If you are a mom who has a child with an eating disorder, then chances are good that you laugh maniacally when people suggest you care for yourself. How can you possibly care for yourself when there is so much to do?!?!?
But the fact is that if you don’t care for yourself, you will burn out. It may be in small ways, it may be in spectacular ways, but make no doubt about it, you will burn out if all you do is give, give, give.
As important as it is for you to give love to your child who is struggling with an eating disorder, it is equally important for you to learn to accept love to refill your reserves. Love is infinite – but only if you replenish it. Energy, on the other hand, is absolutely not infinite. So you must learn to take in more love so you can give more love, but you must also learn to prioritize the things you need to do so that you can manage your energy.
I know you can’t possibly imagine having any time for any of this, but please consider some of the following self-care activities for yourself:
Ask for emotional care
You may not even realize that you have become spectacularly bad at getting your own emotional needs met. But you need to get better, and it all begins with actively telling your family how they can take care of you. We said this article was about self-care, but a big part of self-care is learning to ask for care from others.
After a long day, ask your partner for a hug. A long, good hug. Not a quick, sort-of hug. Before you take her to her friend’s house, ask your daughter to sit next to you on the couch and tell you one thing about her day, then tell her one thing about your day. Call your mom, best friend, or biggest fan, and tell her that you are in desperate need of hearing what’s good about you. It’s a shameless request for adoration, and you freaking need it!
Ask for your own connection and attention needs clearly, directly, and with no apologies and no excuses. Don’t whine. Don’t nag. Just ask for what you need when you need it. Aside from being good for your soul, it’s great for your family to see what it means to ask for emotional caretaking.
Pay attention to the good stuff
It’s too easy in life to notice only the bad stuff. Our brains are hard-wired to pay attention to the negatives, glossing over the positives. It is critical in learning to care for yourself to actively and consciously pay attention to the good things that are done for you throughout the day.
For example, maybe your partner makes you coffee every morning. Sure – you might do 500 other things, but that one thing – that coffee – is important. Don’t forget that it was a nice thing, and other people do nice things for you. Pay attention!
Maybe your daughter was at the mall and bought you a silly little lip gloss that you will never use, and you can’t figure out why she bought it. Doesn’t she know you have 25 lip glosses already? Plus, you had to drive her both ways, and didn’t she use your money to buy it? Still. At some point in her day, your daughter thought of you. Other people think about you. Pay attention!
Whenever someone thinks of you – no matter how small (or lame) the thought – grab onto it and pay attention. Ignore the nasty voice in your head that wants to tell you how much you do vs. the other person. That voice will not help you feel better. That voice is a bitch. Don’t listen. Instead, pay attention to every little thing that anyone in the world does for you.
The little things will start to get sticky in your mind. You will feel better. Plus, you will start providing pure (not bitter) positive feedback when you receive good things, and the other people in your life will start to do more good things because positive (not bitter) feedback feels really good and motivates them to seek more of it. It’s like magic. Except it’s not. It’s totally something in your power.
Take a timeout
You don’t have to always be on the clock. It’s OK for you to check out sometimes. Just do it intentionally. Don’t slump down on the couch with your phone and mindlessly scroll through Instagram. It’s almost guaranteed that at that very minute someone will come in and ask you to do something for them. Then you’ll be even grumpier than before.
Instead, actively put yourself in a timeout, preferably away from your family in a quiet place where they can’t interrupt you. If you want to mindlessly scroll through Instagram, announce that you are going to your room for 15 minutes to rest. Savor every single minute of mindlessness. Your partner might do this regularly in the bathroom. Don’t be afraid to try this very effective technique!
Or take yourself for a walk. This is a great solution because if you go for a 15-minute walk, there is no reason for you to take your phone with you. That means nobody can text you, call you, knock on the door, or otherwise hunt you down to ask you where the peanut butter is or whether they can go to a friend’s house. Don’t take your phone, just announce that you are going for a device-free walk, and leave the house.
Find ways big and small to actively remove yourself from the center of the household. Take baby steps at first if you must, but be persistent in taking up your own space in your family’s life. You don’t have to go away for a girl’s weekend or get your nails done to take “me time” – those things happen only once in a while. But you can take several mini-breaks every single day, and viola – you’ll be a self-care queen in no time!
Most important of all, don’t stress out about self-care. It doesn’t need to be a big deal. Most of the time it’s just about noticing, paying attention, speaking up, and taking up your own space. You can do it! Your family will benefit – they may not always like it, but they will definitely benefit!
Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to help their kids recover from eating disorders, body image issues, and other mental health conditions. She’s the founder of More-Love.org, an online resource supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders, and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with mental health issues.
Ginny has been researching and writing about eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.