Anxiety: A word that not many of us are comfortable with. Well, guess what? If your child is diagnosed with food allergies, you had better get used to that word. You will have anxiety. Chances are, your child will have anxiety. Heck, your whole family. You will have sleepless nights. You will have days where you feel like you are going insane. You will have good days, and you will have really crappy, rock-bottom, pity-party days where you question everything you are doing to try to keep that precious child safe and out of harm’s way. Rest assured, Mom, you are doing a great job. There is no one on Earth who could be better entrusted to keep your child safe. God gave you this child for a reason. He knew you could and would protect that baby at all costs, no questions asked. Yet…every once in a while (actually sometimes several days out of the week), you still have that creeping pain in your stomach of “What if”? You will always worry. Always!
If you don’t have a child that has an allergy, consider yourself lucky. You will never know what it feels like to be told that a tiny peanut could take your child away from you forever. You will never know what it is like to have to monitor every single play-date. You will never know what it is like to read labels to seek out what is and is not safe for your child. You will never worry about your child sitting alone at a peanut-free table. You will never worry about your child being defined as the “kid with all the allergies”. You will never have to worry about whether they have their EpiPen on them. You will never have to worry about packing a treat for hockey practice because your child can’t have the Little Debbie Oatmeal Pie that the assigned snack person brought. You will never have to worry about making sure you have fully educated your child about what they can and cannot come into contact with. You will never have to worry about sending him to a birthday party and eating a piece of cake that had milk or egg in it. You will never have to worry about the first time your son kisses a girl who ate a PBJ for lunch. Parenting is hard enough in the world we live in today…put all this on top of it, and there you have it: ANXIETY!!!
Parenting with food allergies is the single most difficult thing I have ever encountered, and ironically, the easiest thing I have ever done. Like Nike says “JUST DO IT”. You just do it. Yeah, it is super time-consuming. Yes, it takes so much planning. Yes, at times I want to pull my hair out because every time I go to the grocery store I have to read a label because of how frequently ingredients in the same box of pasta I have bought 100 times changes. But, here is the disclaimer: THIS IS NOT A LIFESTYLE CHOICE!!!!! It is a choice to say that every single day, until the day I die, I will put my child as my first priority above anything and everything else. It is the choice to accept that your life is never again going to be convenient. And to accept that is the easiest and best choice I will ever make, because face it – You. Really. Don’t. Have. A. Choice.
Ever had anxiety about money? The financial impact on a family living with food allergies is outrageous. I used to be able to get a full cart of groceries for around $200. I could usually make that last about 2 weeks. Now I spend at least $200 at my weekly trip to the vegan food store and leave with 3 bags. Not to mention the cost of EpiPens, daily medications, and nutritional supplements.
Ever had anxiety about daycare or a babysitter? Wait until you have to teach other people what to do in case of an emergency. Or instruct someone on how to use an EpiPen. Finding someone you trust enough to watch your child with food allergies is one of the biggest challenges you will face. How do you leave your precious cargo with someone else? How do you trust that person to act fast enough to save your child’s life if something were to happen? How do trust that the person you are letting care for your child has thoroughly brushed their teeth and washed their hands before coming into contact with your child? How do you guarantee they will not give them something that will make them quit breathing or may even kill them? The answers are simple: You don’t and you can’t control everything. But, and thank God for this one: MOST parents and caretakers are very understanding, accommodating, and sympathetic. They would do anything to keep your child safe. I have been fortunate enough to never have to send my son to daycare or to ever really “need” a babysitter. And the few rare times I have had to have someone help out and watch him in a pinch, it has always been my mom, my grandma, or my aunt. They have all been schooled in every food allergy topic possible. I guess it is all due again to that nasty little word: anxiety.
Another problem that may cause anxiety for a food allergy mom is the prevalence of “food-allergy bullying”. Kids are cruel. I really believe that if we all were a little kinder to others, the bullying would stop. And it is not just kids. Adults are just as, if not more, responsible for bullying children with food allergies. This is a huge contributor to anxiety in kids with food allergies. Will they be picked on because they have to sit at a special table at lunch? Will they be made fun of on the bus because they carry an EpiPen? Will they be singled out at slumber parties and not invited to play dates because other parents don’t want to have to make sure their houses are safe? Will they be able to go on a field trip to a museum because they have cross-contamination in the café? Will they be made fun of because they can’t go to a ballgame where peanut shells are all over the bleachers? Are they called “freaks” because things have to be prepared a certain way and they have to ask if certain foods are in various products before eating them? The bullying has become a real outbreak, and it has to stop. We live in a society that is comprised of hateful, malicious people. I hope we can change for the better.
So that is my rant about anxiety. I will have it until the day I die, of this I am certain. I am well aware that all food-allergy moms have anxiety, and hopefully we can create a wonderful support system for each other. And remember, moms (and dads), we are all doing the best we can. Keep loving our awesome kiddos and keep giving them as normal of a life as we can. You are doing a fabulous jobJ