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When your kid has life-threatening allergies, labels control your life

Chrissy is mother of three boys (her middle son having a number of severe food allergies). She is a passionate educator with experience in both public and private education, having spent time as an administrator, literacy specialist, and...

I scrutinize the labels on my son's food... but worry about him being labeled

Labeling affects everyone's life in one way or another. Yet, once you become responsible for another human being, it takes on a whole new meaning. How will my child be identified? What associations will he be connected with?

Whether or not we fully realize how it weighs on our decisions, our awareness of how our children will be labeled is deeply intertwined with the choices we make as parents.

Adjusting to life with life-threatening food allergies

It wasn't until recently that I realized just how much of my life was controlled by labels and the connectedness in the various definitions of the term. In raising a child with life-threatening food allergies, the irony around the meaning of "labeling" is not lost on me. Our lives are consumed and dictated by food labels. I have become an expert at hidden ingredients and product labeling guidelines. I've spent countless hours revisiting the labels of familiar products to ensure that no changes have been made. All this goes on as our family accepts the label of having a food-allergic child — a label that is equally immobilizing and all-consuming.

The double meaning of labeling in my life goes to emphasize keeping my son safe. Just as every food label includes the ingredients to ensure safe consumption of the product, the label of having life-threatening food allergies signifies the serious nature of his condition.

We have worked diligently with school personnel to establish a plan that outlines his needs, but just as manufacturers are known to announce recalls for errors in production, we are left to wonder just how well the procedures and guidelines put in place will work when it comes to preventing and treating an anaphylactic reaction. There is no way to know when a recall will be announced, just as there is no way to know when an incident might occur, so we continue to live somewhat cautiously every moment of every day.

Redefining labels

Instead of allowing labels to consume our lives, we're making a concerted effort toward the positive. It begins with accepting the realities of our situation, and creating our own flexibility within the restrictions. it's easy to revolve around all the things we can't do easily, to focus on the limitations to "normal." But when we start by centering on the things that are possible, our outlook becomes so much more optimistic.

A large part of this effort relies on our ability to redefine the rules instead of accepting societal expectations. As I become more confident in my parenting, learning just how important (and on target) my intuition can be, I find it easier to drown out the cultural voices that weigh so heavily on expectations.

Turning the norm on its head has liberated me. It's brought a refreshing sense of freedom to an otherwise-restrictive world. Taking back control becomes surprisingly easy when you stop limiting your thinking by the labels that define your situation.

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