Birthday parties will never be the same.
It doesn’t matter how old your kid is when you find out he has food allergies, the first thing that goes through your head is; he’s never going to have a normal life.
I know it sounds melodramatic – to you maybe, if your kid doesn’t have food allergies. But to me, when my son was 9-months-old and I was told that 7 different foods could kill him, I assure you, I did not think I was being overly dramatic.
When the nurse walked in, all matter-of-fact, and handed me these things I’d heard of but never actually seen; epi-pens, I thought “But they’ve always been for other people’s kids.” The panic set in. He could eat something that could kill him, and it’s my responsibility to save his life? ARE YOU CRAZY?! This is scarier than the day you sent me home with him when he was 48 hours old and said, you can do it!
Here’s a no-nonsense list of how to get over the fear:
1) Get a grip. It doesn’t matter what you are feeling on the inside – on the outside, you need to at least appear to be strong for your child. Shake yourself if you need to, yell at yourself in the mirror, whatever you have to do but get over it.
2) Realize this is not about you. You are responsible for the life of your child, and if it means no more peanut butter in the house, it doesn’t matter how much you love peanut butter. There is no more peanut butter in the house!
3) This is not about your husband either. You are not alone in insuring your child’s safety. It doesn’t matter if your husband’s favorite cereal is Honey Nut Cheerios, and he PROMISES he’ll be really careful. Tell him to keep it at work and if you find it in the house it’s going in the garbage.
4) Your house needs to be the one place you know your child is safe. Unless you want to label every single food item in the house, you need to be able to tell a babysitter/nanny/grandparent everything in this house is safe for my child to eat. You also need to make it clear that babysitter/nanny/grandparent can not bring any food into the house.
5) Do NOT cheat. You MAY NOT buy food that is processed in a facility that also processes (insert allergen here). The problem with that unclear labelling is not that there might be mild contamination in every M&M. The problem is your child might get the one M&M in one million that has a peanut in it. And while you are cleaning the kitchen thinking nothing of it. Your child is in the other room turning purple and going in to anaphylactic shock.
6) Get over your shyness. You have to be OK with being the mom who asks what the ingredients are in the cake/pizza/bread at the birthday party. You have to be okay with saying, “I will be bringing my son’s own food/cake/snacks.”
When my son was young I would try to bring whatever the other kids would be eating, but in an allergy safe way.
7) You are your child’s only advocate with playdates. You are now going to have to train every mom you come in contact with how to use an epi-pen, and you are going to have to do it with a smile and confidence. Do not ambush a mother with this information when you drop your child off. Talk it over when you make the playdate and make sure she feels like she can handle it. The playdate can always be at your house. NEVER let your child have a playdate without leaving benadryl and epi-pens with the mother. Explain how to use them and what to look for. Let the mother know what your child can and cannot eat. If necessary bring your own snacks.
8) You are your child’s only advocate in school/classes/camp. You must speak out. You must tell the administration, teachers and nurses all about your child’s food allergies. You must push for an allergen free classroom. It is not acceptable that the allergens be allowed in the classroom no matter the occasion and you have to put your foot down. You must be an active part of your child’s life in school to insure his safety.
9) You are your child’s only advocate with doctors. Do NOT let your pediatrician treat your child’s food allergies. Demand a referral to a pediatric allergist. Do your research, ask around, you are not the only mom of a kid with food allergies. Find the very best allergist and even if he’s a little farther than the so-so one, go those extra miles. If you advocate for your child and do the research, it is possible that you may know more than your pediatrician does about food allergies. Do not be afraid to change doctors. Your doctor works for you, if you are not happy with the treatment or feedback or availability then find a new doctor!
10) Use the resources available to you. There are so many resources out there for kids with food allergies now, I have a list here. Living with food allergies doesn’t have to be so scary. There is a very large national group, there are smaller local support groups. Use the resources, educate yourself. Get to the point where you feel so confident that you know even if there is a reaction, you can handle it.
You are strong, you are a parent for Pete’s sake! You can do this. Just remember to leave the drama at home. The chances of your child developing self-esteem issues because of food allergies is relatively high. If you do not do your job, and be the best advocate you can be, the chance that your child will not want to carry epi-pens when he gets older because he is embarrassed, is also very high.
Take a deep breath, start now, and you will be amazed. In a few years someone will say to you “Isn’t it hard to deal with all of those food allergies?” And you’ll say “Nope, it is what it is, it’s a part of how we live everyday.”