.
I shared my concerns with my friend. She listened and gave me space to share how I felt. She knew I was still figuring it out.
After listening, she offered to let me take charge of the food. That way, I could grocery shop and get the brands I knew were safe for us while we were away from home.
She shared options that her son loved, and we worked together to devise a food plan that worked for everyone.
She acknowledged that she could be flexible in a way that I did not on this issue, and her willingness to do so meant so much.
An Open and Willing Heart
I’ve seen so many food allergy moms share how the people closest to them have been unwilling to make any changes to embrace their child with food allergies.
And I’ve seen this unwillingness to be flexible and adapt create a lot of hurts.
Even if the request seems like a lot, listening to why the requests are being made in the first place, acknowledging the anxiety that comes with being a food allergy mom, and creating space for that mom to learn how to manage this can make a huge difference.
3. Exclude the Food, Not the Child
Every mom wants their kid to be included. This can be hard with food allergies, especially with little kids.
For example, my son gets hives simply from contact with one of his allergens, peanuts. This makes certain scenarios really challenging for us to navigate safely.
For example, if he was invited to a birthday party with a bunch of other 4-year-olds, and peanuts/peanut butter was going to be served, this would be very challenging.
Imagine a group of hyper 4-year-olds, all eating peanut butter. It’s on their hands and faces; they wipe it on their clothes, etc.
In this situation, it would be too high risk for my son to participate. This will change as he ages, but for this season, we would choose not to participate in the party.
Now, I want to be clear, I do not believe other moms need to solely cater to my son. If a mom wants to throw a Reese’s Peanut Butter Buster Surprise party for her child, she has every right to do that, and we have every right to politely decline participation.
In this scenario, we would offer to do something fun on a different day to celebrate the birthday.
I do not think it’s right to make demands when it’s another family’s special event.
However, it can mean the world when someone chooses to make accommodations.
For instance, I had a friend throw a birthday party for her son. When we were at a play date together, she brought up the party and said, “I want to make the food a non-issue for your son. Could you help me do that?”
I asked her if she was sure. They were entitled to have whatever food they wanted at her son’s party. I wasn’t going to ask her to change it all.
She responded, “We can manage without peanut butter for 2 hours. We really want you guys to be able to participate and not have to worry about it.”
I almost cried.
It meant so much to hear her say that she did not care about the food. She wanted my son to be able to participate.
One of the best gifts about becoming friends with Katie was how I felt like I had another mom who really understood food allergies. She understood the concerns with food labels and the issues with manufacturing.
She knew that you have to check non-food items, and she knew emergency care for anaphylaxis.
I remember meeting Katie at the park for the first time and seeing her scan the playground equipment for smashed food so she could gently direct her daughter not to touch it. I felt so understood in that moment.
One of the best gifts for a food allergy mom is the feeling that other people understand.
The world would be so much safer for my kids if more people understood what to do in an emergency situation with anaphylaxis and how to administer an EpiPen. My kids would be able to eat freely at restaurants if the industry took cross-contact seriously.
I would also love it if the TikTok accounts and large comedy platforms stopped making jokes about the issue, but I digress.
Education and awareness are critical, and one of the best ways I know that I’ve felt supported is when people are educated on the issue. I felt safe taking my kids to Disney World because most staff and places have allergy awareness and protocols.
The only time I felt uncomfortable was when there was clearly a lack of education. For more on this, check out our Disney World with Food Allergies post.
I am so encouraged by the increased food allergy awareness I see yearly. Let’s keep making noise; let’s keep learning.
I’ve been blessed with great people who have come around my family various times. So much of why they could do that was because they asked questions. Questions were the gateway to them being able to do all the last 4 things.
They listened intently, then asked follow-up questions. When I shared that I was concerned about a situation, they asked questions to find out how they could adapt and be flexible.
It was through questions that my friend truly understood the risks to my son and offered to have a nut-free birthday party. And how can you learn without asking questions?
When my friends held a posture of curiosity to ask, I felt cared for rather than judged.
It’s so simple, yet it seems to be such a rare gift.
Here are some questions that were helpful:
- How can I help?
- What do you think of this?
- Are you comfortable with x, y, and z?
- Asking why (in a curious way, not a judgmental way)
We Hope You Feel Understood
I hope you feel validated in what is helpful to you as a food allergy mom. You are not asking too much. You and your child are not a burden.
Find your people. Genuine support is so important.
As always, we are in your corner, cheering you on.