- “How severe is his allergy? It can’t be that bad. You’re making it a big deal.”
- “If your son has a little bit, he’ll be fine.”
- “I guess you’ll just have to miss out.”
- “Do I not clean my dishes well enough?”
- “But I washed my hands before I came over.”
- “It’s not like he’ll eat it.”
- “It’s not my job to keep your kid safe.”
- “What’s with all the allergies these days? When I was a kid, no one had them. It must be because parents are over cleaning everything and feed their children so much processed food. Let your kid eat some dirt.”
During our time as allergy parents, Derek and I have heard these comments from many well-intentioned but innocently ignorant people. I’ll be honest, early on in our allergy journey, these comments infuriated me (sometimes they still get me). I couldn’t believe the ignorance of these comments: “How dare people say and think these things, don’t they understand?! They just don’t care about my child and are being selfish. How can people be so closed-minded?!” I remember many conversations with Derek shrouded in anger and frustration. Why can’t people just get it?! Don’t people understand that food allergies are life-threatening?!
While I was so busy being angry and frustrated with others for failing to realize how serious Grady’s food allergies were, I was failing to realize my role in all of this: I was acting no differently. My reactions to others were rooted in my own fear and insecurities around the heavy responsibility of being a food allergy parent.
Over the past few months, many food allergy parents have reached out to me asking how I “deal with people who ‘don’t get it’”. While I am by no means an expert and I still have days where I feel frustration creeping in, here are a few tips and tricks to make these conversations easier.
How to Deal:
1.Be prepared. Do you ever have those moments where someone says something to you and you don’t know what to say? Fast-forward an hour later and you think of the best comment?! I am one of those people. My hindsight is brilliant. Isn’t everyone’s? If you’re like me, I find it’s best to think of a few responses to have in your back pocket. Some comments I have include:
- “I see what you’re saying, however….”
- “I know it’s not your normal, but can you…”
- “I trust you, but I need to…”
2. Acknowledge their viewpoint. What I have discovered is that whenever someone makes a comment, or imparts their wisdom, they want to be heard. When we immediately offer our rebuttal, we are doing two things:
- Not listening to what the person had to say
- Being defensive
Yes, there are times when inside you want to scream or picture yourself smacking that person…however, if we ever want to build understanding and empathy outside of the food allergy community, you need give that person the same patience you expect in return.
3. Approach with kindness. People do not listen when they feel angry or defensive. I truly believe that no one means to be rude, ignorant, or careless. I do believe that any of these comments are just that: innocently ignorant. People only know what they live. Before Grady was diagnosed, I was one of those innocently ignorant people. When you approach resistance and ignorance with kindness, you have a better chance of getting people to actually hear what you have to say.
4. Don’t apologize. Food allergies are not an inconvenience. This is one I am getting much better at but still falter from time-to-time. It’s so easy to fall into the I-don’t-mean-to-bother-you mindset. However, when we communicate our child’s needs in that light, we are inadvertently reinforcing the idea that food allergies are an inconvenience. Our child is watching, and people are listening. When we phrase our needs in the form of apologies, people won’t ever “get it”.
Want to read more about Living with Food Allergies? Check these posts out: