Special food diets are usually required for kids with food allergies, but how do you make sure that your ex will ensure your child's needs are met during visitation? The following tips and ideas can help...
by Brette Sember
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.
If you have an ex who either does not believe the special diet is important or who seems to be unable to follow it out of laziness or even just to spite you, you need to take action. Document what is happening (make dated notes about interference with the diet as well as the consequences your child experiences). Then go back to court. Depending on your situation you can ask for a few different things. Some parents just need a judge to tell them they have to follow the diet. It may be enough to have your custody order modified to include a directive that both parents follow the recommendations of the child's doctor about diet. If that isn't going to do it, you can ask to have visitation modified so that your child is not with your ex at meals or so that your ex has supervised visitation, where another responsible adult is present and can make sure the diet is being followed.
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Even if you don't have to deal with special food diets and food allergies, there are plenty of other co-parenting challenges that can trip you up. Keep reading to find out how to handle them: