Mom's lessons learned from raising a gluten free child, Emma (left), Joel (husband, dad at middle) and me

Mom’s lessons learned from raising a gluten free child; Emma (left), Joel (husband, dad at middle) and me

There are so many lessons to be learned throughout our lives, whether it’s when we are kids, during college or the military, through marriage, divorce, death, and having children.  

The fact that my daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease so early in life really helped me as an adult, teaching me lessons that have turned out to be very valuable — and I am certain I have not yet learned them all. 

I was in my 20’s when Emma was diagnosed with celiac.  I was young enough to be terrified and old enough to know I had to take action.  Over the last 14 years I have learned a lot.  In no particular order, here are some lessons I have learned along the journey with our gluten free kid.

How to cook!  When I say this, I don’t mean how to cook gluten free. Well..actually I do mean that. But in general having to cook gluten free forced me to learn how to cook!   I wasn’t one to really learn how to cook from scratch.  I am certain my mom took time to try and teach me…but I didn’t have much interest. Then Emma’s diagnosis came in 2000.  I had to learn.  There were not any gluten-free frozen pizzas or “hot pocket” style convenience foods.  Heck there was hardly a cracker for my teething toddler to gnaw on.

I also wasn’t creative by any stretch.  I think my first “masterpiece” and subsequent go-to was my infamous dish of “hamburger, chips and cheese”.  Yes, it is as simple as it sounds: ground beef (not even spiced up with salt and pepper), Fritos and grated Colby-Jack cheese.  14 years later, I still am not overly creative and I get frustrated when a gluten-free dish or treat doesn’t turn out as wonderfully as it does in my head.  But I do know much more about cooking than ever, plus I now have an interest in it too.

When it comes to cooking I still need to come up with patience.  My next move needs to be teaching some cooking basics to my gluten free daughter!lessons

Reading Labels. Reading labels may not be a life lesson many think of, but more people should do it. I know much more about what is in our family’s food now than ever before.  This recent research resonated with me when I think of the pre-celiac days. I was not reading labels (although I would hope that I would think salmon is healthier than Spam).

But since her diagnosis, I have become accustomed to reading ingredient labels.  I can choose whether my family eats something based on the ingredients.  Do we really want high-fructose corn syrup?  Does applesauce or other fruit really need sugar added?  What about artificial sweeteners? From yogurt to gum and popular beverages, they are in many products.  I have become sensitive to them in the last few years and now avoid the G-2 and Crystal Light’s of the world because of fake sweetener.  

Pre-celiac, I was looking at the fat content versus calories and didn’t look at the actual ingredients.

Prepare to take control.  Sometimes you just gotta do it.   In my younger years, allowing someone else to be in charge would have been something I was fine with.  But now, I believe that taking control of a situation has given me the least disappointing results.  I know what you’re thinking– “control freak!”  But when I have relinquished control over gluten-free food, that’s when mistakes happen.

The question is, do I translate the taking control into other areas of my life?  I think I have done this:  1. organizing the local celiac walk in MN for several years, and 2. (outside the gluten-free world) race directing events for thousands of runners. My goal is to let go of that gluten-free control as Emma gets deeper into high school and heads to college.  Cross your fingers for me will you?

Take time to learn more!  Reading a book for fun, unfortunately isn’t high on my priority list.  I wish I did it more.  But reading to further my education in all things gluten free is something I am prepared to jump into.  Whether it is a book, magazine or online, I want to know the latest that is going on in the celiac and gluten-free communities.  I also like to go to conferences when I can! There is lots to be learned there.

I have also extended my learning to other areas of interest including blogging, social media, presenting and content marketing.  I would love to go to graduate school someday — I am thinking nutrition/dietary or maybe health journalism?  A girl can dream right?

Finally, I learned the lesson to explore your passion.  My daughter constantly reminds me that I should be thanking her for getting celiac because what would I be doing if she didn’t have that?  Good question.  Her illness, diagnosis (and misdiagnoses), my quest for information, confusion, and grief  led me to this.  I felt a huge burden (as well as a new purpose) to keep her healthy and off gluten after her celiac diagnosis. It lit an inner fire in me that was previously non-existent.   Now here I am, raising awareness, researching, educating, writing, and speaking on all things gluten free, and I love it!

Life lessons from the gluten-free world don’t always have to be celiac-centric.  I have learned many life lessons over the last few years, and I am a better wife, mother, employee, volunteer, and yes, gluten-free manager, because of it.  


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