If you’re one of the many parents raising a child with a food allergy or special diet needs, the thought of sending your child off with your ex for visitation or parenting time may make your stomach clench with worry. Follow these steps to ensure your child’s needs are met while with the other parent.
The very first step is to educate the other parent. Ask him to come to a doctor or nutritionist appointment or offer to set one up at his convenience. The most important thing you can do is have a professional stress the importance of the diet and lay out all the dos and don’ts. You might be able to tell your ex everything he needs to know, but it’s all going to carry more weight coming from a professional in a position of authority. It’s very important that the medical professional tell your ex what the consequences are of NOT following the prescribed diet.
Provide your ex with a clearly written sheet of dos and don’ts. For example, if you child is a celiac, you could print out a list from the Internet detailing surprising foods that often have hidden gluten. A list of no-no foods is very helpful, but also make a list of foods, brands, and products that are safe for your child to eat.
Remind your ex that he must be ever vigilant when eating at restaurants or at other people’s homes with your child. Teach him how to ask – and what to ask- about food that is being offered to your child. Give suggestions about what alternatives to offer your child when he wants something he can’t have. In the beginning, it may even be necessary for you to pack a bag with some food items to be certain your ex has some products available.
In many cases, all of this will be enough to keep your child safe. In some cases though, the other parent can make things difficult. It’s a good idea to ask about what your child has eaten while away. Red flags are statements like “My mom fed him something,” or “We just ate at X restaurant.” That’s not enough information for either of you!
If you have real doubts about your ex’s ability to stay on track with your child’s diet, start a food log and send it along on visitation, asking your ex to fill it out. To make things a bit less confrontational, fill out the log for when your child is with you. This way it will seem like a joint effort and your log entries will provide an excellent model for your ex to follow.
Empower Your Child
If your child is old enough, you can educate him or her about what he and can’t eat. You are probably already doing this, but many children would not think to question choices a parent is making for them, so make sure your child understands that the diet comes first, no matter what anyone, even a parent says.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner (McGraw-Hill), The Complete Divorce Handbook (Sterling) How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest (Sourcebooks) and No-Fight Divorce: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation (McGraw-Hill). Her web site is BretteSember.com.