You go through a lot when your child is diagnosed with a life-threatening food allergy. There’s stages of grief and loss of a “normal” life, and a definite learning curve for feeding your family safely. I know from experience the inevitable strain food allergies put on parents and the marriage. Food is an integral part of our social lives. It’s used to bring people together and I call it the centrepiece of social living. With a food allergy diagnosis, it’s sometimes hard to find our place, socially. I’m not saying this happens in EVERY case, but when it does, it can be really hard. Here are a few ways we’ve learned to keep our marriage strong after our kids were diagnosed with food allergies.
1. Look for blessings, even when it’s hard. This is something that’s taken me WAY too long to finally put into practice (and I’m definitely still not perfect). But it helps SO much, in everything I do. Which is why I highly recommend looking for things to be thankful for AS A COUPLE regularly, especially if your kid(s) are newly diagnosed with food allergies. It goes a long way to get you through those first days after diagnosis and then in the years ahead.
2. Plan for financial impact on the family. I know you didn’t want to hear that. ANOTHER thing to budget for. But yes, it’s proven that severe food allergies cost an extra $3500 per year (and this doesn’t account for more than one person with an allergy in the family)*. These costs encompass buying more expensive “safe” groceries (many times we are forced to buy from the expensive organic or natural food sections), as well as sick days and days away from work due to appointments or complications with food allergies.
3. Leave extra time to grocery shop & do food related errands. I used to think that grocery shopping took a long time before we had food allergies in the house. Wow. Grocery shopping with a food allergy takes even longer because you need to read EVERY label, EVERY time.
I know this is hard, but you’ll also want to avoid bringing your kids with you (if you can). It’s important to focus on what you’re reading, especially in the beginning or if you have more than one food allergy in the family. PLAN for these requirements together as a couple. Work this into your task delegations so that whoever grocery shops has more time to do it properly. Whoever doesn’t grocery shop may need to take another home chore from the grocery shopper to lighten the load.
4. Work with friends & family as a team. There will inevitably be at least one family member (or more) who don’t understand the severity of food allergies or why you need to be extremely careful about the food your child eats. I speak from experience when I say that if not dealt with properly, this can go on for years.
Come up with a plan for dealing with family members. Start by agreeing on: Do you want to teach family the in and out of food allergies or just bring your own food? Who will address issues with each family member (i.e will he deal with “his” side and you with “yours”?), and how will the spouse support the other in this process? Also, decide what the plan will be if family members NEVER “get” food allergies and your action plan for keeping your child safe at family events in spite of the misunderstandings. Some ideas could be; hosting more events in your home, bringing safe food to family events or going to events after food is served. Whatever you choose, decide as a team and make the best of it, together.
5. Get help before you need it and learn from mistakes. The stress of avoiding foods that could potentially kill your little one or you is real. And it can definitely leave a mark on your marriage and family relationships if you aren’t on the same page. If you’re dealing with marriage issues because of food allergies, please seek help from a registered Psychologist early.
It’s always a great idea to know how to handle day-to-day food allergy stress as a pre-emptive measure. There are several great food allergy groups on Facebook which can improve your day-to-day life by connecting you with other families in similar situations. Seek them out for daily support.
*From American National study by Dr. Ruchi Gupta published in the Sept. 16, 2013 edition of JAMA Pediatrics.
Corinna is a food allergy consultant and blogger for food allergy mamas from Calgary, AB, Canada, where she lives with her 2 daughters & wonderful husband of 17 years. Corinna loves improving food allergy awareness and helping moms with food allergic kids adjust and thrive in their new reality. You can find her blog and other helpful printables at www.friendlypantry.com