Do you have a support team? As owner of Creative Blueprints, I talk a lot about the value of mentorship and building a circle of support for your professional life and development. As an allergy parent and owner of The Allergy Ninja, I know that a circle of support isn’t just a business necessity. It’s a life necessity. Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. Parenting a family with food allergies adds another layer of challenge. Having a circle of support is going to make the journey a little less daunting. If you haven’t done so already, you need to build a support team to include these five players.
First and foremost, you need the support of an allergist; preferably an allergist with food-allergy experience. There are plenty of fantastic physicians who may fill this role for you. Keep in mind, however, that this is a doctor your family will see annually at a minimum. This is the person you’re going to reach out to when you suspect an allergy. It’s also the person you’re going to call when you need help defining the appropriate allergy action plan for school or camp. It’s the person you’re going to call when you aren’t sure if those red bumps are hives indicating a reaction or something entirely different. It’s the person you’re going to seek guidance from when it comes to introducing a new food to your allergic child or who is going to offer you guidance when you wonder if it’s time to try a food trial to see if your child can safely add a formerly suspect food back into their diet.
It’s important to find a doctor who doesn’t just know her stuff, but also one who will listen to you and be a partner in your family’s allergy journey. Seek a doctor you’re comfortable with – who you can ask all your questions and trust the answers you get back in return.
Your spouse is certainly in the allergy trenches with you. This next member of your team is someone outside your household. You need a trusted friend who will listen to you rant about the unfairness of food allergies and who will remind you that you’ve got what it takes to keep your kid safe, even in that unfair world. Your trench-mate may or may not have her own allergic kid. She may just be a really awesome friend who is willing to learn about food allergies and is willing to help keep families like yours safe. She’ll let you vent but not wallow. She’ll take the time to read the labels on all the Halloween candy to make sure there’s a safe option for your kid when you show up in costume at her door.
One in thirteen school-aged children have food allergies. It’s possible your family will know another food-allergic family. Of course, you may not know them well enough to consider them part of your support-circle, and that’s okay. There’s a slew of online support resources for parents just like you. From Facebook groups to bulletin-board-style chats on allergy support community pages, you can find your tribe.
Just keep in mind that allergy management is not a one-sized fits all proposition. You’re going to find families who are less strict than yours when it comes to things like label reading and cross contamination, and you’ll find families who are more strict. That’s okay. You can learn from both of them. Take what you can from such groups. Give what you can in return. Take it with a grain of salt and remember to always talk to your allergist before adopting someone else’s advice regarding your allergy management plans.
When your child is first diagnosed with food allergies, you may initially wonder if that means you’re never going to be able to leave their side. It’s understandable. Your trusted allergist just used the phrase “life-threatening” before the diagnosis of “food allergies.” But, here’s the thing: You can’t be with your child every moment of every day. There will be times when some other adult is going to have to step up and be caretaker. That person might be a family member, a friend, or a just a really awesome childcare provider who is willing to learn what it takes to keep your kid safe. Take the time to train your childcare partners on label reading, using an autoinjector, spotting a potential reaction, and the allergy-action plan your doctor has helped you craft. This is going to work. Trust me.
If homeschooling is right for your family, then go for it. Don’t assume, however, that a food-allergy diagnosis means you have no choice but to homeschool. Public and private schools can manage your child’s allergic needs. Meet the school nurse, the 504 Coordinator, and your child’s teacher. Go into the conversation with each knowing where you can compromise and where you can’t. Come up with a plan that meets your family’s needs and can be managed by the school. These aren’t your adversaries. These are your partners. Get them on your team and trust them to do what you need them to.