10 Things Parents Who’ve ‘Been There’ Want You to Know
We all know parenting is tough enough.
It’s a full-time ‘career’ which comes with all sorts of anxieties, frustrations and challenges.
Should you then find yourself having to deal with a child suffering an eating disorder – well goodness only knows it gets a whole lot tougher.
So what should you know?
How do you protect your sanity and the stability of your entire family, when this devastating mental health illness is now infiltrating your home.
Here’s 10 ‘need to knows’ which our community of parents want to share with you:
1 The illness and your child are different entities
Yes, we know that the eating disorder can turn a child into someone who is deceitful, angry, manipulative and infuriating.
It’s vital you remember that your child now has a manipulative gremlin controlling him or her like a puppet.
See the two as entirely separate. Your wonderful loving child is still there.
2 It’s not about what you did
It helps no-one for you to reproach yourself for that diet you went on last summer, for the fact you occasionally complain about the size of your thighs, or even that you agreed to swap the milk from whole to skimmed when your daughter requested it.
Regret and self assassination will not help your child get well.
It matters less what has happened in the past, and more what happens now. Focus your energy where it’s due.
3 You absolutely must maintain the helm of the kitchen
So often, families find themselves being talked into a new kitchen regime which is entirely manipulated by the child who is suffering.
That might mean a child convincing you they’ll eat if they take control of all the cooking, or that they need to be allowed to be alone in the kitchen for three hours across every dinnertime.
Stand your ground. It’s the gremlin of the illness trying to manipulate you all. You’ll help your child more by maintaining authority in the kitchen until such time as you can gently start to do more collective cooking and food prep, and then allowing the child to do more for themselves.
4 Your WHOLE family needs you
It’s tempting to focus all your energy and attention on the child. Don’t forget, however, that the entire unit of your family needs nurturing.
Neglecting your marriage or relationships with other siblings will not help anyone.
See it as a rowing boat in which ideally all the crew would be using their oars and rowing effectively. Just because one person has dropped their oars and is in distress, it won’t help for the rest of the crew to leap around the boat, drop their oars or remove the balance of the vessel.
5 Self care (and self compassion) is crucial
Be kind to yourself and look at how you’re going to continue to get support as you go through this journey.
Will you need befriending support, time out for a daily walk, someone to vent to? Look after yourself and you’ll be better able to support your child.
6 Others will surprise you (so be prepared)
Please don’t kid yourself that everyone will have the compassion and understanding about eating disorders, which you might hope they would.
You’ll hear all sorts of comments – ‘can’t you just tell her to eat’; ‘if it were me I’d just tell her to eat what I’ve made or go without’; ‘what is it about young girls and vanity…she’ll snap out of it’; ‘that must be because you did that diet last year’.
Try not to get caught up in these unhelpful comments.You can give energy to informing them more about the illness if you wish – or simply ignore their rhetoric and focus on you and yours.
7 Your child thinks about food ALL THE TIME
This baffles parents who come into eating disorder support with no previous understanding of the illness.
The nature of mental hunger when someone is in ‘famine’ is that the person thinks constantly about the thing their body is craving – food.
Don’t be surprised at the obsession with cookbooks, recipes, food pictures, Instagram feeds of dishes, food programmes.
The more someone recovers, the more this obsession subsides.
8 Hope and focus are really important
It will help your child to be thinking more about what lies in front of them.
Maintain conversations which provide hope, focus and aspiration. This might be about exploring what their career or educational intentions are.
These things help the person to have a focus on what is possible if they recover.
In life, we all need purpose.
9 You have a right to challenge the professionals
If you feel you’ve been dismissed, treated poorly, or are not receiving due consideration from a healthcare professional or therapist, call it out.
Don’t be batted away.
Even if you’re told your child is not ‘sick enough’ or doesn’t have a BMI as severe as others, stick to your guns and to your resolute belief that ‘your child deserves support’.
10 Recovery really is possible
There’s no hiding the fact that eating disorders are difficult to navigate and treat – but recovery from one IS possible.
Maintain the hope, and keep fighting for your child’s restoration.
Can we help? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sep 2020