I recently sat down for a chat with Lidia Santos from ParenTeen Parental Coaching for a discussion about a seldom discussed topic: parenting a child who struggles with an eating disorder. Lidia helps parents who are struggling with the challenges of parenting when facing scary behaviors and mental health issues such as autism, drug use, gender identity, and various other unpredictable scenarios. I was happy to contribute to her parenting group to relate with parents and validate the challenges faced when parenting someone with ED.
Children begin taking notice to the size and shape of their bodies sooner than you think. An astounding, 42% of girls in grades 1-3 "want to be thinner" according to an older study done in 1991. (I would venture to guess this number has increased over time.) People often assume that this is a primarily female issue, however, it is often present and overlooked in males. ED knows no boundaries. ED reaches all sexes, all ages, all levels of fitness and all races. Eating Disorders intimately touch the lives roughly 9% of the population worldwide and are second only to opioid overdose in the mortality rate amongst mental illnesses. This is a mental illness. It is extremely tricky, scary, and NEEDS to be talked about. But, when you are a parent of a child who is gripped by this disease, you often become silent. Why?
Out of fear.
Our children mean everything to us. We bring them into the world watching the light in their eyes as they discover every beautiful thing. We teach them what we know and find people to help teach what they don't know. We love them, care for them, coach and nurture them, and pray for them in the hope that, somehow, we might be doing it "right". When you find yourself in the midst of the unknown world of ED, you learn what it is like to truly be scared. Scared that your child may never heal. Scared that your child may never experience the life you envisioned. Scared that one day you will lose them to the voice in their head. Often, you don't dare talk about it because you recognize that it is the most delicate of situations.
Parenting becomes a marathon of doctor appointments, meetings with nutritionists and therapists, meal prepping, refeeding, arguing, crying, trying to take care of your other responsibilities. --- Responsibilities that, now, seem so miniscule you wonder how you even thought you were ever stressed and struggling with time management issues were before.
You suddenly spend every spare minute researching and reading everything you can, to learn what your child is going through, thinking the answer, the "fix", must be out there. Somewhere. But, it's not. What is out there is very little support. There's not much in the way of others who are "in it" wanting to share. There aren't enough therapists that specialize in treating this type of thing. What you can find are groups and social media posts and profiles that helps CREATE the very thing your are trying to destroy. You can find, often unaffordable, treatment centers and begin to brainstorm how you can make it work. You can spend countless hours fighting with insurance providers or treatment centers or both.
When your wheels aren't spinning to find treatment, you're meal prepping and watching. Constantly watching.
"Is she actually eating?"
"Is she cheating? Sneaking? Lying?"
"How can I get more calories in her?"
"There must be SOMETHING to make this easier."
The road to recovery from eating disorder is long, often lifelong. It's also not your road as a parent. Yes. Read that again: It's not YOUR road.
If I am only able to ever convince a parent of ONE single thing it is this: Your child has his/her very own journey and it is not within your control.
Yes, you are the parent and you control a lot of things while you're raising your kids. There are simply some things that are outside of your control. Accept that. Continue coaching, teaching, nurturing, caring for, holding accountable - the list goes on... Contribute to the very best of your capabilities... But, recognize when it may be time to take a step back and allow your child to learn to walk this path.
You didn't fail. You didn't create this illness (neither did they). You will be a steadfast supporter and cheerleader, but you cannot do this for them. There is no "FIX". There is no one size fits all. What there is, is a relationship that needs you. So, control what you can... YOUR journey... Practice self care (even though it is extremely difficult during times like these). The best thing you can do is continue to take care of yourself, so that you can continue to be there when your child needs to be pulled back and reminded how loved they truly are. Because you will need to remind them.
My interview with Lidia is now available for you to view and the topic of eating disorders and parenting will be one we visit often. I want other parents (like you) to know that you are not alone and you can talk about it. That's what I'm here for.
You can contact me with questions or to find out more about my personal development services at anytime!