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Help! My Mom Insists on Bringing Shrimp to My Home for Christmas Even Though I’m Very Allergic. What Should I Do?

published Dec 20, 2019
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Dear Marge,

I’m hosting Christmas dinner this year and my mother wants to bring shrimp cocktail as an hors d’oeuvre. I appreciate the offer, but the problem is that I have a severe shellfish allergy and am sensitive to cross-contamination, which she knows. She insists that most other guests like shrimp and will appreciate it, and that we’ll keep it away from the other food. I’ve repeatedly told her I’m not comfortable with this and that it’s an unnecessary risk, and even tried putting my foot down, saying “this is my house and I say no.” But she still insists. What am I supposed to do?


Allergic Daughter

Dear AD,

I am so sorry. It must feel awful that your mother is deaf to your needs. 

She didn’t listen when you firmly told her you don’t want shrimp in the house, so you may need to issue an ultimatum. Think it through, though: you must be willing to live with the consequences. If you are ready to accept the possible outcome, then I suggest that when you deliver your ultimatum, you do so in as calm a tone as you can muster. Try to not let your feelings of anger, disappointment, and/or frustration come through. Seriously, go for an Oscar-worthy performance. It is a matter of self-preservation. 

Before you even speak to her, though, secure the support of at least one family member who is willing to be the “greeter” at your door and not allow any potentially toxic-to-you foods in the house.  As much as I hope and even presume your mother would not try to sneak any in, that person’s presence is also importantly symbolic: it signals to her just how serious you are, and also that you have support.

Then, have a conversation with your mother.  Tell her you are looking forward to the holidays, and that you would like her to bring her [insert another dish], which you have always loved. It is important to give her an alternative that she will feel proud to bring. Without pausing long enough for her to argue, acknowledge that you appreciate that everyone likes shrimp, but fortunately they care about you more, and don’t want to risk your health. You might also mention that when the host ends up in the hospital, it ruins Christmas for everyone. 

Let her know you have support: that your husband/sister/uncle will be standing at the door to ensure no food that makes you ill crosses the threshold. In other words, there will be a shrimp bouncer checking all parcels! (I would suggest that, even if she agrees not to bring it, you still have that greeter, whose presence sends a message of solidarity and determination.)

If she still pushes back, your final statement to her is that she can choose to either join you for Christmas without the shrimp, or not join you at all. From my heart, I hope it does not come down to this. 

With wishes for a warm, loving, and healthy holiday,

— Marge

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