My son has life-threatening food allergies. So when he entered kindergarten two years ago, one of my biggest fears was if he would be included in all the classroom activities. His allergies can often mean he is unable to participate in certain activities and special snacks at school. We have a 504 plan in place, but it doesn’t mean he won’t be excluded in some ways.
However, I never thought that his food allergies would mean he would be excluded from playdates with friends. And that he would be excluded by other moms. But that’s exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago…
My boys and I were at a local playground and my oldest ran into a friend from school. It was a girl I know he had a big crush on. I had never met her mother before so I introduced myself and we began to chat. Our conversation started out well enough. When she realized who my son was she said, “Oh, you’re G’s mom. My daughter talks about him all the time. I think she has a crush on him.” But then our conversation took a turn I didn’t see coming.
Her: “So, he has food allergies, right?
Me: “Yes. He’s allergic to tree nuts, sesame, and shellfish. He’s also allergic to dogs.”
Her: “Ugh. I don’t know how you deal with all that. It’s too much. What a hassle.”
It was at this point that my blood began to boil just slightly. I was trying to keep my calm and give her the benefit of the doubt. After all, she clearly knew nothing about food allergies and hadn’t had to deal with them herself. So how could she understand? I tried to brush off what I felt was a rude comment. But then things got worse.
Her: “You know, my daughter asks me all the time to have playdates with your son. She just loves him. But I keep telling her no. I mean, I don’t want to have to deal with his food allergies at my house. It’s such a pain. So I just tell her no and that’s why I haven’t contacted you for a playdate.”
I just sat there in shock. Had she really just said that to me? Was she serious? She had completely dismissed my son because of his food allergies. There had been no attempt at all to contact me to see if we could do a playdate at my house; in a safe environment for him. She hadn’t asked if he could come to her house and I bring snacks for him. She had just decided she “didn’t want to deal with it” and denied our children the chance to spend time together outside of school. Not only that but instead of trying to be understanding and learn about food allergies, she chose to view them as an inconvenience.
That’s how she was viewing my child; as an inconvenience and a bother. Something she didn’t want to deal with.
I fully realize that if you don’t have a child with food allergies you can’t completely understand all it entails. I get it. However, it’s not OK to exclude a child from normal activities because you don’t know how to deal with the situation. I know food allergies are scary if you don’t know anything about them. BUT feel free to ask questions! We want you to ask us questions.
Food is a battleground for allergy families. People make all kinds of comments and say some pretty horrible things to us and our children. But one of the worst things you can do is exclude a child because of their food allergy. No one wants their child to be left out because they are different. We all want our children to be included, no matter what the situation. I would rather you ask me if we can have the playdate at my house than have you not ask for one at all. I’d rather you ask me to pack snacks for my child while he’s at your house than to push him aside.
You see, my child and thousands of others like him already feel excluded. Every day. They are excluded from school activities. My son can’t eat the birthday cake when he attends a party for a friend. We have to bring his own cupcake to parties. Allergy children can’t eat foods they see their friends eat every day. Our families can’t go out to a restaurant without feeling anxiety.
Everything is more complicated when you have a food allergy.
So, my fellow moms, the next time you find yourself in a similar situation, take the time to ask questions. Ask the allergy mom how you can make a playdate safe for their child. Find out exactly what they can and cannot eat. Inquire as to how serious the food allergy is. Maybe even ask the mom to stay at the house during the playdate so you feel more comfortable. It’s OK. We don’t mind. Allergy moms and dads already make many accommodations for their child(ren). What’s one more? As long as our child is being included and is safe, that’s what matters.
Fellow mom, please don’t exclude my child.