"PAK Connections"
Holiday '09 Edition

Enjoy your Holidays!
By, Patricia Bass, LCSW-R

The holidays are approaching quickly.  There are lots of worries this time of year such as financial, family, health and work issues.  There never seems to be enough time to get all that needs to be done accomplished.  Despite these concerns, we want the holidays to be special and safe for our families and children.

However, surviving the holidays with family and friends can be challenging whenyou have a child with severe food allergies.  Especially, because holidays are so focused around sharing food.  When relatives or friends are insensitive, it can taint your festive holiday mood or worse yet, it can create a very unsafe situation.  When this happens, you might imagine inviting them over for a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at your home.  As you boast to them that you will be serving a roasted turkey dinner with a side of fresh poison ivy from your very own garden!

Most holidays involve food.  If you set the table, then you must set the boundaries.  Before, discussing setting boundaries, you need to coordinate with your spouse.  You will need each other's support, in case things get messy.  Create some hand signals, such as a tug on the ear which means, "I have come down with a sudden migraine headache, we have to leave immediately".  Or scratching on your left shoulder can me "Help me, back me up, save me, I am getting bullied!"

The first boundary you will set begins by presenting your requests, in a gentle way.  Most people need to be educated about food allergies or at least reminded.  You live with it everyday, so it comes easy for you to remember, but not for others.  Communication is the most important way to prevent problems from occurring, so there is no harm in going over the specifics again with your hosts.

Sadly, some people have to deal with the dreaded, difficult or insensitive friend or family member.  When this occurs, is when the firmer boundaries will have to be set up.  Keep your spouse nearby.  If your host or other guests make insensitive rude comments, then you can say so and restate your concerns in a very firm and direct manner.  Make sure you state only facts and not emotions or feelings.  Just stick to the facts.  And continue to repeat them again if anyone says anything else.  During or after this unpleasant intervention, you may experience an emotion that feels bad.  It is normal.  It never feels good to have to stand up for yourself against people who are not being nice to you and giving you a difficult time.

Be mindful that many people celebrate holidays with alcohol.  In order
to have a healthy communication, people must be sober.  If someone has been
drinking, do not expect them to understand your concerns about your child's
food allergies.  Do not attempt to communicate with them.  In addition to alcohol, there are also people who do not have the ability to have healthy communication either.  So it is important to assess beforehand, if being assertive is reasonable or a waste or time.

By the way, you are under no obligation to spend the holidays with anyone
you do not feel comfortable with.  If you have had bad experiences in the past,
you can re establish new traditions within your own family.  If your family of origin is toxic and abusive, you can build a family of choice.  This is where you choose people in your life, who treat you with respect and build traditions with them.  Keep in mind that there are many options available for you to decide what is best for you and your family.  You do not have to feel unsupported through the holidays.  Remember, your goal is to have a safe but enjoyable holiday for your family.

Patricia Bass, LCSW-R
Agency for Individual and Family Counseling
Phone: (631) 928-6565

PAK Disclaimer: The opinions and stories on this site are not necessarily those of Protect Allergic Kids. Our site is intended to offer a means for people to share their ideas and views.  PAK is not a professional or medical organization.  It is a group of parents sharing information and supporting each other.  The discussions, meeting minutes, handouts, guest speakers, agendas, and other products of our support group do not constitute medical/legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.  Always discuss individual health questions and medical issues with a qualified personal physician.   

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