When our children develop eating disorders, we tend to jump into action and place all the work on our own shoulders. Helping a child heal from an eating disorder can easily become all-encompassing, especially for high-achieving, perfectionist mothers.
Many of us feel the need to scale back on our career goals and feel we have to sacrifice time with our husbands and other children in order to support our child with an eating disorder. It goes without saying that we sacrifice meaningful time with our friends and other “optional” relationships to focus on our sick child.
But we must realize that this is neither healthy or necessary. Additionally, we can actually impede the healing process if we sacrifice our own mental health for the sake of our child’s.
If we only focus on our children’s eating disorders and lose sight of our own needs, our children will not heal. Even during the process of eating disorder recovery, we need to pay attention to our own needs as mothers, women, and daughters. We need to avoid isolation more than ever and gain the support we need. Isolation works against us – it leads to mental illness, addiction, and physical illness.
Our children know that if we are suffering emotionally, they will suffer emotionally. If we are unable to get our emotional needs met, they will be unable to get their emotional needs met.
Our children can sense when our career plans stall. They can sense when our marriages become unhappy. They can sense when we feel as if we are failing at parenting our other children. And our children who have eating disorders feel that they are responsible for these breakdowns in our lives.
They feel it, and it puts them in the uncomfortable position of trying to simultaneously get their needs met while trying not to add to our burdens. It means that even as we put our hearts and souls into helping them heal, they are not able to do so fully as long as they are crippling us in the process.
This is why we need to remember that taking care of ourselves as mothers, women, and daughters ourselves, is critical. We are simply unable to meet our children’s needs if we are not healthy ourselves.
Ginny Jones is the editor of More-Love.org. She writes about parenting, body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders. Ginny is also a Parent Coach who helps parents handle their kids’ food and body issues.