With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

20 February 2013

Life with Food Allergies: Non-allergic Siblings

One of the challenges of life with food allergies which is not talked about too frequently is the effect of food allergies on the non-allergic siblings of children with food allergies. From time to time, my non-allergic son expresses a bit of frustration about it. Personally, having a peanut-free, nut-free home does not bother me in the slightest. I do not miss nuts or peanuts at all because the horror of seeing my younger son struggle as his throat began to close up in an allergic reaction years ago really makes me want to completely avoid nuts and peanuts as though they were poison.

Of course, I grew up eating all of these tasty snacks and junk foods which I now ban from my home, and I think that makes it easier for me to not miss them. I know what they taste like. There's no mystery for me like there is for my older son. So, older brother sees the other kids eating these foods and naturally wants to try them. Most don't even actually contain peanuts or tree nuts as ingredients, but they are "may contains". My approach is to buy those snacks (ice creams, cookies and other snacks) for him and make an equivalent treat for younger brother who has allergies. I will not buy food containing nuts or peanuts but have no problem buying all those "may contains" items so he can try them and enjoy them occasionally. It always impresses me how younger brother has helped his older brother choose a tasty treat even though he couldn't enjoy it himself. He says "I can imagine how that will taste. I would get that one. I can almost taste it with my eyes."

I feel like this practice of buying some of the forbidden snacks makes it easier for my son who does not have food allergies to abide by his brother's dietary restrictions. There still is some residual frustration because of the special attention warranted by the trifecta of eczema, asthma and food allergies. There's separate shampoo, soap, moisturizers, extra medicines, extra visits to the doctor and more days missed out of school, not to mention special snacks from dedicated facilities that cost more and sometimes have to be ordered just for younger brother. There is an undeniable sense of "special" treatment and there isn't really a way to eliminate that. His health does require more attention than a typical child's. I try to emphasize to both of my children that every one has their challenges, some are physical or medical, others are not. It doesn't make one more special than the other. Every one is unique.

I would love to see some more written about the siblings of children with food allergies. It does affect the whole family and there are some pretty remarkable and supportive siblings out there. I have been really impressed with how my older son looks out for his brother. He has been the one to sound the alarm about potential exposure more than once, in my absence, and he was spot on! He "gets" it and I know I can count on him.

Here are some of the articles and blog posts I have found which discuss the topic of siblings without food allergies, and how to try to find balance and help ensure each child feels included and special. 

Siblings and Food Allergies by FAAN (now FARE)
Food Allergies and Balance: Non-allergic Sibs by Jenny, http://nut-freemom.blogspot.com 
Taking Care of Non-Allergic Siblings by Erin of http://erinsearful.blogspot.com

Do you know of other helpful articles or blog posts about finding balance with siblings with and without food allergies? I'd love to hear what strategies have worked for you! Please share in a comment below.


Erin said...

I appreciated this post. I too have two children, oldest with life threatening food allergies to peanut, tree nut, and soy and the second child without any allergies. Our approach is much the same as yours. We are a peanut/nut/soy free home. However we do occasionally have the "may contains" in our home but our allergic child does not eat them. We have really tried to focus on all the things that we can have instead of what we can not have. The other day at Sprouts I found "Sun Butter Cups" (allergy free Reeses cup, made from SunButter)...this was so exciting! I think by our whole family following the dietary restrictions that our oldest child has it helps keep away hurt feelings. And, a big bonus is I find that our family is healthier because of how we eat.

Gratefulfoodie said...

This is a great topic to bring up. My son had/has a longer list of allergens compared to my daughter.

She is only allergic to tree nuts and can eat peanut. So, even within our own family structure, there are sibling issues.

Oddly enough, the tables turned yesterday and my daughter, with the short list, was feeling very frustrated and my son with the long list was trying to help her work it through. Sometimes she does get frustrated with him since our restaurant choices are based on his longer list of allergens.

Thanks for bring up the topic of siblings. Sometimes, they are overlooked!

Mary said...

Life can be difficult for siblings of children with any special need. My brother in law takes my non-FA nephew out for a weekly treat to places that are unsafe for their highly FA daughter. So far that works.