As a mom with a child with severe food allergies, Valentine’s Day doesn’t bring up nostalgic feelings of joy as much as it brings up fear and anxiety.
When I think of Valentine’s Day growing up I think of the fantastic heart boxes filled with gooey chocolates my dad would get for me, my sister and my mom just like the one pictured here. Then I loved getting to come home from school with my colorfully decorated shoe box filled with notes, lollipops, stickers and chocolates. Who doesn’t love chocolate?
Now, as a mom with a child with severe food allergies, Valentine’s Day doesn’t bring up nostalgic feelings of joy as much as it brings up fear and anxiety. This is the same fear that comes up around Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Holidays focused around food. No matter how big or small the holiday is, kids look forward to celebrating with treats while mom secretly begins to go into panic mode.
For kids with food allergies, most Valentine chocolates are off limits. What is also surprising is that many of the holiday lollipops and sugar candies are as well. Cross contamination risk is so real and often misunderstood.
Keeping your child safe is a priority for all parents, however for a child at risk for anaphylaxis from a trace of food that people eat every day, concern over safety requires a whole new level of diligence. Beyond safety is the emotional toll on kids that comes from watching friends and classmates enjoying treats and not being able to be a part of it. Birthday parties, classroom celebrations and holidays all usually mean watching your child sit with his or her “safe” treat while everyone else is enjoying cake or candy of some sort. Even if that treat is a pretty good one, it is still different. No matter how good a couple of Oreos can be, it can be tough for kids to watch everyone around them eating colorful, sprinkle filled cake. When you are only six or seven years old it matters. Then later when the kids come home from school we wind up having to toss the majority of the treats because they are not safe.
It isn’t easy, here are 6 tips to keep in mind for any allergy mom dreading Valentine’s Day this year…
Keep an Open Dialogue
Plan ahead. Talk to your child’s teacher and other parents about your concerns. Go into to the class ahead of time and discuss the plans for celebrating in the classroom. Ask to speak with other moms who may be bringing in treats or food and bring a list of items that are safe for everyone. Also keep the dialogue open with your child. Acknowledge that sometimes they will not be just like everyone else. Talk with your child about it. Ask them how they feel about celebrations and staying safe. Keep the conversation going, even if it is a difficult one. Show them empathy and let them know how you feel as well.
Create New Rituals
Cover their door with red and pink hearts the night before or give them fluffy stuffed animal or heart shaped toy. Surprise them with balloons or a card on Valentine’s Day morning. Look for safe treats or non-food ways to make them feel special. If they are having food in school make sure to send a special safe treat to the classroom, something they chose ahead of time. When making Valentine’s for the class, do it together. Stickers, playdoh, bubbles and toy cars all make great Valentine’s gifts.
Make it a teaching moment
Life is full of unexpected twists and turns and learning how to manage those is an important skill kids need to have. Know that your children will be in situations without you where they need to know how to handle their allergies in future years. Being able to say “no thank you” even when food is offered by an adult is a tough thing to do for little ones. Teaching them when they are young how to stay safe will help them (and you) feel confident that they will be more independent. Practice at home how to have conversations about allergies. Teach them what questions to ask and role play with them so they feel confident they can do it when with friends or at school. Ultimately they will be their very best advocate.
Work with your doctor to fill out a detailed action plan. Keep it written down with your epi-pen and emergency medications. Don’t ever assume you can go anywhere without it. Practice your plan. Have drills and practice the action steps. You can even use your expired epi-pens on fruit to get a more realistic feel for having to use it. No matter how good your plan is, it won’t be useful if you aren’t able to follow it.
It is really easy to focus on what we can’t do or can’t have when faced with challenges like food allergies. We think that by focusing on all the things that could go wrong we are being prepared. The reality is, we will make ourselves a bundle of anxiety and stress if we constantly see allergies as an obstacle. There are always challenges in life, food allergies just happen to be one of them. There is so much more to parties and celebrations than food. Help your kids recognize and appreciate the time with friends, craft projects, games and fun that goes along with Valentine’s Day. See challenges as opportunities to grow and learn more about nutrition and health and a way to increase awareness, insight and empathy for others. For many of us moms with kids with food allergies we find ourselves so caught up feeling mommy guilt that we have trouble recognizing all we have to be grateful for. We wonder if we had done something different would he or she not have this allergy. Remind yourself that you did not cause this allergy. Let go of any guilt that holds you back from seeing the big picture.
In the book Lose that Mommy Guilt, Tales and Tips from an Imperfect Mom I talk about how the guilt and anxiety over my daughter’s allergy was overwhelming. As moms we need to move past those feelings in order to help our child live full and happy despite this bump in the road.
“Your Child is not his or her food allergies. She or he is a wonderful, beautiful, kind and spectacular kid who happens to have food allergies. Just because it is a part of everyday life does not mean it needs to be your entire life.”
For more of my stories on motherhood, anxiety and forgiveness, check out my book Lose that Mommy Guilt, Tales and Tips from an Imperfect Mom available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and ODPKids Publishing.
Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life – Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.™ Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. Their answers can be random and in the moment or they can be aligned with the above article. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.
What have you accepted within your life, physically and/or mentally? What are you still working on accepting?
Accepting that this will be a life long issue for my child sometimes can be difficult.
What have you learn to appreciate about yourself and/or within your life, physically and mentally? What are you still working on to appreciate?
I appreciate how much I have learned to empathize and be grateful for health of my children.
What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What makes YOU most proud? What goals and dreams do you still have?
Being Mom has been the most rewarding
We all have imperfections, so we think. The truth—we are all perfectly imperfect. What are your not-so-perfect ways? What imperfections and quirks create who you are—your Identity?
Accepting imperfection in parenting.
“I Love My…” is an outlet for you to express and appreciate all the positive traits that make you…well… YOU! Sharing what you love about yourself will make you smile, feel empowered, and uplift your spirit and soul. (we assure you!) Identity challenges you to complete the phrase “I Love My…?”
Self. I recognize the importance of fully accepting and loving yourself.