Q: My daughter’s birthday is next week, and we’re having a party with several children from her class. One of the mothers called to ask me about the menu, and then proceeded to lecture me on what foods I could and could not serve at the party. Am I wrong to be offended by this phone call?
A: As the mother of a child with severe allergies, I can assure you she meant no offense. She was simply looking out for her child. I will, however, concede she could have handled the situation better.
Food allergies have risen sharply since 1997, and even the smallest amount of the offending food can cause a serious reaction in allergic children. Although tests can determine if a child is allergic to a particular food, there is no way to know how severe an allergic reaction will be if the child it. For that reason, parents are advised to keep children completely away from the foods that may cause serious reactions (although most have a more tactful way of presenting it).
The fact that the mother called you indicates that her child genuinely wants to be included in the birthday party. Hold onto that idea as you decide what to do next. Because you’re the hostess, you are in charge of the menu. That gives you the right to serve whatever you want. But you also are responsible for the well-being of the guests. Regardless of how the mom presented it, giving in to her requests means you are trying your best to keep her child safe.
If you already made food arrangements, call the mom back and explain the situation. Tell her that you really want to her child to attend, but you don’t feel comfortable with her requests (e.g., cost, your child’s requests, prior plans). Ask for suggestions to make the party safe for her child while still sticking to what you had planned. You may use a different placemat for the child, save the food for after the allergic child leaves, or offer alternative snacks just for this particular child. You also can suggest that the mom bring party foods that are safe for her child to eat, or ask her to attend the party to help you supervise her child. She may balk at the idea, or she may embrace it wholeheartedly—there’s no way to tell.
Regardless of what you decide to do, please understand that this is just her way of ensuring her child gets to participate safely. Although it could have been phrased much more tactfully, she is a mom, just like you, trying to do what’s right for her child.
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