How parents with allergy-free kids can be allergy allies
Monday, October 5th, 2015
Our own kids are our priority. That’s what parents are taught to believe from day one.
You know how when we hold them for the first time we bring them close to our faces, give them kisses and tell them, “I’m going to do everything in my power to give you everything you want. To make sure your life is as void of problems as any parent possibly can. You are mine and I love you and I will protect you.”
Well, what if we’re pretty much totally wrong when we say that. Or maybe not totally wrong, but absolutely, most-certainly, kind of wrong. What if a lot of the time the best thing we can do not just for our kids, but for our community, is to not fight for what our child wants? To accept that they have problems but their problems might be smaller than someone else’s? Or if we were to sit them down and help them understand that what they want may not be the best for (insert other human) because (insert reason for this being the case)?
Basically, when do we decide to stop lobbying for what our kids get to do and take the side of a child we don’t know? Or the side of a child we’ve only ever read about on a note sent home from our school?
Kids are back to school and their lunches are once under attack, maybe even more severely than ever before, some would have it seem. Parents preparing lunches are taking to the webs to talk about the injustice of the onus of ensuring all kids go home safe at the end of the school day being on the many instead of the one. As if the four-year-old with the severe nut allergy sits at home at night trying to make their allergy even more fatal just so that no classmate can ever eat peanut butter between the hours of nine and four. I won’t link to these because having talked to parents of kids with allergies, I’ve learned they are riddled with inaccuracies. Inaccuracies that have dangerous consequences for young kids if believed.
“Where does it end?” they ask, as though there should be a definitive start and end line to the amount of safety parents should be able to feel for their kids when out of their care.
“So if a kid gets cut with scissors, do we ban scissors? Do we ban pavement if someone trips and breaks their leg?” The hypothetical is a large portion of the anti-nut ban group. What if’s are their ammunition in a fight against a ban in place to keep kids alive. The thing is, with some of these severe nut allergies, we don’t have to wait and see what might happen. We’ve seen kids die. More will die this year. There’s no what if’s or what do we do do then’s, it’s happening.
Without a scientific background, I can’t make definitive comments on why we have so many peanut allergies. I can’t speak to why some schools have full bans and why some schools can have safe areas for kids with allergies. I can’t explain why one child can be around them but not eat them while another is severely affected by peanuts being anywhere in their vicinity. Without that background, other parents shouldn’t either.
So no arguing against these bans because “sensitizing them will lessen the allergy as long as you do it gradually.” No “they need to learn how to navigate in a world where there will be peanut butter.” Does it not kind of feel like instead of telling a kid with allergies that that’s how real life works, we should maybe spend some time trying to change how real life works so these kids are better able to get through the day without being subjected to things they’re allergic to? If you’re under the impression that these children aren’t being introduced at a very young age to what “real life” is, you’d be mistaken.
Without a kid who has severe allergies, I can’t speak to the fear that must hang around you every minute of the day your child isn’t with you, especially when you know there are other parents vocally opposing nut bans in school because “kids need to get used to what it’s going to be like in the real world,” or suggesting that your 4-year-old should just “carry around an EpiPen with them if you’re so concerned.”
There are great responses around the rhetoric around food bans in schools written by parents of kids who do have allergies that you should be reading, but if you want the opinion of the “doesn’t have kids with allergies but has kids who have been asked to not bring foods that may have had contact with nuts to school” parent, read on. And let’s be honest, the vast majority of parents against these bans have kids without severe allergies.
And this is where I come back to not fighting for whatever my child wants. As parents of kids without these allergies, what if it’s our kids, not their kids we should be asking to make allowances? What if we very literally tell our kids that sometimes the needs of other children is greater than their own wants and that those kids are the ones we need to fight for?
Maybe instead of telling a 4-year-old that it sucks they have a potentially fatal allergy but that that’s how the world works kid, we could take the time to teach our kids that the compassionate decision is to make sacrifices themselves. Something tells me our kids, even the ones who love peanut butter sandwiches, will understand this.
I am a firm believer that our kids are born kind and born compassionate. I’m a firm believer that we’re the ones who have the most power to make them assholes. A kid doesn’t want his peanut butter sandwich more than he wants his friend to be healthy. Explained to them that way, children choose friends. But when we tell them that they shouldn’t have to stop eating peanut butter just because someone else’s kid a “weak body” they listen to us. And we’re assholes for that.
“I wash my hands and face too in case they’re buttery because I don’t want Sophie to get sick!” — Levi, age 5, on how he preps for playdates with his friend with a milk allergy.
“My school is nut-free, but I can still eat peanut butter before school, after school, and on the weekends. Why is this a big deal again?” — Becca, age 15
That’s called compassion. That’s a kid understanding the needs of others are more significant than their wants. It’s explaining what your kids probably already think—that sometimes the things they would really want are simply not what’s best for those around them. And in most cases, it’s really simple.
Look, I now understand that there is more to some kids not eating peanut butter at school than them just really liking it. But, that doesn’t change my opinion that we should be asking a child to risk their lives so that those other needs can also be met. Let’s look for ways to make it safe for both kids instead of neither. Let’s tell our kids that sometimes, their the ones who have to make sacrifices and that making them is a sign of moral strength.
Basically, let’s be #allergyallies instead of allergy assholes.
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