For those of us raising kids with food allergies, there are clearly some dream-adjustments, especially in the early years. Aside from the lifestyle changes (menus, holidays, travel, childcare), there’s also a shift in perspective. Parts of life that were supposed to be easy can suddenly seem overwhelming – and spontaneity might feel irretrievably lost. But we find other avenues for spontaneity in our families, and the once-difficult adjustments eventually become second nature. Our original blueprint for family life is switched out for a new plan, and old dreams transform into new ones.
A friend of mine had it all planned out that her parents were going to babysit every other Saturday when their second child was born. But it turned out Gramma was clueless about allergies so they had to adjust, basically by abandoning that plan. The new dream then became all the bonding they did with their kids when quality-time and quantity-time crossed paths. Date night became family night.
School is another dream that’s different for parents like us. The tears that an allergy-mom cries when she drives away from her child’s first day of kindergarten have a depth of emotion most parents will never experience. As we prepare our kids to negotiate the world of school, a new dream emerges, of a child who is prepared, capable and confident in managing his or her health.
Then there’s the dream of being an advocate and making change. I have this dream now, but like a lot of allergy moms have to temper it to keep balance. One way I find balance is by doing other types of volunteering that have nothing to do with food allergies. It’s useful work, and a side benefit is it gives me good perspective – that everyone faces different challenges in this city. Burnout is an issue in our community. It’s easy to feel like you have to educate everyone (absolutely everyone! always!) about food allergies. But that’s an unsustainable dream, obviously. “Some people just don’t get it” can be an expression of frustration, but it’s also a great affirmation when you need to just walk away.
I want to acknowledge another dream that changes, more often for women than men: career. A lot of the moms I know have altered their work hours, location, salary and mobility in order to be there for their young kids with food allergies or asthma. Some families have to downsize, too. Parenting takes on an unwelcome intensity at times, especially in the early years. Making peace with those changes takes time. Partners need to remember that being a super-allergy-mama is just a reality: gladly taken on, but definitely not the dream.
The biggest dream adjustment I’ve had to make seems almost silly as I write it down. Because I had somehow dreamed, when he was a baby, that my son would be invincible. Maybe all parents go through this on some level, but we were just handed the reality check a lot sooner. My husband and I know that preventing reactions is a team effort, and that if our son has a reaction, he’s probably going to need someone’s help, whether it’s a friend, a teacher, a restaurant manager or an EMT. It is the trusting and positive relationships he builds in life that will see him through.
So the idea (#western) of valuing independence over just about any other value simply doesn’t apply in our household. Our dream now is that our son will foster the best in his friendships and relationships, be comfortable asking for help if he needs it, and be the best kind of friend to others, too. He’s still invincible according to my new dream, but he’s also interdependent – like we all are.
As moms and dads who have adapted and changed our dreams, I think we are more ready for other shifts in life. We definitely know how to plan (!!) and are adaptable to whatever comes along over the next month, year, decade. We’re not afraid to take action.
Having faced and managed health risk, many allergy parents also have a keen ability to look at risks and weigh them appropriately. I know my husband and I are more relaxed in other areas of parenting than most of our non-FA friends, and it’s been beneficial to our son, who at age 5 is physically adventuresome and able to manage risk very well. There is a certain kind of strength that goes along with all this. Through advocating for our kids, allergy moms and dads can speak strongly and confidently about what matters most. This carries into other aspects of our lives as well.
So here is something to think about: What dreams did you let go of when your child was diagnosed? What different dreams are you living now, and what are the beautiful surprises? Who did you leave behind, and who is coming along? And where are you and your family headed in this new life?
Re-published with permission from Anne King’s blog, May Contain