From the Inside Looking Out

Recently a comment I made about how being a food allergy parent seems from the outside (I know I look like a “helicopter mom” to others) contributed to a post by Asha Dornfest on her Babble Voices blog “The Accidental Expert” – feel free to check it out: When your “balance” looks different

I think this passage in particular is applicable to both the food allergy parent and the veg parent in me:

To the naysayers, experts, and well-meaning people who still think we’re nuts: we appreciate your opinions. They help us clarify our own. We know you mean well, but you’re only seeing part of the picture.

Here’s what would help more than your judgement: your confidence in us as intelligent, conscientious parents. We don’t need your agreement. We need your support. Your continued honesty and friendship. Your willingness to keep talking.

But in the end we will always declare: we know our families best.

I was talking with a friend on Twitter (she runs the website Multiple Food Allergy Help) last month and she had written that her son was distraught over a karate teacher telling students they need to go without sugar for 7 days as that meant he couldn’t eat one of the treats that was safe for him: pop tarts.  (Sources: 1, 2, 3)  It is a perfect example of someone on the outside not getting the unique circumstances of a family.  In this particular instance it made a sweet little boy feel bad about what he could safely eat.

Ages ago (okay, two years ago) I read a post called “When Clueless People Attack” by Amy Corbett Storch that really stuck with me.  In it she describes how people judge parents for putting their “older” children in strollers.  For, say, an autistic child, it just might be the only way their parent can keep them from running into the street or out of a store.  There’s no way to know, especially from what is just a momentary interaction.  Now, if you see something that raises your concern, like child abuse or the like, then of course that is a different situation but as far as choices like what treat my child gets or whether someone else’s little one has a pacifier in their mouth it is best not to judge.

On the flip side there is my internal dialogue, the one that looks at what other moms are doing and thinks I am not nearly that fabulous.  If that is also something you struggle with, Jessica at VegBooks.org shared this article with me and it made the great point that “Your Children Want You.”  So even though I am probably my own worst critic (who doesn’t worry when all their child wants for dinner is the same thing they had for lunch and for dinner the night before?) I am doing my best and hope you are getting the support you need to do your best as well.

 

8 Comments

  1. Nicely put. It’s true to say I probably look like a helicopter Mum, too, faffing around with wetwipes, scrubbing chairs and tables, following my son to make sure he doesn’t stumble across a stray sesame bar or peanut – but that’s the way it has to be. I often find myself apologising for my perceived weirdness by explaining ‘he’s allergic to a whole load of food’, and to be fair nobody has ever looked askance at that.

    Your comments do, though, remind me of a debate that was raging on Mumsnet recently about whether parents “should” bring food to feed their kids at cafes and restaurants. To the outsider, it may well seem “cheap” and rude to serve up your own stuff and not order from the menu, but when there is nothing on the list that your child can safely eat the tutting onlookers can bugger off! I do usually explain why, though, because I hope that by so doing I am raising awareness that this is a very real issue. Perhaps one day, if enough of us do it, more places will bother to think about allergy provision/cleanliness and all of that.

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    • Alexa, thank you for the kind words and I exactly agree with you. You describe things that food allergy parents know all too well – the fluttering about all the time and carrying safe foo everywhere. I know I get strange looks even when our picnics at the park don’t look like the normal spread (rice and bean dip) or when someone offers my kids candy and I say “no thank you.” I think it is great that food allergic parents are taking their kids to restaurants with their own food – it will help teach the children important social skills and manners. The awareness it raises is important as well.

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  2. I remember being at preschool class with E and the teacher was passing out marshmallows. I said, “No, thank you, she’s allergic,” and no less than THREE parents chimed in “They’re just marshmallows!!” and looked at me like I was nuts. A little peek into being a parent with a food-allergic child.

    I don’t think it’s “helicopter” to be trying to keep your child alive. It’s not like you’re trying to make everyone like her, or protect her from every possibility of hurt feelings, or challenge her college professor about a grade she earned. You’r trying to keep her healthy and alive until she’s able to do that for herself.

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    • I remember that! One mom said “it’s just sugar” which is silly because marshmallows are not even vegetarian and they have corn syrup, etc. I am such a label reader now, it is spooky to think that I never ever read ingredients before except to make sure there wasn’t hidden beef broth or something in them. Or the time at Panda Express when I found out that their veggie fried rice had chicken powder in it but never thought to ask before.

      You’re right, it isn’t being a helicopter mom, it just looks like it. She’s already really assertive about asking about what is safe, having supportive family has been huge as far as making her feel accepted and normal.

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  3. I really appreciate this post. As parents, we need to be supportive of other parents and the choices they make for their families.

    I recently watched Loving Lampposts (a documentary on autism), and I was really struck by one of the points made. I won’t do it justice, but the basic idea was that there are two kinds of limitations: those that are intrisic and others that only exist because society won’t make accommodations. It got me thinking about how I, as a part of society, might impose limitations on others (people with autism and people with other situations too), and how I can meet people on their own terms.

    As a vegan, I like to think that I’m accommodating of others’ food choices, but reading your blog has opened my eyes to issues that I hadn’t considered before. I wonder if you’d consider writing a post geared to parents who do not have experience with food allergies, explaining how we can be supportive in common situations like playdates and parties. I, for one, would find it helpful.

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    • Thanks so much for reading, sharing, and commenting. I find the experience of autistic families so close to home because of friends with autistic children and the fact that just by looking at a child you wouldn’t know that they need a little extra caring or support. I was in a waiting room once and this girl was crying and she came really close and started hitting herself. It scared me and I kept asking what was wrong, her caregiver glanced over and said “oh, she’s autistic” but I was still a little shaken to see her so upset and not calming down. I wonder what I could have done differently in that situation sometimes.

      What a great idea for a post – I will start brainstorming!

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  4. This is such a well thought-out post. I really loved the comment above about it not being a helicopter parent if you are just trying to keep your child alive. There are so many people out there who just don’t understand the seriousness.

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    • Thank you so much! I know we are lucky in that this is an auto-immune condition that we can in theory protect our children from by avoidance but with it comes so much responsibility. Even food allergic adults struggle because their survival may very well depend on those around them acting quickly and administering an epinephrine injection. Serious stuff!

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