Families of children with food allergies can tell you that, at times, it seems their whole day to day life revolves around accommodating these special needs. More time, money, attention and medical care is spent on these children, yet in many cases, there are other children in the very same home, watching from the sidelines.
I will never forget telling my older son that he was to go to the neighbors when the ambulance came to whisk our younger one off to the emergency room after an anaphylactic reaction. The look on my older son's face when we returned spoke volumes. He was terrified for his brother and clung by his side for days.
Over the years, I've heard from many parents who have been saddened or surprised by what they heard from the "other" (non-allergic) sibling. But I believe that these incidents can serve to remind us that our "other" children have special needs of their own. It's important that we see things from their perspective at times, and meet them where they are with love, reassurance and gratitude for what they do and what they give up because of their sibling.
So here are 10 things your non-allergic child may want you to know.
1. It's not fair It seems like everything in our house revolves around him/her and I'm tired of it. I want to go out to restaurants and I want to be able to eat whatever I want in my own house.
2. I wish I had food allergies sometimes so I'd get all of the attention. I want to be interviewed by the newspaper too. I want my mom to bake special cupcakes and order special foods for me too.
3. Sometimes I wish my sibling was never born and then I feel guilty.
My life would be very different if she was not around. I wish I didn't have these thoughts but once in awhile, I do.
4. What about me? I'm jealous that he gets all of the attention. I hear a lot of talking about food allergies. I hear mom and dad training babysitters and grandparents and it seems like no one is even thinking about me. Sometimes I wonder if I even matter in this house.
5. Do you love him more? At the core of all my feelings, I'm wondering if all of the attention and fuss over him mean that you love him more than me.
6. I'm scared my sibling could die. Mom and Dad get so serious when they talk about my sibling. I don't even know if it is okay to ask about this but it feels like it must be pretty bad. After she had that reaction, they never talked about it again. I'm wondering what will happen next time.
7. I don't need more rope. I don't need you to bend the rules to make up for anything. I need firm rules and consequences so I know that you care about me.
8. I don't need more things, gifts, or presents. They can't make up for all of the time you spend on my brother or sister. I need some alone time with you on a regular basis. Even 5 or 10 minutes a day will help but once or twice a month, let's go out or do something together for a whole evening!
9. I'm just a kid too. And sometimes, I just need to complain and vent about my situation. I need you to listen. I don't need you to explain why you devote so much time to my brother or sister. I already know why. I want you to understand what it's like for me and then I'll feel better.
10. I love my brother/sister. I feel badly when he/she can't eat what I can have and I pray that some day he'll be all better.
My older (non-allergic) son is 13 years old now. We had a family reunion last weekend and I was so touched to see him caring for and playing with younger cousins, and even carrying around a nine month old baby. I can see glimpses of the wonderful man that he is becoming, and I can't help but wonder if the additional challenges in his life have nudged that scared young boy into a compassionate and responsible young man.