An Apology To Parents Of Kids With Food Allergies

by Joey McNamee
Originally Published: 
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There’s a certain personality type out there, the type that loves to have physical maladies, ailments, or very particular care needs. They seem to relish in every new diagnosis. Carpal Tunnel? Yes, please. Lactose intolerance? You bet! There are parents like this, too. The ones who believe no one can ever truly understand the specific needs of their precious angels.

But that isn’t everyone. In fact, it isn’t most people. And more to the point, so what if it is? Am I really so inconvenienced by my friend’s daughter’s gluten allergy that I should be evaluating the seriousness of her illness? For a long time, I thought it was my place to make exactly that judgment.

I know. What an asshat.

I get it now. People and parents trying to manage their own or their kids’ food allergies are not just reflecting a distorted internalization of our nation’s collectively dysfunctional relationship with food. Rather they are trying to avoid illness, major illness, or death.

Now if I’d stopped to do any critical thinking about the matter, I surely would have come to a kinder conclusion. But isn’t that the temptation of overgeneralizations? These cognitive shortcuts let us judge other people harshly, thereby distancing ourselves from them. We think that if we blame others for their problems, we will somehow insulate ourselves from a similar fate. I can now tell you from experience, that tactic doesn’t work.

I’d read the articles about helicopter parents, and I knew I wasn’t going to be a high-maintenance mom. I wasn’t going to be one of those moms. Not wanting to be an overbearing parent is fine, but instead of showing empathy for other parents, I fell into the trap. I often blamed and judged what I perceived to be “high-maintenance” parents instead of assuming they have really good reasons for doing what they do.

Now I have a really good reason. My toddler has food allergies, which it turns out is no small thing. Half a cashew launched my little guy into a full-system response. Hives, vomiting, swelling of his mouth and tongue, and a trip to the emergency room. And we were lucky. No restricted breathing or deadly drops in blood pressure.

How foolish I’ve been, judging other parents. I didn’t understand how deeply unsettling it is to learn that food, the substance of life, has become a threat to your kid. Food, which my son needs to nourish his growing brain and body, might instead act as a poison, causing his throat to swell and his heart to slow.

So when my colleague asked me if I was going to become one of those moms, the answer was an unequivocal Yes. My son’s immediate safety is worth the judgment from other parents. Worth complicating the social dynamics of birthday party treats and kids’ lunchroom politics. Worth becoming one of those moms.

I’m just sorry it took my own experience to make me appreciate yours.

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