Balancing Safety And Normalcy: A Study Of Parents' Management Of Young Children's Severe Food Allergies




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While severe food allergies have been extensively studied by physicians, sociologists have not yet examined the parental management of children's severe food allergies. In this thesis, I examine how parents negotiate physical, emotional, and social issues that arise in daily life with a severely allergic child. Severe food allergy management is not an easy task given the potentially fatalistic nature of severe food allergies coupled with the inadequate level of social awareness of such allergies. In order to better understand the parental management of food allergies, I interviewed twelve parents of severely food allergic children regarding the various spheres of allergy management including physical, emotional and social management. Through the use of qualitative coding and data analysis, this study, anchored in a grounded theory approach, revealed the emergence of several sociologically relevant phenomena or themes: intensive parenting, collective legitimization and the negotiation of difference. Intensive parenting emerged as an overarching theme in that these parents were very child-centered and emotionally absorbed in the management of their children's allergies. Collective legitimization was also observed as a mechanism of intensive parenting. Parents utilized a variety of strategies, such as creating group cohesion with other parents of children with severe food allergies, in order to legitimize their children's allergies to themselves and outsiders. Finally, through the negotiation of difference parents worked diligently to offset social stigmas in a world of intensive parenting.