Going Gluten-FreeJune 14, 2011

Do You "Bubble Wrap" Your Child?

How can we best prepare our children for the harsh realities of the allergen-filled world after they leave our protective nests? If we surround them with a sheltered bubble now, will it help them build enough self-esteem to carry them through life? Or will it give them a disillusioned sense of what the real world is like and ill-prepare them to face the fact that they will always be different?

As parents, it’s our natural instinct to want to protect our kids from getting hurt. For parents of kids with food allergies and sensitivities, it’s a little more complicated.

Kids want to fit in. They don’t want to sit at the “peanut-free table” at school. Yet in order to avoid getting physically hurt by an allergen, they risk getting emotionally wounded by feeling ostracized. It’s our job as parents to protect them from that. Or is it?

After my daughter’s celiac diagnosis, I began putting a protective bubble around her. Every food-related outing was carefully planned and packed. I memorized the hot lunch menu at school so she always ate the same thing as her friends. She had “emergency snacks” in the school refrigerator in case of impromptu celebrations. And I carried a cooler around with me wherever I went. (My husband joked that our car was like a supermarket.)

Yet I found that no matter how much I pre-planned, there was always some kind of unexpected surprise waiting around the corner that would just crush her and ruin all of my best, creative efforts.

Like the time I picked her up from a birthday party and found her crying in the corner all by herself with an empty plastic bag in her hands while all the other kids were chomping down on candy from the piñata. I honestly wanted to swear off going to birthday parties at that point. Too extreme? Maybe. But how much did that hour at a birthday party really cost? One hour of sobbing, two heart-to-heart conversations and three meltdowns.

Was it really worth it?

I ask myself whether or not I’m doing what’s best for her. My biggest fan who happens to also be my greatest critic, my mom, ever so kindly offered me the advice that maybe I wasn’t preparing her at home for what the outside world was really like. That when she did go out on her own, she wouldn’t know how to cope. That my gluten-free bubble was misleading her into thinking that no matter where she was, there would always be a perfect gluten-free substitute just waiting for her.

My reaction to my mother’s comments? Initially, I became incredibly defensive. It’s not fair that my little girl constantly feels left out simply because she can’t have gluten! I justified that at birthday parties and at school she has to face enough of the frustration of constantly being embarrassed that she’s not having the same princess cake. At least at home she has her safe corner in the world where she doesn’t have to stress over food. She deserves to always be a part of whatever we’re cooking or eating as a family. And her 2-year-old sister can do just fine without Cheerios!

But since then, I’ve been thinking about it. Have I been deluding myself into thinking that I can expand my protective bubble and follow her to college? Prepare her matching meals in the back kitchen of the cafeteria? Bribe her new roommates with homemade chocolate chip cookies in order to get them to not eat any wheat in front of her?

Maybe what I really need to do is to toughen her up somehow, desensitize her to it. But how can I knowingly contribute to her pain? Allow her sister to eat things in front of her that I know she craves so badly?

“I don’t like this gluten-free diet anymore, Mommy! I want to eat wheat like everyone else!” I have to leave the room for a moment every time she says this to me. To witness how much it hurts her, kills me.

Can you actually stifle someone’s emotional maturity by protecting them from pain? Or can you love someone enough to allow them be hurt because you know that it’s good for them in the long run?

What do you think?

Comments (7)

I don't believe in being overly protective of my son in most instances. I don't make a big deal of a scraped knee or a minor fall, but when it comes to my son's life threatening food allergies, I feel like I have to be. I'd rather be an over protective mom than to lose my son. That being said, I am constantly teaching my two year old ways to keep himself safe. And that is something that I will continue to do as he gets older.

My son was diagnosed with food allergies at 6 months. He is allergic to eggs, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, seeds, wheat, oats, barley, rye, tomatoes, squash, bananas, apples, pears...he has so many that it's sometimes difficult to name them all. He also as eczema and asthma. Everywhere we go we travel with a cooler, benadryl, an albuterol inhaler, and two epipens. We've used the epipen twice in the past 4 months.

He starts preschool in the fall and that will be a challenge. But I am committed to learning and much as I can and doing as much as I can to allow him to participate in "normal" activities, however, only what I feel comfortable with it. I've learned that when my gut instinct tells me something I should listen, but it has never been wrong.

I think the solution to this dilemma is different for every parent.

Posted by: col20 | June 23, 2011 11:49 AM    Report this comment

I'm no expert on gluten-free children. My mother was diagnosed 8 years ago and I was only just diagnosed myself. But I am a homeschool mom of 6 and I know that people often think I am "protecting" my children. My children, and most of the true homeschooling children I know have been protected, just like you protect your new seedlings in the spring when there is a frost warning. But my children and the others I have observed have learned, by being around protective parents, how to cope with many situations that arise and have gone on to do amazing things. All this to say that I think raising a celiac child is two parts, one-teaching them how to cope in difficult situations and two-providing for them the things those around them are going to be able to enjoy so they don't feel left out.

Posted by: Marilyn S | June 17, 2011 8:40 PM    Report this comment

oops, half of my email erased! As I was saying...I have tried to teach her that things don't always work out the way we plan, and she's always been OK with that. When they have treats at school, I also will give her a treat after school, sometimes, but I don't want it to be an expectation. Her teacher this year has some candies that she can have, so when he doles out the non-GF candy, he will give her the kind she can eat, which makes her feel special. I'm not sure what the right answer is, but I think they need to be prepared for disappointment, because being a Celiac, they will be faced with that forever. When my daughter has a treat "different" from the other kids, she doesn't see herself as being "different", she sees herself as being "special", and that makes it easier.

Posted by: Tina M | June 16, 2011 11:10 PM    Report this comment

My daughter has been GF since she was two, she is now 11. I have always tried to prepare her meals similiar to ours if ours aren't already GF. The same with birthday parties, other celebrations - I call the parents and send her food, trying to make it the same if possible (always sending a GF cupcake). Grade 6 camp was a bit of a challenge, but even that worked out...with my cooler in tow. However, I ha

Posted by: Tina M | June 16, 2011 11:03 PM    Report this comment

My son was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 20 months we went through some difficult times at different ages in his life you have to be honest and open to your child's feelings.Now, that's he's 9 yrs old we are dealing with celiac disease. I understand your feelings and your worries sometimes as mother's we have to stand back and look at the big picture and be honest to our children. Life sometimes throws you through a loop it's how you get through the other side . There will be times people won't understand what your family goes through on a daily day with a special need child and it's harder when you leave your home because our culture is always base on food. I know it's hard to be strong all the time and I had talks with my son I don't have all the answers but we will get through this too. It gets easier with time and your family and yourself will be a stronger family.Take care and always hold your head up high this to will past.

Posted by: Unknown | June 16, 2011 7:28 PM    Report this comment

My son was diagnosed at 15months and I've always told him that I was happy to hear his diagnosis - because it could have been much worse. No medications or therapys, just a change of diet. As far as a bubble - why wouldn't you want to make life as easy for your allergic child as possible. They will have many years of diet challenges to face on their own when they get older. I always spoke to teachers and class moms and tried to be prepared for every function. If something surpised us (like an ice cream sundae party at school), I always told my son I would make it up to him. We would go out for ice cream after school - or whatever else he wanted. At parties, the kids would usually want his special individual pizza, rather than the usual slice of pizza they were served. I think we should protect our children from pain - they will still have these types of surpises along the way and will learn how to deal with them along the way. I like the fact that my child know he could count on me to help him out and if not, at least make it up to him later that day. It's also a good way for teachers and other organizations to learn about allergies and how to deal with them.

Posted by: Jean S | June 16, 2011 9:19 AM    Report this comment

This is such a heartbreaking dilemma to face. My daughter is only 9 months old, but already has allergies to dairy, soy, wheat, and nuts. Maybe she'll outgrow some or all of them, and maybe she won't. Her dad has multiple food allergies as well, but they came on later in life, so they didn't really affect his childhood. It's my motherly instinct to protect my baby, and if that means bubble wrap so be it. I just pray that in her lifetime there is a cure for food allergies.

Posted by: Jamie W | June 15, 2011 3:46 PM    Report this comment

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