Food allergy tools when family members just don't get it
Updated: Jan 26, 2022
Family = love, right? So how can the people you love the most sometimes be the most difficult ones to convince that food allergies are truly life-threatening? If love is the glue that holds our relationships together, it is no wonder that we get incensed when we hear:
"Oh everyone is allergic to something these days."
"Peanut allergies weren't a thing when I was growing up."
"People need to stop being so picky with their choices."
"Just give him a little taste. He'll be fine."
"Well we aren't going to stop eating these foods around her."
"She'll outgrow it soon."
If words are fuel, then these triggering statements spark rage into a full-blown emotional fire. Words have power. Power can be productive or harmful. A simple phrase can create long-standing rifts in relationships, damage generational connections, rob your family of precious memories to be made, and leave behind an aftermath of confusion, anger, frustration, sadness and grief.
How can we move past such callous remarks and just 'pass the potatoes' at the next family gathering? How can the same person who orders a sweet personalized birthday gift be the same one who dismisses the dangerous foods that could kill a precious life? It doesn't make sense. The rift feels enormous and does not feel like love. It feels cold and isolating. But that is only a part of the story.
Our perspectives are our own. Our views are based on our own life experiences, peer groups, conversations, media we consume, education, and where we have invested our energy and attention. We are all wired differently. Our personalities are unique and our life experiences are uniquely ours too. The same is true for your loved one. Their life experiences are often not relatable, feeling worlds apart from your own. In their minds, they express unconditional love towards your child. They adore your child and want to protect and keep them safe.
When it comes to food allergy awareness and education, we need to accept that all of our start lines are different. This is the #1 step in acknowledging that there is room for new approaches to bridge communication gaps.
We all have different start lines.
If it's a teacher who is newer to food allergies or a sports coach who always celebrates with food after a win, you likely are already leading with grace. You expect that you will need to meet a person where they are, and that this may take a little bit of time. You invest in their education because you know it will ripple positively later.
The same is true with family members but we often reserve our 'best behavior' filters for those we don't know as well. We have zero patience for the spouse who is in denial or a grandparent who has never faced this struggle in their lives. It can be easy to forget that grace is still a virtue we can bring to family conversations.
Meet people where they are.
Education is a gradual process that takes patience. Since we all have different life experiences, it is impossible to assume that education will always be the first answer that gets someone to ‘change’ their view. Sometimes we need to ‘adjust our wavelength’ to get out of our own experiences and try to see the world from another view. Since there are also confirmation biases (people looking for evidence to support their beliefs), we each are operating in our own echo chambers. There are generally three tricky mindsets that we'll unpack for learning how to meet a person where they are at. The key is to refrain from using judgment once we identify the root cause together. It will pay off in keeping a relationship solid in the future.
We are wired for protection.
Most people do not encounter the basics of food allergy education unless their profession or life experience requires it. It is an invisible disability that goes unnoticed until it personally affects our lives.
With so many struggles in today's world it's easy to skim over most challenges unless they are directly relatable. If we learned about every struggle and medical condition that people face, we'd be studying new conditions for weeks on end. We would exhaust our limited energy reserves that already feel scarce each day.
Humans are biologically wired for protection. When our brains experience a threat, we go into 'fight or flight' mode. Our amygdala tries to keep us safe and does not allow room for processing rational thoughts or logical reasoning at the exact same time. Reasoning takes place in a different part of our brain - the frontal lobe. For many people, change can trigger fear. The same holds true for our loved ones whose behaviors we are asking to change.