I’ve been working in the food allergy world for over ten years. It is not an “industry” I would have chosen, food allergies choose you. But one of the silver linings is the people that are in this work, the love, the intelligence and the profound commitment. There are parents with phenomenal backgrounds: finance, accounting, legal and so much more. So when my friend, Lianne, reached out this morning and asked if we could share her new article, we did not hesitate. We are so much strong together. Please share this with others, so that together, we can protect the health of the 1 in 13 children that now has food allergies in America.
“It was a blustery Sunday morning about 2 years ago; one of those days you can justify sitting at home and going through your Facebook feed. I typed “nut allergy” into the search bar to see if any interesting posts would turn up. That morning, a post did catch my attention. It was on an online motherhood support page that discussed wide ranging issues from breast-feeding to family friendly restaurants in New York City. The site had almost over 200,000 followers.
The post detailed a story of a young new mom, let’s call her Pam, who went to the park with her 2 year old. Once there, she took out her child’s lunch, a peanut butter sandwich. Pam’s child, being a 2 year old, naturally had sticky fingers after eating, which was noticed by another mom (lets call her Sue), nearby. Sue had a child with a peanut allergy and looking very panicked asked Pam to please wash her daughter’s hands before going back on the playground. The post was a rant on Pam’s response to being asked to wash her child’s hands by peanut allergic mom Sue. Pam cursed Sue online, told her this was an f”ing public space and that she and her precious snowflake would not be dictating policy. This was not what caught my attention; however, it was the comments from a multitude of other moms (too many to count) agreeing in the most vicious way. The supporting comments were downright mean, some even wishing actual harm to an innocent two-year-old child. I was shocked that other moms on a parenting support site would say such things directed at someone’s child.
I often think of this post when I advocate for consistent policies for passengers with food allergies on planes. There are many people out there who do not understand the potential severity of food allergies and many of them are potential passengers on planes. As a community, in order to affect meaningful change in the air and other venues, we must support and love each other because the outside world is sometimes a very unfriendly and uneducated space. When we publicly disparage one another in the food allergy space because we feel a fellow parent is doing something alarmist or different than we would, we do not serve our community well. Let me use the mom on the playground to illustrate my point.
I realize it is not realistic that peanut allergic mom Sue can police what other children are eating in a public space. This is not a classroom or a situation where you are up in the air with nowhere to go and she can just leave if she is uncomfortable with peanut butter in the area. I can easily see in the current combative food allergy Facebook climate, with many other food allergy moms chiming in, telling Sue she is being paranoid, rude or perhaps that other food allergies are just as dangerous as peanuts and why not ban all food on the playground with her attitude. We need to be a bit more introspective and compassionate to each other, if we are trying to educate those outsiders around us to be kind to our children.
Perhaps Sue’s child is newly diagnosed and it’s the first time she ventured out to the playground and she panicked when she saw the peanut butter? Maybe her child reacted to a small amount and she had recently been in the hospital for anaphylaxis. Maybe she is just frightened and nervous. I don’t know what was going through Sue’s mind but I do know she is a fellow food allergy mom and she is scared. This is the person whom we need to nurture and support on and offline, not condemn or criticize. Everyone’s life experiences are different and so is their choice on how to manage their child’s food allergy. If your child had an airborne reaction, you may have a very different management plan. We can never be in someone else’s shoes even with the same diagnosis and we must NOT level judgment that is mean spirited at each other in our own community. If someone is brave enough to post his or her experience, start a petition for change or initiate a lawsuit, we must realize that this does take courage. If you don’t agree, scroll on by, don’t add your signature, or post something helpful like a medical study to allay that person’s fears, but it is my humble opinion that we do the community as a whole damage when we cut each other down using derisive language.
One of my mentors, Robyn O’Brien, constantly speaks about bringing change by using love. She is a shining example of this idea working. We could all show a little more love to our fellow food allergy moms. That does not mean we don’t disagree; indeed great change can be achieved by a healthy debate. We must realize that food allergies are not a competition about which strategy is correct, which advocacy group is best, or which treatment is right. Everyone in this space is trying in their own best way to help those who live with life threatening allergies. If we want others outside our community to respect our life threatening food allergies, we must respect and learn from each other inside our food allergic world as well.”