Relatives Who Don’t ‘Get’ Food Allergies

in Food Allergy
Published: December 8, 2010

In October 2010, Allergic Living sent out an e-mail asking readers to share their stories (both good and bad) of how close relatives dealt with food allergies or celiac disease. We were deluged with responses, several of which were included in our Winter 2011 cover article “Family Food Feud”.

However, there were more intriguing stories than writer M. Carolyn Black could accommodate in an article that also delves into advice and family dynamics. We are pleased to present a selection of them here.

Feel free to add your own thoughts or experiences in the comments.

Issue: They Have to See It to Believe It

Elizabeth Kite, Chicago, Illinois

My son is 15 now and anaphylactic to milk, soy and peanut. When he was a toddler, he accidentally took a sip from his cousin’s sippy cup filled with milk and the reaction was quick and dramatic. While I would never wish for that to happen to any child, my husband’s family was right there to witness it and as a result, they have been wonderful to work with over the years.

My sister-in-law and father-in-law are just great about providing all labels, considering cross-contamination, even finding new foods at the store that we had not uncovered.

Cheri Zimmerman*, Ottawa, Ontario

My teenage son has an anaphylactic allergy to nuts and other foods. When he was first diagnosed at age 4 my mother did not get the seriousness of it and this led to reluctance to visit them at their home.

When my son was 6 years old they were visiting us at our cottage and she brought a chocolate cake – she said there were no nuts in it. Our son ate it and developed a reaction with breathing difficulty that required an emergency room visit in the middle of the night.

It turned out my mom had used chocolate that had hazelnuts in it – it was on the label in fine print. My mother was extremely upset and wholeheartedly apologized and since then, she’s been extremely cautious regarding his allergies.

Issue: Celiac Disease

Pamela Robitaille* – Ottawa, Ontario

My 10-year-old daughter has celiac disease and has been on a gluten-free diet for the past two years. It took awhile to get my husband on board all the food restrictions, but once he saw the improvement in our daughter’s health and how any gluten caused her to become sick he realized that it wasn’t just me being “paranoid”.

The insensitivity is with my mother. I explain in great detail the foods my daughter can and cannot eat, yet every time we go there my mother offers gluten-filled food to her. I am constantly saying, “She can’t have that, mum.”

I have explained to her the long term dangers of celiac. I have quoted articles from Allergic Living magazine. It’s as if this is not important to her – how can wheat possibly make someone sick?

We rarely visit with my parents anymore and the time my daughter spends with my mother is very limited. I can see that my daughter feels unaccepted or perhaps misunderstood by her own grandmother, who still asks me if she will “grow out of it”.

For anyone out there who is a family member of a person with allergies or celiac – please try to understand the disease. Not making an effort to understand the disease and accept the new diet limitations of your loved one might end up costing you a pretty significant part of your relationship.

Issue: Food Allergies as Inconvenience

Emily Little* – Stratford, Wisconsin

When our 6-year-old daughter turned 1 she was diagnosed with an allergy to milk protein. During this time my husband’s parents, who happen to be dairy farmers, somehow translated this dairy allergy to be the worst thing that ever happened to them. I seriously believe that my mother-in-law thought we were making the whole thing up.

We went out for dinner one night and left my in-laws to baby-sit. When we arrived to pick our daughter up we were told that they had given her “little bits” of ice cream and that she seemed to like it. I was livid. That night and next morning she was miserable with diarrhea, and rashes.

After she outgrew the dairy allergy she became allergic to nuts and when we demonstrated how to use the EpiPen my mother-in-law made the comment, “I am not going to do that to her, I will just call 911.” We tried to stress that we are 15 miles away from the nearest hospital, and she was going to have to administer the EpiPen if anything happened. She just shook her head and walked out of the room.

Melanie Anagnos, Haworth, New Jersey

One memorable holiday my children had Frosted Flakes as their Christmas meal because my mother-in-law had used nuts in the stuffing. Since she had roasted the turkey with the stuffing, my children were unable to eat almost everything that was served. In hindsight I am only sorry that I stayed there, preferring not to cause a scene.

I should have left and taken my children to a fun restaurant. Even though my nut-allergic son was only seven at the time, he understood that having Frosted Flakes for Christmas dinner was not a treat. My in-laws have become much more aware in recent years – my son is 14 years old now – but it is really a little late in the day.

Stephanie Lester*, Ottawa, ON

My family seems to have taken the approach to dealing with our child’s allergies in a ‘we’ll humour you and do as you say’ rather than to act out of sincerity. At first it was like getting a new toy – everyone was curious – then the attitude seemed to shift more, once the ‘inconvenience’ of our child’s allergy would affect them eating out as a group, travelling, being in their homes, etc.

I get a lot of eye rolling, I can even see them eye roll while on the phone, I swear!

*Name changed by request

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