Bummed Out About Food Allergies

I saw a post on a Facebook mom’s group about the new Peter Rabbit movie. Not sure which depressed me more: The news about the movie or the comments in the comment thread.

Some moms were commenting: “It’s just a movie.” “Lots of movies are inappropriate.” “It’s a teachable moment!”

My response to that:

I don’t think the problem is that a food-allergy bullying scene is “inappropriate” per se, but that it plays into misinformation and misconceptions about food allergies. Most people know that a gun does, in fact, kill. (Some moms were comparing food-allergy bullying violence to gun violence.**) But most people seem to also think that all you need is an epipen handy and all your food allergy woes are over, which is, sadly, not true. Sure, it may be a “teachable moment,” but what is there to teach, if the parents themselves have no knowledge or real understanding of food allergies? It’s great that we (this particular mom’s group) live in a well-educated community that teaches children not to bully and about the seriousness of food allergies. I’m more concerned about the communities where food allergies are not understood and misinformation continues to spread.

In addition, this what I’ve been hearing a lot lately when people hear my child has food allergies:

“Oh, that’s why I started giving my kids peanuts right away in the first year of their life! I didn’t want to take any risks, so I just made sure they had peanuts right away!”

Of course, 10 years ago it was the opposite conversation:

“Oh, that’s why I waited til my kids were like 5 before I gave them peanuts!”

The unspoken conclusion of everyone’s self-congratulatory professions, of course, is: “And that’s why my kid doesn’t have allergies!”

Okay, a few things about this:

  1. Horse manure.
  2. You don’t get to claim any credit for the fact your kid does not have allergies, except that your genes paired up nicely with your mate’s.
  3. Whether your kid has allergies or not has nothing to do with what you did or did not eat when you were pregnant or what you did or did not feed her in her first year of life. It just doesn’t, okay? If it was that simple, the food allergy epidemic would already by solved.

People keep latching on to these silly ideas about what does or does not cause allergies, and it’s almost all myth, based on snippets of a larger dialogue. I know a mom whose kid has the exact same allergies as my kid, and guess what? I ate peanut butter when I was pregnant (because meat made me physically ill) and she did not. Another mom: Ate peanuts with her non-food allergic kid; didn’t with the one who is allergic. There is no rhyme or reason to it. And as far as what you feed them in their first year of life? We discovered all of SC1’s allergies before she was a year old, so it wasn’t because we waited too long to introduce them to her diet. If a child is going to be allergic, the child is going to be allergic. Period. End of story. You can feed peanuts all you want in the first year of life and pat yourself on the back for being smarter than everyone else. But guess what? You just got lucky!

[I should mention that I was at a lawyer conference where the speaker ACTUALLY said that that kids were getting food allergies because “helicopter parents are waiting til their kids are 10 to feed them peanuts.” Yes, someone ACTUALLY said this!]

Ultimately, I’m griping, because it’s just such an irritating conversation to have with someone. The implication is always: “You were/are a bad parent. If you had done something different, your kid would not have food allergies.”

Gee….thanks.

This is similar to the guilt people make you feel for having C-sections. Everyone assumes that if you just pushed a little harder, tried a little longer, that you could have given birth naturally. (Also, the term “naturally” is so loaded.) No one ever considers situations, like mine, where there was no other choice. It wasn’t a choice. It was literally the only way out. And it was through no fault of my own. There wasn’t anything different I could have done or could have tried.

Are you finding yourself doubting what I am saying? If so, it just shows how ingrained the storyline of “she should have tried harder” is in our culture.

Same with food allergies. “If only mom had/had not given her child peanuts before the age of ___.”

So, yea. That’s why I am feeling bummed about food allergies tonight. Because the dialogue hasn’t changed much in 10 years. And because moms in my community are disagreeing about whether a food-allergy bullying scene in a kids’ movie is actually a problem or not.

Econ-mom: OMG I FEEL THIS SO MUCH. I haven’t seen Peter Rabbit, but I’m sorry to hear that new movies are still spreading this kind of misinformation. These blame issues are so much the same with autism! There is always a new cause-of-the-week or cure-of-the-week.  Here’s a particularly awful one that made the news a couple weeks ago -“Parents force children to eat bleach to ‘cure’ autism.” And of course many of the “causes” relate to what you did or didn’t do while pregnant or to your parenting style.  In fact just last weekend someone suggested that I withhold food to my younger one until he would eat some of the foods he currently won’t eat. As she put it, that’s what our parents did. (For the record my parents did not do this.)

By the way, it turns out that some of the things our proverbial parents did worked for some kids and traumatized other kids. Making improvements to how we raise children (based on science and/or applying some basic human rights to children such as “hey, maybe don’t starve them”) doesn’t have to invalidate our own upbringings or those of previous generations. We just learn more, and we can and should use that knowledge. Here is a nice article that summarizes the current best practices for helping picky eaters/kids with sensory issues to expand their diets.

 

**This post was posted today before Moms on 11 heard or know about the horrific school shooting in Florida. Neither Law-mom nor Econ-mom meant to be in anyway insensitive to today’s current events in mentioning gun violence or in posting about food allergies in lieu of this terrible event. Our deepest sympathies and condolences go out to the victims’ families and all families who have been harmed by gun violence.

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