The end of the year is a magical time. Families are getting together to celebrate holidays, children’s eyes are sparkling as they decorate the tree, and there is food – lots and lots of food. And if you have a family with severe food allergies, managing the holidays is like tip-toeing through a mine field!
When my son was 3 years old and while I was pregnant with son number two (who also turned out to be allergic), a family member gave him a peanut butter cookie. Within three minutes, he threw up. And we knew immediately what was going on. After being diagnosed with a severe peanut (and later, legume and soy) allergy, we had to change the way we approached the holidays completely.
No longer could we put just anything on his plate, or serve him the food that relatives cooked up at family events, without doing a thorough check of all the ingredients (and sometimes the manufacturing processes too).
So, that plate of cookies and nuts that grandma put out? That bowl of candy that sits on the mother-in-law’s table? That special dessert your sweet Italian aunt made?
If you are in this boat, I understand. It is difficult and the holidays make it worse.
Explaining it to the family, especially the older generation, took time. It took years, in fact. Things are a lot better now, but when he was first diagnosed, I had to really explain to them why he had this allergy and answer all their (sometimes awkward) questions.
Food allergies just did not exist in the same prevalence 50 years ago. And you know, people are sensitive about their food and traditions!
When the holidays came, things could get especially tense because all the things that they used to do had to be run through the filter of, “is grandson allergic?”
So, if I can offer some advice to newly (or not so newly) diagnosed food allergy families here it is:
Try to answer all the questions honestly.
When someone asks why my child is allergic, I usually say I really don’t know. As I am not an allergist, I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to teach others, but what I do have is experience. And so, I usually share with them our own personal experience and what habits we have found that work for us to keep our son safe.
Set your own boundaries on what you are comfortable with, and adhere to them.
One of the situations I have found thrust on me at the holidays is a “new” candy or a “new” food item. My husband, sweet man, sometimes feels pressured to say yes to the treat. But, I never do unless I can confirm it’s safe.
Who wants to ruin their holiday meal with an injection of epinephrine and a trip to the ER? Not me!
Also, do a ton of pre-holiday research.
Communicate (communicate, communicate!) with the family about your need for the meal to be free of your child’s allergens ahead of time. And, if they are making a special dessert, re-create it in your own kitchen if possible.
For example, my son loves pumpkin pie but cannot eat store bought crust. I make and bring a crustless pumpkin pie. Also, we no longer have green beans or peas at Thanksgiving due to the legume allergy – but we have replaced it with other vegetables. I even ask family members to read the label of the ham or turkey to make sure it is safe. Awkward, yes. Necessary, yes!
Find your community
There will be a small group of people around you that really “get it.” In my case, it took a long time to help family understand our limitations during the holidays, but bless their hearts, they have really come around. Although they don’t understand everything, they make tremendous effort to only put out what is safe.
In the meantime, though, I did find a few awesome friends that would do anything to keep my kids safe. And those friends are like gold!
Blessings to you this season!