Note: Today’s post is written by Jenny Kales, The Nut-Free Mom.
It’s been said that having a child is similar to having a bomb go off in your marriage.
Now try having a child with a chronic, life-threatening medical condition that is greatly misunderstood and sometimes maligned – food allergies. This is what happened to me. At age 4, my daughter had an immediate and life-threatening allergic reaction at preschool following a bite of a peanut butter sandwich. Later, we found out she was allergic to tree nuts (things like pistachios and walnuts), too.
If having a child is a bomb, then having a child with a severe food allergy (or allergies) can make you feel like you’ve been subjected to a nuclear explosion. Suddenly, what and how you feed your allergic child can cause fights and disagreements because managing a food allergy is a family affair and everyone has to be on board with the safety measures or your child’s health is at risk. Plus, food affects every aspect of life – something I had never really thought about until I had to limit it or else.
I’ve been fortunate to have a supportive spouse throughout my food allergy journey with our daughter, but I will confess that I have always been the more stressed-out party when it comes to this topic. And like many guys in his shoes, for the first year of so, I don’t think my husband fully understood why this food allergy thing was so hard for me.
It wasn’t that he was insensitive; it was more of a logistical problem. My daughter was diagnosed when she was a preschooler and I was at home with our two kids, then four and one. My husband was working long hours as the head of a non-profit organization. Because he was not dealing with the daily slings and arrows of food allergy parenting in the same way that I was, my husband wasn’t always able to sympathize with what I was going through. It fell to me to handle much of the food allergy management in the early days and being a nut allergy newbie myself, it was an overwhelming time.
I sometimes wondered if my husband felt the same pain and apprehension that I often felt about walking the food allergy tightrope. Plus, unlike a lot of other childhood medical issues, people don’t always understand how serious food allergies are. Coping with any life-threatening medical condition in a child can be a heavy burden and I think that the parent doing the bulk of the daily childcare usually feels the stress more severely. In fact, a recent study shows that parenting a child with a chronic medical condition results in more on-the-job stress than being a police officer. How could it not affect your relationship? It is crucial to find common ground.
The flip switched for my husband after he read Joel Stein’s “humorous” essay in the LA Times that lambasted parents of nut-allergic kids as neurotics who wanted to “feel special” and kids with nut allergies as nuisances and fakers. (Ironically, Stein’s own child was diagnosed with nut allergies about a year and half after his piece ran.) For the first time, my hubby got an in-your-face sampling of the attitudes that I was facing on a sometimes daily basis and it made him mad…steaming mad. He became more protective and concerned, and it opened up a lot of new education and discussion about managing not only our daughter’s health, but her emotional well-being — and ours as a family.
Through reader feedback on my blog as well as my own experience, I’ve found that it helps when spouses are being exposed to the same facts and experiences regarding children’s health. Whenever possible, have your partner join you at the doctor appointments or therapies, school meetings and other important activities so that they get the same experiences and input. Use these times to prompt discussion about what works for your family and what doesn’t. Don’t let one of you “drive” the condition the entire time because equal input definitely helps smooth out any rough edges.
But I’ve also found that you have to accept that your spouse may never feel quite the same way that you do about a medical aspect of parenting. And that’s OK. Like so many other things in a relationship, the goal is harmony, not perfect acquiescence to your partner’s exact perspective. Remembering that helps you defuse the bomb so that you can get on with your lives.
Jenny Kales writes frequently about parenting and food allergies. She is the creator of The Nut-Free Mom blog and the author of the e-book “The New Nut-Free Mom: A Crash Course in Caring for Your Child with Peanut and Tree Nut Allergies.”