I was recently struck by comments in an “allergy mom’s group” in which a mother leaves a family gathering. One mom asked if she was overreacting for taking her child home when her in-laws had a meal filled with her child’s allergen even though there was other food that the child could eat… after all, her in-laws knew of the allergen. What struck me was the overwhelming support for leaving the family gathering. Just about everyone commented that mom did the right thing to protect her child and many expressed frustration with family members who just “don’t get it” when it comes to allergies. My reaction stood out with little support.
“If your (and your husband’s) son “could eat something else” then you should stay. In this case, you are navigating a marital issue and family relationships. By leaving you teach your son certain lessons about how to interact with family. By leaving you make a “power” statement to your in-laws… is that really how you want that relationship to go? By leaving… you put your husband in a very tricky position. And by the way, they may just not get it- they certainly don’t want their grandson to end up in a hospital or worse. If your son (and your husband’s son) could not eat something, if he is airborne allergic, then you go. I would also be upset at the situation. But part of this analysis is in teaching our children with allergies that the world does not revolve around them. We need to teach them how to navigate situations that are not ideal for them- leaving is one way… then again- ultimatums never make for good relationships.”
Many instances of navigating allergies are fundamentally relationship issues. Once we can assure reasonable safety for our child (absolute safety is not possible), what kind of relationship do we want our child to have with others and themselves? With family, do we want one where we mirror forgiveness and understanding or where we show intolerance and power struggles? With children, do we want one where they learn that the world revolves around them or one where they see that they are part of a revolving world? With spouses, an acceptance of them and their family or only an acceptance of their own?
The response to this position is for most parents to fall back on the issue of safety for a child with allergies. We need to overcome our overwhelming fears and our belief that we can control our world. We need to recognize that our children with allergies are here to teach us that life is not within our control and then return the gift they give us, by allowing our children with allergies to live full lives filled with meaningful relationships of understanding and acceptance of others, who do not have the challenges that they have daily.
Make you think? Check out Is Your Allergic Child Disabled?