One day, your child is a little kid playing with Legos and dolls. The next, they’re asking you for a gym membership. Cutting out carbs. Going vegan. At first, you were proud. Envious, even. You wished you had that kind of self control. Then it turned into something else.
The excuses to miss dinner.
Isolating in their room more and more.
The irritability and constant sad mood.
And the weight loss that just seems excessive now.
One day, your child is a little kid playing with Legos and dolls. The next, it’s as though some unknown force has taken over your child, your household, your lives. Suddenly the whole dynamic has shifted -- everything now revolves around your child’s moods and food preferences. At first, you try to be helpful: you go on missions to get the food he or she will eat, only to find most of it thrown away. You fight. You try to get them to come out of their room once in awhile. You’re exhausted and you don’t know how much longer you can take it, then you feel guilty because you’re beginning to see that your child is even more exhausted and frustrated. Your child needs serious help.
You see the doctor, you find a therapist, and you try to piece things back together. But what do you do in between therapy visits? What do you do at 8PM when your child is still sitting at the table, dinner untouched? What do you do when you feel like you just can’t go on?
Here are the three truths that parents of kids with eating disorders need to know:
1. “Buy the book, but don’t go by the book”
One of my clients recently offered her parents this wise advice. In short: educate yourself. Buy and read all the books you can. But at the end of the day, the most relevant experience is that of your child’s. I have a list of resources on my website that can offer parents amazing insight into the world of a person with an eating disorder and can inform you about the latest research and available treatments. But at the end of the day, you must deeply listen to your child. What works for one person, may not work for another. With the help of his or her therapist, your child will slowly gain insight into the eating disorder and will begin to have the ability to communicate his or her needs to you. Remember that your child may be learning about the eating disorder right along with you, and that the sufferer is often just as “in the dark” as everyone else.
2. Ban All Things Diet
Appearances are a huge part of our lives. Diet and exercise is a common topic of conversation at work and among family and friends. However, this kind of talk can be extremely distressing and triggering to a person with an eating disorder. I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough: ban all talk of diets, weight, and all things related, here and now. Focus instead on the things that really matter: talk at the dinner table about what everyone is reading or watching. Talk with your friends about their plans for the weekend instead of their plans to lose weight. Model for your child that food and weight are not all that important in the grand scheme of things.
3. You have the right to get support for yourself
Bravo on getting your child therapy. Even bigger Bravo if that therapist is a Certified Eating Disorders Specialist and you’re working with a team. Research shows that the earlier the right treatment is initiated, the better the outcome. Your child is now getting support and is maybe even doing a bit better now. But where does that leave you? After all, you’re the one in the trenches day after day. You’re the one who is still feeling powerless, terrified, and fatigued. Who do you talk to, especially when your child wants to keep things private?
Know this: you MUST get support for YOU, or you will not be able to be there for your child. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Find someone, anyone, to talk to. Join a support group. Talk to your best friend. Get your own therapist. Not only do you deserve it, but it is vitally important that you get it. Take care of you, so that you can take care of your child.