Your Privilege is Showing

I am sick of the mommy wars. The “my way is the best and look how great I am as a parent” posts on Facebook. The absolute “I would never…” statements that end with: feed my baby formula, let my toddler watch TV, use a disposable diaper, eat a GMO, feed my kids processed food, etc. And worse, the comments that imply or outright state that if you do those things you are a bad parent.

Most of the people who make these statements are coming from a place of privilege. Not recognizing that for many there is a gap between what is ideal and what is possible. That gap is filled with a variety of barriers – time, money, ability, support, education, home life, health, willingness to endure hardship, pain or discomfort. Sometimes it is impossible for someone to overcome all of those barriers. And sometimes one person’s definition of ideal is different from yours.

The fact that someone can achieve the ideal can probably be more highly correlated with a variety of factors beyond their control – the family and community into which they were born, their income, home life, proximity to family or other support systems, access to education, access to transportation, health, employment status, ability to stay home or afford child care, their child’s health, etc – than their prowess as a parent.

If you can achieve the ideal, great. That’s awesome. Unless, of course, you use that fact to shame others. In that case, fuck you.

Often, statements of privilege are made carelessly or with a misguided desire to “help” others, but today I read a blog that went one step further – Why Do Your Kid’s Allergies Mean My Kid Can’t Have a Birthday? I admit – she got me. I clicked on the link, curious about how she might answer the question. And, then, like many asinine things on the internet, it made me so furious that I was compelled to respond.

3216223128_e5d085a994In summary, the writer is frustrated with school policies that limit what students can bring for treat days, due to the dietary restrictions and sometimes life-threatening allergies of other students. She doesn’t want her precious snowflake to have to bring or eat processed, store-bought treats because little Johnny or Sally might get sick or die. In her perspective, this will ruin her child’s birthday. What the actual fuck?

Basically – If it doesn’t impact me personally, why should I care?

What a selfish mentality. What a terrible example for her children. She probably would have a different opinion if her kids were the ones with life-threatening food allergies and could die if a parent forgets or makes a mistake. Or if her kids came home in tears because they had to sit out of food day because gluten or eggs causes them tummy troubles. Policies weren’t created to inconvenience her, they were created to protect kids.

One of the basic foundations of society and community is caring about others. Empathy goes a long way. The ability to walk in someone else’s shoes and try to understand their experience is something we should all try to have and teach our children. Also, we should try to recognize our privilege, especially when it colors our attitudes or treatment of others. Even if you don’t personally benefit from them, you can still support the programs, systems, institutions and policies that enable others to be healthy, strong and productive or protect them from harm.

I personally am not currently living in poverty. I have a great job, housing, access to healthy food, a car, health insurance, a graduate degree. I am privileged. I am fortunate. I am lucky. And I know it. I also have devoted my career to help break down the barriers others face in accessing those things.

I am not saying that everyone should devote their life to serving others…on second thought, that would be fucking fantastic! However, if you can’t, try a little empathy and a little perspective.

Your kid’s ability to bring cupcakes to school is not greater than the school’s interest in protecting kids from harm. It’s just not. Let’s not teach our next generation to be selfish and to take their good fortune for granted. Let’s teach them to care about each other and use their privilege to help others.

And Ms. Hoskisson, here’s some unsolicited advice – Why don’t you celebrate your child’s birthday at home with a glorious homemade, organic, GMO-free cake and send fruit cups or fruit roll ups for treat day?

Cute kid image credit: Steph, all rights reserved

Nut free school image credit: Brian Methot


Steph is a mom, stepmom, freelance writer, and advocate. When she's not busy writing, chasing kids around, cleaning up messes, and trying to change the world, Steph enjoys snuggling, making pies, politics, reading paranormal fiction, yoga, and fitness. A fully recovered natural parent, Steph now trusts science, evidence, and common sense to lead the way. She has been actively involved in the reproductive and women's rights movements for more than 20 years and is a passionate pro-choice feminist. Her writing can be found on Grounded Parents, Romper, The Cut, and other print and online publications

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  1. One of the worsts parts of this is the title – “Why Do You Kid’s Allergies Mean My Kid Can’t Have a Birthday”. This has nothing to do with her child’s happiness, only her own selfishness and her perceived ideal of what a birthday celebration has to be.

  2. I think that pascale68 was referring to Hoskisson’s article (?) not Steph’s.
    This is a great post, Steph. If it weren’t so long, I’d want this on a T-shirt: “I am not saying that everyone should devote their life to serving others…on second thought, that would be fucking fantastic! However, if you can’t, try a little empathy and a little perspective.”

  3. The author of that article about allergies is… more concerned that her kid would eat a commerically prepared cupcake (which, apparently is important only because the list of ingredients is long and unfashionable), than a kid dying because……??? We may never know. Guess what author of Huffpo article, you said it best: “Sometimes we don’t get to eat what we want.” Gotta love when people’s own points fly over their own heads in strange ways.

  4. I am kind of amazed that these people seem to think their child would be irreversibly traumatised by not having a cupcake for their shared birthday lunch, but don’t stop to consider that it would probably be far more traumatic for the child to see their classmate become seriously ill from eating said cupcake.
    Seriously, as a 7-year-old I would have been horrified and guilt-stricken for the rest of the day, thinking that I made my friend sick.

  5. The author of the Huffpo piece seems to be asking other children to do what she wouldn’t expect her own child to do – refrain from eating a treat with friends at school. When children with allergies celebrate birthdays by bringing an allergen-free treat to share (maybe a store-bought cupcake with all the disagreeable preservatives and whatnot) does her child say “no thank you, my mommy doesn’t want me to eat processed foods” ? Does she teach her child to turn down treats for these reasons, or does she allow her child to participate in the social bonding that comes with sharing food with classmates? She and her child have the privilege, as Steph points out, to bend their food rules every once in a while, to splurge or just say “what the heck” and go ahead and eat that pre-packaged cupcake.

  6. It’s not only being in danger, often kids with allergies learn very young that they must only eat safe food, it’s also that those kids are being othered, which hurts them a lot.
    My cousin had severe neurodermitis as a child. If she ate the wrong things she’d try to scratch the skin off her body. Fortunately, the older she got, the more she could eat (she’s now in her 20s and fine). At one of these points she was allowed to eat normal bread, and there happened to be a big family celebration with a buffet. Her parents always brought enough food for her, but that evening she didn’t touch any of it and ate dry bread. Only dry bread. When asked why she didn’t eat anything else she said: “Because that’s what everybody else can eat!” We wanted to cry, but she was happy.

  7. Any statement starting with “I would never let me child..” should be banned by law :/ I met two that annoyed me immensely – “I would never leave my child cry himself to sleep” (oh yes? Have you been throwing up more or less every morning just from tiredness? A friend went this far before she resorted to some version of letting her daughter cry. And she is not an idiot and has tried everything else); and “I would never put such a small child in nursery” (and what, exactly, are you living on if you are not working?).
    BTW, it is funny how a certain type of person don’t seem to realize the difference between “not the healthiest” and “poisonous”.

  8. I’m going to respectfully disagree with this one. I didn’t click on the post linked, because I try to not give clicks to clickbait. But the topic itself is one that’s been percolating in my mind recently, and I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about it.

    It’s been on my mind lately because I just had my first experience with having my homemade baked goods rejected from my son’s classroom. He’s only a toddler, so this was their first “class party.” I made cupcakes at home, only to be told (after having made them) that they would only accept store-bought goods. I didn’t mind that my time had been wasted; it was just that I started to realize that this was a policy that had been adopted from day care up through high school, and that I was going to have to face this so many more times. That was what depressed me.

    It’s not “just” some treats. Food is one of the primary elements of any culture. To say that homemade cupcakes (or brownies or what have you) can be replaced by stickers is just not true. For so many parents — no, for so many *people* — food is intimately tied up with emotions, situations, and memories. The idea that I wouldn’t be able to provide the same homemade goodies for my child’s friends as my mother had for my friends . . . that remains very hard to me to swallow. Forgive the pun.

    And it’s not just about birthdays, either. When I think back on “classroom food” in my elementary school years, I don’t remember other kids’ birthday cake. What I remember is how in Spanish class, we made corn tortillas, and how that was my first Mexican food ever. (Still the most delicious tortillas I’ve ever had.) I remember when we did our immigration unit, and all the kids brought in foods native to their culture; I remember the honey cake my mother baked for that event, to symbolize our Jewish heritage. I remember the latkes another mother brought in for Chanukah. I remember doing a Japanese tea ceremony. I actually have a pretty terrible memory, but those events stand out in my mind very clearly.

    When I was young, the policy seemed to be, “Anyone can bring in any food and there’s no oversight.” That hasn’t worked for some kids. But now we’ve let the elastic band snap to, “No one can bring in anything, full stop.” These two policies are equally unworkable. The real answer lies in the middle, but because the middle is more work for schools than either end, they’ve declined to find a happy medium.

    An actual solution to the problem of food in the classroom would involve a lot of steps. Here’s a rough outline:
    * At the beginning of the year, kids have to hand in allergen/religious dietary forms to their teachers, signed by parents.
    * Additionally, parents would have to either a) sign waivers saying their kids were permitted to eat non-store-bought food (with possible exceptions), or b) decline to allow this.
    * Teachers would have to collate the information, then send a letter home saying something like, “Twenty children have no allergies; one child only eats halal food; two children are gluten-intolerant.”
    * Every time classroom food was being brought in, parents would need to: a) list ingredients in full; and b) provide store-bought alternatives for children with whatever allergies/religious diets their food did not satisfy.

    Food intolerances are a disability like any other disability. They need to be reasonably accommodated. Having extra food for lactose-intolerant kids is a good and reasonable accommodation. But the accommodation we’re hewing to right now as a nation is to just ban all food from classrooms, which destroys a much-loved tradition of birthday celebration and also takes a vital dimension out of cross-cultural learning.

    1. Arithmechick, thanks for providing the perfect example of the privilege that Steph is talking about. That you would value “much-loved tradition” and cross-cultural learning-by-food over another child’s well-being or feeling of inclusion is *exactly* the problem that she was addressing. You even admit that your solution to the problem is a lot of steps, and I’m unaware of any school that would be willing to take on that extra work and liability so you can send your home-baked treats for your child, while continuing to “other” any child who must accept the store-bought alternative.

    2. We are not just talking about lactose intolerance, but life-threatening food allergies. I, for one, would not like added responsibility if a child were to die because I didn’t know that flour was milled in the same facility as nuts or because their peanut allergy is airborne (which is possible). Your desire to bake goods for your child’s class to share doesn’t outweigh the school’s interest in protecting children from harm. Commercially prepared goods must disclose ingredients. I think you’d feel differently if your child were to have a life-threatening allergy. Your privilege is showing.

    3. Every student in a kid’s class isn’t their “friend” any more than every coworker in an office are friends. School can and should be fun and a place a child wants to go, but it’s also primarily an institution where they are supposed to gain an education. It’s nice to acknowledge birthdays, but the most meaningful celebrations are hopefully taking place at home.

      On schools doing more to fit the middle ground, yeah, this is where middle class people just don’t get it. Teachers in the poor, inner city schools are already overburdened and paid less than their counterparts in the more affluent burbs. With so many students suffering from the hardships of poverty, those teachers already have plenty to deal with, and less resources to help them. The school policies fit the situation, which for schools (and actually the whole communities) in economically depressed areas is dire. My kid attends a preschool that serves many underprivileged kids, many with allergies and mild to severe disabilities. All food shared must be store bought. Which makes sense, especially considering the staff’s high stress load combined with not quite competitive pay.

      A lot needs to be done to alleviate the hardships of poverty before we can go back to the days when home cooked food was an integral part of the fabric of society.

  9. My daughter’s school seems to have struck a decent balance. Home baked goods are allowed, though store bought are preferred. A list of kids with allergies/ restrictions is posted visibly in the class and parents are requested to be aware. Kids with dangerous allergies are taught not to take foods that may be problematic. And (the best bit) the teacher keeps a stock of goodies in her drawer to hand out if necessary so no-one feels left out. In a similar vein, I have sent some store bought dried fruit treats along with the home-made cupcakes.

  10. I think the whole discussion is way more about the desires of adults to recreate their own happy childhood memories than it is about the actual likes and needs of children.
    Don’t get me wrong, I get the idea, I understand the idea, there are a couple of totally random traditions I stick to “because it wouldn’t be X without Y!”
    But at some point adults should take a step back and ask themselves about who this actually is.
    Homemade cupcakes rock. I love cupcakes. I made cupcakes for most of the kids’ kindergarten birthdays, but I don’t actually think that the little critters really appreciated that these were real good-to-honest-homemade-with-love-and-no-ready-mix-cupcakes. They liked celebrating and having cake and the fact that there was probably more artificial foodcolouring than they usually see in a full month.*
    My usual frosting is cream based. Now there is a boy with lactose intolerance, so the frosting is out of question (or I need to switch to lactose free cream). And if there were other children with allergies I would find something that takes that into account, too. If that means buying something, well, that’s three hours of my life I won’t spend making cupcakes. Many parents just bring something store-bought. Their children don’t seem unhappy to me. Because here’s what I don’t want to do: In an attempt to create happy memories for my child, I don’t want to create memories of always being left out of everything for another child

    *I once made cookiemonster cupcakes, they were very blue

    1. Giliell – this is not the first time where I find myself nodding in agreement while reading your comment. I am not English or American, haven’t tasted cupcakes until I was over thirty, and I can’t even comprehend why sending cakes to the school would be a good idea in the first place. (25-30 kids in a class, that’s, like, having a birthday celebration every two weeks?)

      1. Uhm, thanks
        I am not ‘Meiricun /British either, but I really like American style baking and cooking, which has a bad reputation it totally doesn’t deserve (thank you, McD!)
        I’m positively in love with cupcakes and muffins and brownies myself, partly because they are so handy, especially when dealing with children: no knives, no plates, no forks needed!
        Thinking about this again I think the whole discussion shows another kind of privilege as well: Having the skills, being able and having the time to make “real cupcakes/ whatever”. Because how is the middle-class mommy-warrior supposed to ascertain her dominance and mommy-skills if she has to bring something storebought like the rest of them?

  11. In all fairness to the writer, she did specifically say that life-threatening issues should be accommodated.

    What she’s bothered about are the mild things that aren’t life-threatening or overly serious. Things like an “intolerance” to something. She is suggesting that the intolerance of a few to something should not mean that the rest of the class can’t participate.

    In the end, though, my vote would be to limit the amount of this nonsense that goes on in schools anyway. Are we celebrating every kid’s birthday now? How much class time is going to spent eating cupcakes and candy? Frankly, with the obesity rate in the US, American schools should not be feeding kids gummy bears and candies anyway. Also, celebrating birthdays throughout the school year is unfair to the kids whose birthdays fall in the summer and around Christmas. They never get a birthday celebration.

    1. Bringing food that triggers an intolerance is still creating the same issue.
      The child with the intolerance either has to forego the shared treat, or spend the day with their learning impaired because of a headache, diarrhea, nausea and/or gas (and who wants to be the ‘stinky’ kid at school?).

    2. Who is she to judge which intolerance or allergy is serious enough? Only anaphylaxis? How about diarrhea? Headaches? Hives all over one’s body? Life isn’t fair. I am all for kids not celebrating birthdays and holidays at school period.

    3. Good point. My birthday is in June, which explains why I don’t give a crap about interruptions of regular school schedules to celebrate birthdays. I was also annoyed at how much normal programming in my daughter’s tots rec program was spent eating birthday cupcakes.

  12. Something I haven’t seen mentioned yet is that particularly at the daycare/preschool level, there may be legal and licensing issues as well. I remember as parents being dismayed when my son’s daycare stopped doing it’s “family traditions” holiday potluck lunch, where everyone brought in something from their personal December holiday traditions. It was lovely and the parents and older kids loved it (not sure the toddlers cared much, other than it being special that their parents showed up for lunch). For the first year, they replaced it with punch and storebought cookies at pick-up, which was just kind of silly, and then they stopped altogether. It wasn’t because they suddenly decided they didn’t want to have a holiday party – licensing requirements changed and if they wanted to keep their license, they had to stop accepting any sort of homemade goods. So, blaming school officials and coming up with alternative solutions is only as good as the cause of the problem.

    To the extent that these requirements end up stifiling creative teachers who want to use food as a teaching tool, that sucks, for sure. But I think that we already put too much emphasis on celebrating every student’s special day in a dozen different places. Food may be culturally important, but it is not essential to every single commeration, particularly when there *are* ways around it, they just might not fit our idea of perfection as parents. Kids are happy to have a treat and a break from routine, in my experience. They don’t necessarily care if the treat is a cupcake or a doughnut (what my son asks to take in usually for his “actually-a-summer-birthday-but-can’t-leave-kids-out” school celebration) or a bottle of bubbles to take home.

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