Living with a child with food allergies is stressful, especially when those allergies are life threatening, and even more so when you feel like other parents aren?t across just how serious your child?s allergies really are.
And, truth be told, most of us aren?t. We don?t have much of a clue. That an allergy is different from a food intolerance is news to a lot of us, and some parents treat food preferences as though they?re allergies ? I?ve known parents to put ?broccoli and peas? in the allergies section of excursion consent forms purely because their child doesn?t like eating green vegetables. So is it really any wonder mums and dads of kids with allergies don?t feel like we have their backs?
Parents of kids with allergies are given a hard time. They?re judged as uptight and over the top and excluded from social events on the basis that they?re ?high maintenance?. Given what they?re already going through, this seems more than a little unfair. Yes, parents of kids with allergies can be over the top and helicopter-ish, but only because they have to be. For some kids, exposure to even a small amount of allergen ? just the tiniest piece of peanut for example or the smallest amount of milk ? can trigger an allergic reaction. Hives and other skin reactions, yes, but also facial swelling or swelling of the throat, making it hard to draw breath. It?s scary stuff, not just for kids, but their parents as well.
So yes, parents of kids with allergies might say no to birthday parties, have hand sanitizer constantly at the ready, talk endlessly about warning signs of allergic reactions, and ask millions of questions about your plans for play date activities and food, but when you think about the potential consequences of allergen exposure, is that really all that weird? Wouldn?t you do the same thing if it were your kid?
Being a parent is a rough gig and having a child with food allergies sure as hell doesn?t make the task any easier. But the good news is there?s a lot you can do to support your fellow parents ? it takes a village after all.
If your child has a friend with allergies:
- Start by making sure you don?t deliberately exclude them from things on the basis of their allergies. If the child?s a pain in the arse, then by all means, don?t have them over, but make sure your decision is based on that, and not the extra effort a play date with a child with allergies entails.
- If you?re not comfortable being responsible for a child with severe allergies, that?s completely understandable, but try to find a middle ground. Ask their parent to stay for coffee or to be accessible in case you need them. It?s an entirely reasonable request, and it won?t be an issue.
- Last, but not least, ask for written instructions. Make sure you?re across what can and can?t be eaten, and any potential triggers. If you?re unsure about anything ? just ask. Your questions aren?t ridiculous or annoying, they?ll be received with huge gratitude and thanks.
Whether we?re willing to admit it or not, we all judge other parents way too much. Let?s start changing the way we do things ? we might be surprised at the outcome.
Dr Sarah Hughes is a clinical psychologist, author, and media commentator. Sarah has over 10 years of clinical experience and is an authority on everything from toddler tantrums and teenage drama to body image, work/life balance, and relationships. The author of two books, ?Skip The Drama? and soon to be released ?Parenting Made Simple?, Sarah offers straightforward and practical advice to help parents navigate the rabbit warren that is parenting. She completed her clinical training at the University of Sydney and holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and a PhD in child and adolescent anxiety disorders and founded Think Clinical Psychologists in 2011. www.drsarahhughes.com