“I felt like I was holding my breath the whole time my child was away from home.” (-Food allergy parent).
Sending their child away for their gap-year or on their first vacation without parental supervision is an experience that stirs up a lot of emotions; nostalgia, fear, excitement, and hope, among others. When a parent is sending a child away with life-threatening food allergies, it is a whole different story.
As a parent, it is up to you to decide when you feel your child is ready to take the plunge and take this next step of traveling the world alone. Usually, it’s not something that is decided upon from one day to the next. However, no matter when preparations begin- these experiences have a way of creeping up on us- and before you know it- it’s time for take-off!
Everyone remembers being told instructions and life-skills growing up, like; don’t talk to strangers, never lend large amounts of money to a friend without an adults involvement, never consume something that you don’t know what it is, and never take a package for someone in your luggage that you don’t know what it contains. Food allergy parents have a whole other curriculum to consider with life-skills such as; never leave the house with-out an epi-pen, never eat a new product that doesn’t have an ingredient label, always read the label of a product before eating- even if you’ve eaten it many times before and tell your friends about your food-allergies and what to do in an emergency.
Our concierges work closely with parents sending away their children on gap-year programs in Israel. Although there are many technical considerations regarding the child’s stay abroad, a true concierge has to have the training and expertise to work with the parents on an emotional level. Statements such as “I am just so scared” and “I don’t know if I can do it” are heard often- the tug and pull of conflicting emotions can be overwhelming.
So what can you do as a parent to prepare yourself emotionally to send your child with food allergies away on their own?
Preparation is the key.
Knowing that your child is prepared to the best of your ability is the first step to making this endeavor successful. This includes:
- Contacting the staff members at the school or the hotel if your child is going on a trip
- Preparing allergy-free snacks for them to take along. (For longer trips, you won’t be able to send enough to last the full trip, but it’s important to send enough to get them started and give you a chance to research safe-snacks in the country of destination)
- Organizing their food arrangements for their trip. Are they able to eat in their dorm, their college dining hall? Are you having a personal chef make some of their food, or are they eating out at safe restaurants?
- Preparing a medical informational document for your child to take to the hospital in the case of an emergency and to give over to the staff of the institution they are studying by.
- Preparing their allergy card, medications and ensuring they have enough epi-pens with them. Just one epi-pen is not enough for a trip away from home.
- For a teenager’s trip- speak to their friends that are traveling with your child- and make sure they know which food items your child is allergic to, how serious the situation is, what an allergic reaction looks like and what to do in the case of an anaphylactic reaction.
- Ensuring your child knows Food Allergy Safety 101, such as; never go anywhere without an epi-pen- even a short trip around town isn’t safe in a foreign country and how to read food labels.
They're off- now what??
Now comes the part of your greatest challenge as a parent- letting go and trusting in your child. It might just be the most difficult thing you have to do. You have done your bit- and some more, your child is old enough to travel and spend time without you, and they are taking their first steps into the next stage of their life. You couldn’t be prouder. You also couldn’t be more scared.
That’s O.k and normal. Recognize your feelings, validate them and then take the time to feel them. Now try and relax and enjoy the moment. Now isn’t the time to remind them to carry their epi-pen, watch what they eat, or micro-manage. That will only increase their anxiety and fears. Remember that every parent has many emotions at his stage for different reasons- you are not alone in feeling this whirlwind inside you. You have worked hard raising a responsible child that is now growing into an adult.
Be proud of yourself and them! We are!