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Nut Allergies

Nuts About Nut Allergies

By Amalah

Oh, wise Amy. I am in need of some guidance.

Advice Smackdown ArchivesI have a wonderful, adorable and very cute (I’m not biased!) fifteen month old son. He is our first child, and the light of our life. When he was about 12 months old, I was eating a peanut butter sandwich and I kissed him and BAM! Within a few minutes he was swollen up and we were rushing to the emergency room. After we had some allergy testing done, we discovered our son is highly allergic to all nuts (peanuts & tree nuts). We now carry multiple epi-pens (car, diaper bag, house) and always have Benadryl close by. In addition, in the past three months, we have changed our household diets considerably.

My parents have gone above and beyond to be cautious when our son is around them. They make sure they are not serving anything with nuts and they make sure their peanut butter is up high on a shelf in the pantry.

My mother-in-law is… not. She has not changed anything that she makes when we come visit (both parents live within a ten minute drive) and Christmas was kind of the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. First, she asked that I make a dessert that has nuts. I told her we went completely nut-free in our kitchen and she was snotty about it. I offered to give her the recipe but she refused. Then, when we showed up, every single cookie, cake, pie, etc. had nuts in it. It was like she was going ABOVE AND BEYOND to include nuts. Chocolate chip cookie dough balls? DELICIOUS. WITH OR WITHOUT NUTS.

Our son is, thankfully, too young to eat most of the desserts and I didn’t have to make him feel bad for something he couldn’t control… this year. But what about next? Then, during our present-exchange she gave us… a nut chopper (along with some other truly great presents). She said it would, “change our life” and my husband made a smart-ass comment about yes, it would change our life because OUR KID WOULD DIE. She told us we were “overreacting.” Everyone dropped it, but huh?! We have to carry an epi-pen. We have to read everything that comes near our kid’s mouth and skin and she says we are overreacting?

The push-me-over-the-edge moment came yesterday when she sent my husband home after he dropped something off, with some recipes that we would love! Every recipe contained peanuts. Every. Single. One.

Obviously, we have to address this. I’m home with our son, but she’s retired and enjoys having him around and I enjoy the break, but I can’t trust her now. I mean, this is a Major Life Deal that we have been thrown with the allergy department, and she’s brushing it off and GIVING US A NUT CHOPPER (holy crap). At least we have our White Elephant gift for my family’s Christmas next year, but still! A NUT CHOPPER FOR A NUT-ALLERGIC CHILD! How do we address this? Directly? A sit-down event? A list of things he can and cannot have on her fridge when he visits? HALP!!!

NUTS!!!! (just in case I didn’t say it enough, and really, who doesn’t laugh when they say nuts?)
J

Wow.

Just…wow.

I have read accounts of some PRETTY EGREGIOUS behavior from parents and in-laws and relatives and…well, HUMAN BEINGS IN GENERAL over the years here, but I am pretty sure your mother-in-law has gotta rank pretty high up in the Top 10 List of Behavior So Jaw-Droppingly Bad I Want To Smack Her Sideways From Here.

Either your mother-in-law 1) is completely senile and needs her memory/brain functions checked ASAP or 2) has read some magazine article or saw some TV segment about nut allergies that skewed in the direction “over-diagnosed! totally fake epidemic! fueled by crazy helicopter parents determined to make their children seem speshul and deny other children their God-given right to eat peanut-butter sandwiches at school!” Sadly, this argument does exist, actual real-life allergy-test results and violent reactions be damned, and your mother-in-law will probably not be the last person you encounter who will make you fight for your son’s safety.

But fight you MUST, obviously, be it with her or some clueless parent or school administrator who decides to bitch and moan in response to the letter you send home at the beginning of the school year detailing the severity of your child’s allergy (if he’s not fortunate enough to outgrow it, which CAN happen, and is of course what we’ll hope will happen for him). In the meantime, though, you and your husband have to find a way to tell your mother-in-law how absolutely non-negotiable respect for this LIFE-THREATENING ALLERGY is. I honestly don’t care HOW you do it, via a loving intervention or a public shaming in the town square. Just as long as it WORKS.

Obviously, changing her mind would be great. Offer her a fact-sheet on nut allergies and anaphylactic shock from the Internet or your pediatrician, perhaps, though from the Christmas spread and gift, it does kind of sound like she’s entrenched in her opinion that you guys are overreacting, so that might not actually do anything. A live demonstration of how to use an epi-pen might drive the message home that this is serious business. (And is an essential skill ANYONE who might serve as your son’s caregiver needs to know, though I agree that I certainly wouldn’t let her babysit, given her refusal to take even the most basic of precautions.)

So if we assume that she basically thinks nut allergies are bullcrap or aren’t as serious as your son’s allergy ACTUALLY IS and isn’t going to let go of that opinion easily, what should you and your husband do? Well, I’d drop ANY concerns about offending her or hurting her feelings REAL QUICK, that’s for sure. You’ve explained, you’ve reminded, it’s time for some set-in-stone rules, ultimatums and…yes, consequences.

No more jokes or smart-ass remarks from your husband. No more gentle reminders or simple eye-rolls when she hands you a stack of peanut-heavy recipes. The next time she says something about you guys “overreacting” do NOT let it drop for the sake of making the rest of the room “uncomfortable.” Call her on it. Argue back. “No, Mom, we’re NOT overreacting. We’re just trying to deal with our kid’s unique set of needs the best we can.”

She’s making YOU GUYS uncomfortable first — thus giving you a pass to put down the Miss Manners and tell it like it is — and even worse, she’s putting her grandson in jeopardy, or at best dooming him to feeling left out and scared at future family gatherings, while making you and your husband nervous and panicky while attempting to watch him like a hawk around the buffet table and candy dishes. You aren’t going to ruin Christmas by insisting the chocolate chip cookies get made without nuts next year. You know what would ruin Christmas? Calling 911 because no one noticed the two-year-old eating a chocolate-chip walnut cookie while the adults had their backs turned for two whole minutes.

Since it’s his mother we’re talking about, your husband needs to step up the forcefulness here. His job. Call her and say, “It looks like we need to talk about next Christmas already, because what happened this year? With the nut-happy everything? Can’t happen again. I need to know that you take this seriously, because it’s scary and hurtful for us to have you think otherwise and refuse to take any precautions or make any changes.” Have him ask her what information you guys can provide for her that may help her understand that this allergy is indeed life-threatening and life-changing for you guys. Have him explain exactly what kinds of changes need to be made and ask her point-blank if she’s willing to make them. You’re not asking for her to live nut-free, but COME ON.

And again, no joking or sugar-coating: He absolutely needs to impress upon her that X, Y and Z are non-negotiable for you guys feeling that you can TRUST her to make her home safe for her grandson. “And Mom, if we show up to another massive spread of toddler-enticing nut-filled desserts, we will leave. Full stop. We don’t want it to ever come to that, but seriously. We’re begging you, here, to help us keep him safe. AND from feeling left out and deprived every year because Grandma wants to prove some kind of point via peanut-butter fudge.”

Basically, I guess I’m giving you permission (for whatever MY “permission” is worth) to stop being polite and start getting real with this woman. Be as forceful and ultimatum-heavy as you want to be. Obviously, people make mistakes and do bone-headed things — especially over small details they’re used to taking for granted — but your mother-in-law was reminded REPEATEDLY of the nut concerns over the holidays and yet went overboard in the opposite direction regardless. There’s just…no excuse for that, other than willful ignorance or straight-up passive-aggressiveness.

(Confession: I once let my husband buy a tray of cookies to take to a friend’s party. I forgot to remind him that their child had nut allergies, then neglected to even look at the offering until I handed it over…and saw that the majority of the cookies were OPENLY covered in nuts. It was an innocent, absentminded mistake, but oh, I was sooooo embarrassed. And it will NEVER happen again, because I am a grown-up who doesn’t need to be told five bajillion million times before I get it through my skull.)

She has a full year now, to earn back your trust before next Christmas. A full year to move the peanut butter to a higher shelf and agree to check ingredients before handing your son a snack, or to only serve him stuff you prepare at your home, at least at first. A full year to grow the hell up and realize that AT LEAST making a nut-free version of each dessert is not the end of the world. If she seems to improve (even with still needing the occasional reminder) great. If not? You spend next Christmas with the grandparents who give a damn about your kid’s health, the end.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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lk
Guest
lk

great advice. passive-aggressive nut job. I’m going to read this to my husband so my mom looks a little better!

HereWeGoAJen
Guest

The people who believe the nut allergies are overblown totally do exist. One of the stories told at the summer camp I taught at (ten years ago now) was one of the counselors saying “you don’t have a peanut allergy” and then smearing peanut butter on the kid’s arm. I mean, YIKES. Luckily there was no lasting harm from that one, but it really shows how ridiculous some people can be.

Amy Beth
Guest
Amy Beth

Do everything you can to set this crazy woman straight. However, when your kid is a little older, and going to school, etc. You might want to consider allergy shots. Heaven forbid he be given something by a friend and go into anaphylactic shock.

Hannah
Guest
Hannah

I have an 8-year-old cousin who is DEATHLY allergic to peanuts.  When he was in preschool, although the class was “peanut free” another child brought peanut butter crackers to school and both kids being 3-year-olds didn’t think anything of sharing the snack.  My cousin ended up in anaphylactic shock, suffered respiratory distress and was hospitalized overnight.  If the other child’s parents had any common sense and were respectful of the class being “peanut free” this never would have happened.  I’m sorry if it’s an inconvenience because your child can’t bring peanut butter to school because another child is allergic, but… Read more »

Alison
Guest
Alison

I’m confused about why there’s even a question here. Why hasn’t your husband sat her down and said, “I’m really confused. Our kid has a life-threatening allergy and you not only aren’t being careful about it, but you seem to be going out of your way to push nuts on us. What the hell is going on?”
And then tell her that you will not bring the kid to her house, ever, nor will she be left alone with him, unless she 100% changes her ways on this. Period, end of story. 
I’m sort of stunned this hasn’t happened yet.

Shannon
Guest
Shannon

In addition to these excellent suggestions, if she STILL won’t listen, might there be a possibility of bringing her with you to an appointment with the allergist? If a handout from the doctor won’t convince her, maybe hearing it directly from someone in a white coat with fancy letters might help bring it home. Maybe he could even address some of her possible questions about over-diagnosis or “over-reaction” to allergies.

Nitsan E.M.
Guest

Please. For the sake of your child, and the sake of your relationship with your MIL, practice the following sentence/stand – “BECAUSE I SAID SO.” You are the child’s parents. It seems to me that many a new parent tends to forget that small fact. So even if it were not a “life threatening issue” and “only” a lifestyle issue, I’d call it as it is and say “Why not give him nuts/sweets/gluten? Because I said so. I am his mother, and this is what I create as my son’s surrounding. I am open to discussion, debate, and changing my… Read more »

Christine
Guest
Christine

Wow, I mean just…. wow. I agree, there are definitely people out there that believe food allergies don’t exist, and even physicians sometimes think people have gone a tad overboard if they are reacting only to a blood test (which are known to be very inaccurate in toddlers and younger, by the way).  The fact that your son had this reaction from a kiss on the cheek, and that each subsequent reaction will be worse and could at any point be life threatening… this is a real allergy.  Not the overboard helicopter parent who insisted on inaccurate blood testing because… Read more »

Lisa
Guest

I have had this exact same problem.  My second child has severe nut allergies, and we went completely nut free  a year ago.  We live in a two family house that belongs to my mother in law, and she lives in the second apartment, and my kids are in her apartment on a daily basis.  My mother in law finally stopped offering my son peanut butter crackers, but my oldest loves peanut butter, and she would give him peanut butter sandwiches while the nut-allergic one looked on. It literally took a screaming match and a threat to move before she… Read more »

Jay
Guest
Jay

To me, what the mother-in-law is doing is akin to child abuse. Purposefully doing something that could harm a child? That’s child abuse. Maybe hearing those two words would wake her up. Of course you would hope that your son will grow out of his allergy, but if he doesn’t, he’s going to need to be careful his whole life. He shouldn’t have to worry that someone who supposedly loves him is trying to poison him to “toughen him up” or whatever she thinks she’s doing.

Rachael
Guest
Rachael

I’m a person who fully believes that severe nut allergies are very real, but also knows that there ARE people out there who overreact to the blood tests. I’m a teacher, and it’s SOOO frustrating when you go to all this effort to have a nut-free classroom, only to have a supposedly deathly-allergic child come to school with PB crackers or something for snack (with absolutely no ill consequences btw). It happens… I think I’ve actually seen that scenario played out more often than one where a REAL allergic child has a reaction and needs their epi-pen. But, this is… Read more »

Chaya
Guest
Chaya

This is crazy–did she really do that stuff on purpose, or what?  A nut chopper?  What kind of gift is a nut chopper anyway??  Good luck, and I do think maybe some kind of fact sheet to give her to put up at her house, as something standard that you need to do, and then going over it with her might be a way to start, and open up the conversation to figure out what’s going on.  Because if she is totally normal in other ways the behavior just sounds so bizarre… Also, @racheal, I have a kid with non-life… Read more »

Jenniphyr
Guest
Jenniphyr

I for one wouldn’t trust even supposed “nut-free” desserts from this person’s house. If his allergies are so serious that he goes into anaphylaxis from skin contact with peanut butter, then bowls and spoons, etc. need to be re-washed before making nut-free recipes for him. If his grandmother loves nuts so much, chances are there will be traces in her kitchen. Not only does she need to be trained to make foods without nuts, she needs to be trained to make foods without TRACES of nuts, as well.

Lawgirl1982
Guest
Lawgirl1982

So I was so appalled at this story. I also told my husband about it, who thought the dad should “grow a pair and cut his mom off from their baby.” But I ask, what kind of GRANDMOTHER would do this to her grandchild?! Forget her daughter in law, let’s say she hates her. But her own grandson, an innocent sweet 15 month old boy, who has no agenda, no reason to invent symptoms or reactions or whatever the hell she thinks is going on, how can she live and breathe each day knowing what she served on Christmas could… Read more »

Bonnie
Guest
Bonnie

You know, I’m just not that fond of nuts. No allergy, just… not crazy about them. But if I said to my MIL in passing conversation, “….yeah, I’m not crazy about nuts,” and then the next week at Christmas dinner, every single dessert and most of the other dishes prominently featured nuts? I’d feel like that was a clear statement that I wasn’t wanted or welcome at that family dinner. Because there’s just no reason that it would ever be necessary to include nuts in all those dishes. If I had a life-threatening allergy? If my KID had a life-threatening… Read more »

Jessica (Original Poster)
Guest
Jessica (Original Poster)

I’m the original question asker, and THANK YOU Amy for addressing my question! Huge thanks! The deal is, my mother-in-law has been pretty okay until Christmas. And then, BOOM. The times we had seen her, we had her to our house (she’s a widow, so it’s easier that way sometimes) and looking back on it, I controlled the food situation. Until Christmas. You guys are right. I’m not very confrontational, until you mess with my kid. And then, the claws are out. I didn’t say anything at Christmas because honestly, I was in shock. WHO GIVES A NUT CHOPPER TO… Read more »

J
Guest
J

Jessica, let us know how it turned out!

shel
Guest
shel

this is what i said to my MIL to get her to finally hear us about her grand-daughters nut allergy: ‘ok, lets put a bunch of loaded hand guns all over your kitchen table. i’m pretty sure she won’t touch them. but at her funeral, you tell me if it was worth it to have walnuts in the salad as they close the lid to her tiny casket.’ and then we didn’t let her see the kids for 2 months. sound harsh? not as harsh as losing my child because i didnt feel like ‘making someone feel bad’ or wrecking… Read more »

Melinda
Guest
Melinda

Good analogy! I had an HR representative at my last job tell me how black mold isn’t actually dangerous and no one actually has celiac disease, etc, just before heading down to her lunch time bible study. Fun times. 

Jenn
Guest
Jenn

I can’t stop shaking my head. This is not passive-aggressive, it is plain old aggressive. I agree with the above poster that it is almost a “get out” message, which is truly inexplicable considering it’s her grandchild. Plus, a nut chopper would change your life? Seriously? I love nuts, and a nut chopper is about #12,547,567 on the list of things that I would consider life-changing. The only thing I can image – and it’s tenuous – is that for some reason having the recipes exactly as they are means something, because it’s the way she’s always done it, and… Read more »

Jessica V.
Guest

Wow – just…wow. I’m literally speechless that anyone would do this – risk a child’s safety and life – to make a point or try to cause confrontation. But – she’s succeeded…and it sounds like she is going to get more than she bargained for.

Please keep us posted on the outcome of the conversation. I hope you have it soon so she doesn’t have time to “forget” that she went “nuts” during the holidays and try to brush it off like it is no big deal. This needs to happen now.

Good luck!

Jan
Guest
Jan

UGH. Well at least you’ve got a really nice MIL story for the books. I’ve got a peanut allergic 4 year old (diagnosed about 2 years ago) and, in my experience, while everyone has been really nice here so far? People just don’t get it. There is a disconnect somewhere, and even the one’s who try? Mostly don’t get it. Which isn’t to say it is that hard – it is hard at first – but not THAT hard! Sheesh. Frankly, I have gone over the edge with the whole thing and trust no one (except my husband) to keep… Read more »

S
Guest
S

This is bizarre. In a calm moment, can your husband sit down and gently say, “Mom, what’s going on here?” and take the conversation from there. I was also going to suggest, like an earlier poster, that you take your MIL to the doctor with you to hear about the allergy issues directly from the doctor. In your shoes I would be really uncomfortable having my son stay with her until this issue gets worked out.

camille
Guest
camille

Like everyone else, I think this is appalling. However, I don’t think you should take your MIL with you to your son’s doctor because YOU SHOULDN’t HAVE TO!!! Like other commenters have said, you’re his parents and whatever you say is the law. This goes for all things, seriously life threatening or not. You shouldn’t send the message that she needs to follow what you say regardingyour child because a doctor or some other third party says so too….she needs to follow it based solely on instructions from you or your husband.

Adrianne
Guest
Adrianne

I call B.S. on her behavior. I can’t BELIEVE that. Obviously, if you have to carry an Epi-Pen, it’s a real concern. Her gifts, food choices, etc. make it perfectly clear to me that she doesn’t care whatsoever about her grandchild. Sorry, there’s just no other way to take it. We aren’t talking about a brand preference, or a difference of discipline issue. This is the life of a person. 1) Documentaries about the severity of nut allergies/reactions should be YOUR Christmas present to her. 2) I agree with the suggestion of the pediatrician appointment and dragging her along. A… Read more »

Ms. K
Guest
Ms. K

I totally agree with everyone else above RE: the MIL’s totally inappropriate behavior. Unsafe! Threatening, even! Please follow everyone’s advice and give her a stern talking to etc. etc. etc. HOWEVER. I am also going to disagree with the concept of a “nut free” environment everywhere this child goes. Educating his teachers and the friends of his parents to keep him far, far away from nuts? Definitely. But requiring other children in his class not to eat nuts is going too far. I have several people in my family, including my mother, who are deathly allergic to peanuts. But we… Read more »

Melinda
Guest
Melinda

I had students who would go into anaphylaxis from SMELLING peanut butter. Yes, it happened. Yes, it is that serious and the entire place NEEDED to be nut-free. 

Stephanie
Guest
Stephanie

As mother of an 18 month old with a severe allergy to sesame seeds, I can completely empathize. I admit that I was one of those people who discounted allergies, until I saw my daughter’s face start swelling from eating the tiniest bit of baba ghanoush (which has tahini in it). Scariest experience of my life. We, too, have epi pens and Benadryl on hand. we had an experience where a kid at daycare brought a cracker with sesame seeds in it, Charlotte grabbed it, and even though the daycare ladies got it from her before she could eat it,… Read more »

Dawn
Guest
Dawn

My dad lives on a 70 acre farm about 20 minutes from our home. Even though my 2 year old has severe, life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergies, he planted 3 pecan trees in his back yard…just yards from his house.

itzybellababy
Guest
itzybellababy

I don’t understand why to continue spending time with her? If your child is deathly allergic, why would you even consider bringing them around this person?

If my child was exposed to flame throwers, I would stay away.. just saying. 

She is obviously either crazy or has no respect for you, in either case seems like a person to avoid family or not. 

If my kid was that allergic I would not be taking chances.. not judging.. just my thoughts.People are so wild to be with family in the craziest situations. it is not required!

Elliander Eldridge
Guest
Elliander Eldridge

I take not allergies seriously, but I find that many people and schools go too far with it. I once sent a little girl to school with an almond butter and jelly sandwich because it was a nut free school and the school responded by confiscating the sandwhich and sending her home with an angry letter. I explained that almonds are not tree nuts. They are the pit of a fruit. They are closely related to peaches and there is almost always some portion of the peach pit in a given can of peaches and this doesn’t cause any one… Read more »