Part 5: parental stress
There is now a lot of information about allergies and their symptoms that allergy sufferers and their families can obtain from websites, leaflets, and by talking to their doctors. Usually only the families of children with allergies know what daily life with allergies is like. In our five-part series, we interview a father in Berlin with a severely allergic child, provide insights, promote understanding, give encouragement, and reveal ways to cope in everyday life. We spoke to Christian, 41, about the challenges presented by his son Luis’ severe peanut allergy and how the family is dealing with it. The allergy was identified when he was four years old, and the boy is now nine. An allergy can determine how the entire family goes about everyday life, and can also affect the relationship between the parents.
Peanut allergy and parental stress
Luis’ peanut allergy is an extra burden for Christian and his wife. Enabling their child to lead a normal life while having to make sure that nothing happens to him is nerve-racking and time consuming. If Luis goes to visit a new friend or is invited to a birthday party in a new neighbourhood, his parents grow even more concerned. “The question goes through your mind as to whether he will come back home safe and sound again in the evening”, says Christian. “You can’t just bring him over, having explained everything beforehand, and go off and relax. It’s not like that.”
At the same time, Christian trusts his son, who is nearly ten, to use his own judgment and take over the responsibility. Luis is responsible for carrying his medication with him at all times – at school and at his swimming lessons. Christian does not believe that Luis would intentionally put himself at risk by eating a peanut, for example. Christian’s wife is somewhat more concerned about the risks. “I’m not afraid that Luis might suddenly have a deadly attack”, says Christian. “I think quite rationally and consider it unlikely that the boy would just go and eat a peanut. And I don’t think traces of peanuts in foods are such a big threat.”
Christian also knows families with children who suffer from severe allergies for which it is the other way around – that is, the father worries more than the mother. Christian admits that the different approaches have an impact on the partnership, and that it is not easy to accept different attitudes. “We exchange points of view, and they are tolerated by both sides. We don’t always see eye to eye.”
What can parents do to minimise stress in everyday life? “You just have to get through the first phase”, says Christian. “We found it helpful to approach things in a systematic way and make checklists. We now have them in our heads and go through them mentally. It becomes a routine that you just follow automatically.”
When Luis was about to start school, Christian and his wife sought out other parents who, like them, had a child with a severe peanut allergy suddenly faced with having to go to school. They put up a poster in the Allergie-Centrum-Charité and initiated a regular parents’ meeting. Christian laughs as he thinks back to those times. “They all had kids our son’s age. We discussed very specific issues and exchanged tips. How to go about explaining the subject to the school management, what arrangements to make for emergency medication, should the child carry it around with them or should it be stored somewhere at the school?“ Christian shakes his head. “There was so much to do. We didn’t know any of that. What kind of posters should be made for the school and where to should they be displayed? How do you talk to the school caterer?” The children are now all in school and the regular meeting has served its purpose. Now there are new issues to deal with: school trips and class outings.
We thank Christian for this interview. He spoke with Matthias Colli and Johanna Rupp from ECARF.