As we consider the reasons behind our daughters’ eating disorders, it can be helpful to consider what we have to learn as mothers, daughters, and women. Are our daughters providing a mirror? Are they offering us an opportunity to work on our own insecurities, anxieties, and obsessions?
Our daughters perceive so much more than they are capable of vocalizing. Our daughters can feel that mothers are increasingly overwhelmed and disconnected from their own needs as women. Since we are their primary role models for what it means to be a woman, this leads to confusion and distress about their future in this world.
This is why, even as we devote ourselves to caring for our children, we must also seek ways to be cared for ourselves.
As we seek therapies for our daughters, we must also seek therapies for ourselves.
Women who have eating disorders frequently learn during the healing process that they have been using food, or the absence of food, as a way to metabolize painful feelings. Our daughters who binge find they have been using food to push distressing feelings down when they arise. Our daughters who restrict often find that they use food restriction as a way to gain control of their lives, which feel dangerously emotional and unmanageable.
As a society, we do not have many tools for the healthy metabolizing of uncomfortable feelings. It is not something most of us learn from our own mothers, at school, work, or anywhere else. Instead, most of us use external sources to metabolize feelings. Food, alcohol, prescription drugs, sex, shopping, and all sorts of compulsions large and small act as stand-ins for healthy emotional metabolism.
When we pay attention to our daughters who have eating disorders, we may begin to notice that we ourselves are using bingeing or restriction as a way to handle the stresses of life. We may notice that, as women, we are not getting our emotional needs met, and we are turning to external behaviors to help us cope.
Our daughters’ eating disorders can help us notice our own patterns of emotional metabolism. Do we really “feel” our feelings, or do we try to push them down or control them with unhealthy numbing behaviors?
One of the keys to eating disorder recovery is learning self-worth and learning how to get our needs met. As mothers support daughters in building self-worth and getting their needs met, we need to look in the mirror and determine how well we are getting our own needs met.
This is not something we can put off until later. It is not something that should wait until our daughters are healed fully and/or out of the house. It is not something that should wait.
When our daughters have eating disorders, it is like an alarm clock for our own selves. When we take the opportunity to look in the mirror and work on our own needs, we are better able to show our daughters what it means to be a fulfilled woman in the world today. And that is exactly what our daughters need from us.
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.