10 Things to Know About Parenting a Child with Food Allergies



We all know that we parent best when we parent together. So I’m providing the below perspectives on parenting a child with food allergies so all of us can better understand what the collective we is all about and keep all of our kids — your kids and my kids — happy, healthy, supported, loved and safe.

1. As the parent of a child with food allergies, it makes us crazy when people make any sort of assumption about food allergies other than this one assumption — a food allergy is a life-threatening condition that causes children to stop. breathing. immediately. It’s very real… and it’s very scary.

2. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we want you to know that this is not a lifestyle choice. While it’s admirable that some people choose to eat healthy and be aware of the ingredients in their food, we aren’t standing in the grocery store aisle reading the label on everything that goes into our cart as a hobby. We’re studying those ingredients to make sure there’s not an obscure ingredient that could kill our children. (Did you know that caramel coloring can contain dairy? Are you familiar with the difference between sodium lactate and potassium lactate?)

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3. As the parent of a child with food allergies, there is not a playdate or school activity that our child will attend without us having a discussion with the hosting parent, event chaperone or teacher first. Every event my child has ever participated in (ever!) from t-ball to school to summer camps has always been preempted with a medical conversation first. We know we’re perceived as high-maintenance parents. And we feel badly about that because the level of diligence we’re forced to have about the subject of food allergies may not be consistent with the level of diligence our personalities would normally reflect.

4. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we have laid awake at night, wondering if we’ll be able to spot the signs of our child’s throat closing. We’ve been told that anaphylaxis can happen in less than two minutes, so not only do we wonder if we’ll be able to identify this emergency, we wonder if our child’s teacher, babysitter, grandparent, recess monitor, friend or coach will know when our child can’t breathe.

5. As a parent of a child with food allergies, we have laid awake at night, wondering if our child will ever be able to attend a keg party in college or share a random kiss. And if he does, who will carry his epi-pen?

6. Speaking of which, as the parent of a child with food allergies, we leave the house remembering the basics like phone, wallets, keys — and epi-pens. We know not to leave them in a car that is too hot or too cold and we always carry at least two, if not seven. Even with insurance, they are $25 a pop, so we treat them with the utmost respect for the year that we have them before they expire. But that’s all ok, because those little devices carrying a shot of adrenaline could save our child, or at least sustain them, until the ambulance arrives.

7. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we sit outside every birthday party or sports practice while other parents leave.

8. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we balance the emotional impact of being a helicopter parent against the medical threat of having our child go into anaphylaxis when we’re not around. We feel guilty and scared of both.

9. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we have never relaxed, sat back and actually enjoyed or tasted a meal in a restaurant. Never. You see, we spend those meals playing and replaying the emergency plan in our head while quietly observing our child’s breathing as he enjoys his meal.

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10. As the parent of a child with food allergies, we regularly attend medical appointments in big time children’s hospitals where we can’t help but see other patients and deeply suffering families. And upon this realization, we are humbled and grateful and reminded of just how fortunate we are that we are the parents of a child with only food allergies. While our child has a life-threatening medical condition, it is manageable. And as long as we have help from you and others in managing it, our child is alive — and that’s really something!

So yes, living with a constant threat to his life is quite a big weight for my 9-year-old son to carry on his small shoulders. And he carries that weight pretty well. But he will never carry that weight alone. As his mother I carry it, just as his father carries it. His sisters carry it and his grandparents carry it. His aunts, uncles, cousins and friends carry it. And just by reading this, you too have lightened his load. So thank you for reading. Thank you for taking a moment to try to understand.   I hope you’ll keep this article in mind when you’re sitting in the next back-to-school meeting and the topic of food comes up so we can all work together to keep all of our children safe.


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  1. says

    This is a great and very important post. As a mom to a child with celiac (not an allergy but an autoimmune disorder) we spend an inordinate amount of time and energy monitoring our daughter’s food (she can’t eat gluten), thinking about food, worrying about food. But since my child’s ailment is not life threatening I don’t have the intense pressure of food allergy families – but I’m friends with people who do, and I witness their vigilance and see how hard it can be. Every parent and teacher and person can help those families simply by having compassion and an awareness of the seriousness involved. Articles like these help do just that.

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  2. Kari says

    I think you did a great job. I do think you should change your figure about the cost of epi pen – I know tons of people who pay way more then $25 – we have to pay the whole $280 and have to have about 4 sets! Still cheaper than an ambulance!

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  3. Aundrea says

    You have so eloquently taken the words right out of my mouth! My daughter, who has had multiple life threatening food allergies, but is now down to peanuts and tree nuts (still scary as heck!), is almost 8 years old. I feel like I have walked in your shoes and probably spoken the exact same words as you have to teachers, parents and coaches. It seems like you really have to drive home the point that your child’s allergies are SERIOUS. Over the years I have noticed that most parents, teachers and coaches have taken to heart my words of warning. I am glad to say that most parents now even show me the labels to all foods that they will be having at a birthday party before I have to ask. I have felt a bit neurotic these past almost 8 years, but I feel like I have had to be. I will definitely share your post in honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week.

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  4. says

    Amen. My son has an extremely severe peanut allergy. He’s in middle-school now and blessed with a very picky palate. So I don’t worry about what he is going to eat, because he is so picky. He breaks out in hives just from breathing in the fumes of peanuts. But when he was in elementary school, people were pissed that they weren’t going to sell PB&J in the bag lunch. I asked if they would like me to put asbestos in the rooms? Because peanuts are poison to us. Anyway, thanks for this post.

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  5. Toni says

    Yes to all of the above. However, my oldest peanut-allergic child is almost 17, and my vigilance has served him well. He monitors his own food and health independently now. But I will never forget standing in the pre-school hallway, arguing with the mom who was insistent that YES, my son could have the plain M&Ms. Grrrrrr.

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