raising a child food allergies

Parenting Children with Food Allergies During the Holidays

As we approach the holiday season, we look forward to time with family and friends, gift exchanges and sharing memories and traditions. And of course, there’s all of the food–which for parents of children with food allergies can also bring a time to worry.  Is the food safe? What if there was a mistake? Is there a risk of cross-contamination? And will my child feel bad when he can’t eat all the desserts?
As a parent of a 16-year-old son with peanut allergies, these worries are all too familiar. Our son was diagnosed around age two when we gave him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cream cheese and jelly sandwich. Both sandwiches were broken into little pieces on his high chair tray. He was agitated and only eating about half of the sandwich pieces. As the moments progressed, he aggressively itched his eye and before we knew it, it swelled shut. We don’t know if he ate a piece of peanut butter and jelly or just touched it. A trip to the ER and follow up allergy testing confirmed a peanut allergy.  
We have worked very hard to make our son respect his allergy as a part of him that not define him. We have experienced a wide range of emotions over the past 14 years – fear, sadness, anger, frustration, worry and gratitude. Most of these emotions usually are a result of people who just don’t get what we are dealing with in regards to our son’s allergy.  However, we’ve definitely experienced gratitude, as we have been blessed by kindness too – parents trying to accommodate our son at birthday parties, a grandma having a special jar of jelly for our son when he comes to visit to make sure there is no peanut butter residue, kids asking their parents not to pack peanut products in their lunch so they could sit by our son and a kind uncle choosing to eat graham crackers with our son rather than the cake provided at a family birthday party.  Small gestures have made a huge difference for our family and make dealing with the uncertainty of food allergies more tolerable. 
There are a lot of uncertainties with food allergies. There is no guarantee what a reaction will be – hives, vomiting, anaphylaxis, maybe a combo and it can be different each time. What helps some children outgrow the allergy while others remain allergic their entire life? And we as parents of children with food allergies have different levels of comfort – one may allow a child to eat a product manufactured on shared equipment, one may not let their child be at a house that has peanut butter. This is an individual choice and there is no “right” answer in how parents should handle allergies.  Seeing your child unconscious, gasping for breath or wiggling in discomfort as their skin itches and they develop hives or seeing your 2 year old’s eye swell shut is an image hard to forgot and shapes how we handle our comfort level.  
Our son will be going to college in a few years, and I would not be honest if I didn’t admit that it terrifies me. However, the same fears I anticipate with college will be similar to when he went to preschool or grade school or a new friend’s house or a holiday party. I want him to be safe. But ultimately my hopes for my 16-year-old with a peanut allergy are the same as my hopes for his two younger siblings who do not have a food allergy.  I hope that they all are surrounded by supportive friends, hope that they all make good choices and that they are kind.  But most importantly, I hope that they all are happy and healthy individuals.  Keeping them healthy, can sometimes prove tricky for food allergic parents, especially in situations where we can not always control the environment. So when we ask about ingredients in the food at the family potluck or if you used the same cookie sheet to bake peanut butter cookies, please know we are just trying to keep our kids happy and healthy, just like many parents are this time of the year.   

So best wishes to a season full of family, friends and food. Let’s all toast to raising happy and healthy kids the best way we know how!