What to do when your family doesn’t take gluten-free seriously.
By Annsley Klehr of Gluten Freedoms, LLC
Every year, we look forward to the holidays and spending time with family. Once we’ve successfully made it to the airport, on the airplane, off the airplane, and to our destination, life seems to slow down. We never have to raise a finger in the kitchen, our laundry gets done for us, we are chauffeured around, and everyone competes for our time…or should I say, time with our daughter. How can it get better than that?
Calm Before the Storm
My in-laws graciously accept the duties of our adventurous and spirited daughter for 2 days so my husband and I could go spend a weekend with our friends in the mountains for New Year’s. Unfortunately, the night before our trip, we spent 4 hours in the ER with our daughter for an unexplained fever of 104.3 *F with three rounds of Advil in her. Needless to say we sleep deprived parents didn’t complain when we left our daughter in good, well slept, hands.
I spend the next two days enjoying uninterrupted sleep (which, due to my daughter’s ER visit and recent ear infections, was a rarity). I felt grateful to my in-laws for allowing me some semblance of peace and quiet, until I arrived home…
A Big No-No
I ran into the arms of my daughter, jittering with excitement. I had felt a bit guilty leaving her after our ER adventure and missed her. We clung to each other, and then it was off to the kitchen to finish up her breakfast.
I watch as my mother-in-law reaches into the freezer, and pulls out sesame seed bagels for my daughter. She reports that she gave one to my daughter yesterday, and she was “fine.”
Fine? What did she mean by fine? What happen to my rules? Was I not clear enough?
Now I’m in a really bad position, because my daughter thinks she’s going to get another one and I hear a temper tantrum brewing.
I lift up my daughter to the counter and I said, “Did you ask if those are gluten-free?” She tells me they are gluten-free and I had to tell her they weren’t. She starts bawling. I can see she feels TERRIBLE and knew she was supposed to ask; however, even though she “knows” to ask, she’s only 2 ½ years old. As far as I saw it, my in-laws didn’t do their job to keep her safe. It will one day be her complete responsibility to maintain her diet, but now she is just learning and the responsibility should fall to others.
As if I had planted a seed, for the next 3 days, my daughter complained of her stomach hurting, yet no one but me was around to hear it. She walked around the house with an icepack glued to her tummy. She and I reviewed the reasons for her stomach hurting and what she would do when offered food. She would ask if it was gluten-free and if it was, she could have some. To compensate, Grandma bought her some gluten-free bagels.
I knew that at some point I was going to have to re-establish ground rules with everyone. I asked my husband to get involved, and he decided to craft a kind, but firm email to the family so that no one felt “left out,” stating that we are very lucky to have such loving and devoted parents . . . and that for the health and safety of their granddaughter, we needed to set a few limits if they wanted to enjoy spending time with her alone from here on out.
Before that email even came to fruition, I ended up sitting down to chat with my in-laws for some other typical grandparent behavior that came up. I started the conversation with telling them that I feel lucky to have them in our lives, and that I wouldn’t trade having them for being alone in the world. Then the waterworks sprung from my eyes and trickled down my face. I continued to say that I knew all they wanted to do was bring endless joy to their granddaughter’s world, and I felt quite guilty when I was trying to compromise that. I told them that it was so hard to be a parent, and that I hated to say no to them, and more than that I hated disappointing my daughter. I reminded them of their days as parents to help them resurrect the memories of the difficulties in parenting that most grandparents “seem” to forget. I told them that I loved them and needed their help to protect our little one and together help raise her under the same principle guidelines. I was her mother and I got to make decisions for her that they got to make with us.
I reiterated that her stomach hurt her after eating gluten, recited some research for them, and told them that gluten sensitivity is real.
The conversation seemed to go well, because my father-in-law had the softest look on his face and told me that he would never be offended if I had to tell him no. My mother-in-law came over to hug me and offered up an apology that she did remember what it was like to be a parent and she was sorry.
Tips for setting ground rules for family and friends when it comes to your child:
1. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page and have a united front . That makes a big difference; No one should ever tell you that you have overreacted about your child. A partner sometimes adds that extra legitimacy.
2. State the rules that you want at the get go and don’t waiver . Stand firm so that people won’t question you or your authority.
3. Put it in writing and have it in the diaper bag, overnight bag, lunch box, or whatever it may be that goes along with your child. I’ve even pinned notes to the back of my daughter’s coat. The good news is that she won’t remember because of her age, so I can’t traumatize her yet!
4. A gentle but firm email to the whole gang before the pending soiree with reminders of the rules and thank yous is equally helpful.
5. Be true to your gut and what is best for your child . You are your child’s best (and maybe only) advocate.
The bottom line is: Always keep all lines of communication open and go with your gut.
About Annsley Klehr
Annsley Klehr is the founder of Gluten Freedoms, LLC, a gluten-free life coaching and consulting service for individuals, families and businesses. She is also a dedicated Beyond Celiac volunteer.