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Changing family traditions when there’s an eating disorder

Changing family traditions when there’s an eating disorder

This is an interview in which Ginny Jones, founder of More-Love.org, shares her thoughts on how families can cope with family traditions when there’s an eating disorder in the family.

1. Why might the winter holidays be particularly difficult for individuals affected by eating disorders? What types of challenges might arise in the next few months?

I think the biggest issue is that many families focus on food-based activities for the holidays. And I get it: it makes sense to do things like sip hot cocoa, bake cookies, and gather around a meal. A lot of family traditions focus on food, but that can be hard when there’s an eating disorder in the family.

So I would look carefully at all the family traditions that we’re used to and consider whether there are ways we can make adjustments for the eating disorder. I like to focus on building connections and belonging without food being the central actor. 

When a person has an eating disorder, food-centered activities can be unpleasant. So rethink: can we switch things up? Maybe instead of making cookies, you can play a game. Instead of talking about food, you can talk about what you’re grateful for.

Holiday Help! Discounted Coaching Session for Parents

Ginny Jones is offering a limited number of discounted 30-minute coaching calls to specifically focus on preparing for the holidays. Get help planning a holiday gathering that doesn’t trigger or support eating disorder behavior. Ask your parents to stop policing your child’s plate. Interrupt Aunt Margaret when she starts talking about her diet. Tell Uncle Cornelius not to pinch your child’s side and wink about recent weight gain. Set boundaries and feel confident about how you handle the holidays this year.

2. What are some factors that families should consider as they think about to what extent they should participate in different traditions and celebrations this year?

I think you really need to plan ahead and think carefully about what you usually do and the state of your family right now. If someone is facing an eating disorder, that means they are in a tough place. And you probably are, too. So I would ask: what are the essentials? What will bring us together? What will feel good? And I would be willing to let things go if they aren’t feeling right this year. 

Just because we’ve done something for a few years or even a few decades doesn’t mean we have to keep doing them. The only thing we really need to keep doing is finding ways to learn and grow together. And this often means trying new things and taking novel approaches to how we belong together.

One of the seldom-discussed but essential elements of recovery is belonging. And I can think of no greater place to belong but in our own families. Yet many people who have eating disorders don’t feel like they belong in their families. 

So this year is a great time to think carefully about that and make sure the priority is focused on belonging rather than food, presents, or other more superficial aspects of the holidays. When families learn to build belonging with a child who is struggling with an eating disorder, they can make a significant impact on that child’s recovery.

3. How can families address unsolicited comments and questions from extended family members? How can families set healthy boundaries?

My first advice is to sit down and devote some time thinking through what is most likely to happen. You’ve known your family a long time, so you probably don’t need to be surprised. Sometimes when we’re afraid of something, we avoid thinking about it, or we think about it unproductively. 

So take some time and actually write down the characters and situations in your family that could be triggering. 

Then think through whether and how you should approach them before the event to kindly let them know if you have any requests. I have some scripts for doing this, but basically, you’re keeping it very specific and short. And you’re usually going to want to sandwich it with comments like “I know how much you love us,” and “we can’t wait to see you.” 

This gives the person the reminder that you know them and love them. And it takes some of the sting out of any requests you’re making.

Remember that hard conversations are, of course, hard. But relationships are living, growing things. They become superficial when we avoid depth and meaning. They falter when we only talk about the good and easy things. Facing hard conversations with family members is challenging. But it’s a healthy challenge to take on, and you will find that even if your family responds poorly to your boundaries, you will still learn and grow and strengthen your own communication skills in the process of talking to them.

4. If someone does notice that a loved one may need a little extra support or is showing symptoms of an eating disorder/relapse, what should/can they do?

My main advice is to stay really tuned into your child’s emotional state at all times, but especially during the holidays. 

By the time you’re seeing behaviors, it may be a bit too late to head them off. So you’re going to want to try and sense how your child is feeling. Often we’ll sense stress, overwhelm, and flooding before, during, and after big family events. So I want parents to tap into those sensations and respond to their child by seeing what’s going on and soothing them before it gets too bad. 

But if you miss the early signs of distress – and of course that happens – just respond as quickly as you can. When we see symptoms of the eating disorder, we want to avoid shame or judgment and respond with compassion. I would say something like “I’m guessing that you feel a bit stressed with everything that’s going on. It makes sense to me that you’re having a hard time. I’m here for you.” 

If you sense your child is distressed during an event, I would immediately take some time away from the group to connect with them and help them feel soothed. The last thing I want a child who has an eating disorder to do is to push down or numb their discomfort, so I teach parents to attend to their kids’ discomfort and help them cope in the safety of their relationship.

Sometimes this makes parents very uncomfortable because it means, in some ways, that they must choose between the comfort of their own parents and their child’s comfort. I understand that it can be terrifying to overcome your own patterns of behavior in your family of origin. However, it’s best if you prioritize your role as a parent and care for your child’s needs. Your parents are grownups; your child is your child. This may feel uncomfortable, but I think when you sit back and think through your values, you’ll see that it makes sense to be the parent your child needs you to be.

Holiday Help! Discounted Coaching Session for Parents

Ginny Jones is offering a limited number of discounted 30-minute coaching calls to specifically focus on preparing for the holidays. Get help planning a holiday gathering that doesn’t trigger or support eating disorder behavior. Ask your parents to stop policing your child’s plate. Interrupt Aunt Margaret when she starts talking about her diet. Tell Uncle Cornelius not to pinch your child’s side and wink about recent weight gain. Set boundaries and feel confident about how you handle the holidays this year.

5. How might families adapt their existing traditions to be more recovery-friendly? Or how might families create completely new traditions? 

I think the main thing is to reimagine what the holidays would be like with more connection and belonging and less of an emphasis on food. It’s not that you can’t enjoy food, but I think it’s helpful to de-center it. 

This may be a big shift for some people. For some families, the only way they connect with each other is over food. But I think it’s OK to challenge that assumption – that the only way we connect is through food – and find new ways to connect. You may find that you open up new avenues for belonging and connection, and that is a beautiful thing.

Additionally, you may need to set some boundaries about diet talk and body bashing. If your family has been connecting over this for decades, it’s going to be a hard habit to change. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s wrong. And you don’t have to do this perfectly to get started. 

Start having the tough conversations with your family of origin about how we talk about bodies. You can be the change-maker. You’re allowed to do this, and while it may be hard, it may ultimately open up new avenues for connection and belonging for you and your family members. 

When you have a child who has an eating disorder it can be an opportunity to review your values and determine what you want to continue doing, stop doing, and start doing. This is an amazing chance to see the world through new eyes and try new things. And the work you do on behalf of your child will positively impact you, too! Family traditions can continue with an eating disorder – it’s really just about being thoughtful and planning ahead.

Happy holidays, everyone! xoxo


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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A holiday letter to family about body positivity

A Christmas letter to family about body positivity

If you have adopted body positivity this year, it may help to send a letter to your family to share your new lifestyle in advance of any holiday gatherings. Many families participate in diet and fitness conversations and actively and passively promote the “ideal body.” They may perpetuate the myth that weight can and should be controlled through restrictive eating and over-exercise.

Getting out of the habit of talking about diets and weight can be hard for even the most enlightened family. This letter is designed to help you share your body positivity journey with your extended family during the holidays.

Letter to family about body positivity

Dear Family,

I’m looking forward to seeing you next week for Christmas! In the past year, our family has, for various reasons, embraced a body-positive approach to health. I wanted to tell you a little more about this in advance of the Christmas party so you’re aware of what’s going on with us. 

What is body positivity?

Body positivity has a lot of definitions, but our family defines it as having positive regard for all bodies. This means we respect bodies of all shapes, sizes, and weights. We embrace the truth that bodies come in all sizes and honor people for who they are, not for what they look like. Additionally, we don’t judge people negatively for having a larger body or positively for having a smaller body. We believe that all bodies deserve respect.

As a family, we also have learned about Intuitive Eating, which is a way of approaching health that has nothing to do with weight. With Intuitive Eating, we have learned to nourish our bodies, giving them what they need with joy and compassion. It’s been quite a change from our previous approach of dieting and exercising to meet specific weight goals. 

Holiday Help! Discounted Coaching Session for Parents

Ginny Jones is offering a limited number of discounted 30-minute coaching calls to specifically focus on preparing for the holidays. Get help planning a holiday gathering that doesn’t trigger or support eating disorder behavior. Ask your parents to stop policing your child’s plate. Interrupt Aunt Margaret when she starts talking about her diet. Tell Uncle Cornelius not to pinch your child’s side and wink about recent weight gain. Set boundaries and feel confident about how you handle the holidays this year.

Why is body positivity important?

Body positivity is an anti-discrimination stance. It’s founded on the belief that all people deserve respect and dignity regardless of their body’s appearance, health status, or ability. For too long our society has ostracized, blamed, and criticized people who fall outside of very narrow body ideals, and adopting body positivity fits our social and political beliefs because it is inclusive and anti-discrimination. 

Aside from lofty ideals, body positivity is also protective against anxiety, depression, suicidality, eating disorders, and other mental and emotional disorders. And – get this – it’s also healthier! People who are body-positive have better health outcomes than people who pursue specific weight goals and body ideals. So in addition to our political beliefs, body positivity is also something we’re doing for the health of each individual in our family.

What does it mean to have a body-positive approach to health?

For us, a body-positive approach to health means that we care for our bodies. We move them, rest them, enjoy them, and feed them. We invest in a whole-body approach to health. The only thing we don’t do is try to contort our bodies into a different weight, size, or shape.

We have gotten rid of our scales and no longer use weight as a measure of health (because it’s not!). We’re not insisting on a sugar-free lifestyle or rigid exercise plans anymore. We’re all enjoying all foods and eating according to our hunger and appetite rather than diet programs. This is incredibly freeing and has positively impacted each of us. We all feel better than ever now that we approach our health from a place of love and acceptance rather than domination and control.

Why are we doing body positivity?

We discovered body positivity earlier this year and have been working on it as a family. Our main goals are twofold. First, body positivity matches our social justice goals as a family. Secondly, body positivity is great for our mental and physical health!

The truth is that all of us were suffering in different ways under our previous lifestyle. While everything we did looked and seemed like it was healthy, the dark truth is that we weren’t actually taking care of ourselves very well. We recognized that something had to change, and when we discovered body-positivity we recognized that it was a massive change in some ways, but ultimately it fits our values much better than the dieting and restricting we did before.

Holiday Help! Discounted Coaching Session for Parents

Ginny Jones is offering a limited number of discounted 30-minute coaching calls to specifically focus on preparing for the holidays. Get help planning a holiday gathering that doesn’t trigger or support eating disorder behavior. Ask your parents to stop policing your child’s plate. Interrupt Aunt Margaret when she starts talking about her diet. Tell Uncle Cornelius not to pinch your child’s side and wink about recent weight gain. Set boundaries and feel confident about how you handle the holidays this year.

How body positivity impacts our family

The main thing we’ve learned on this journey is to not judge anyone’s health based on their weight and to stop labeling food as good or bad. It’s all too common to carry unconscious biases about health in our culture. And we’re all influenced by the diet industry that tells us we need to weigh less and eat this/not that, etc. 

Freed from this restrictive view of bodies and health, we now find ourselves identifying how we each feel within our bodies. Now we treat them with the ultimate respect and love they deserve. 

We no longer judge food based on its caloric content or nutritional value. Instead, we seek a varied diet that tastes good and sustains us. Also, we got rid of our scale and have all discovered that not weighing ourselves has taken a huge weight (🤣 haha – couldn’t resist) off our shoulders. 

Of course, we still live in a culture that is critical of bodies, but we’re glad that in our home, bodies are respected and loved exactly as they are.

What this means for you

Of course, this doesn’t have to mean anything to you! But our family gatherings often involve some diet talk and discussion about other people’s and our own weight. So I wanted to give you a heads-up that we’re not going to be participating in those conversations anymore. I know this could be awkward at first. It’s always hard when families change. But please know that we love you very much. And we know that there is so much more we can talk about than weight and nutrition. 

I’m happy to talk to you some more about this if you want to learn more. I look forward to seeing you next week!

Love, me

xoxo


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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6 tips to handle holidays with an eating disorder

6 tips to handle holidays with an eating disorder

The holidays are typically a stressful time, and it can be even harder to handle with an eating disorder. It could seem like a total disaster, or you could look at this as an opportunity to do things differently.

Our kids thrive in a close and connected family. And isn’t that what the holidays are supposed to be about? These tips are designed to help you achieve closer family connections. So you’ll find that what I’m recommending will help everyone in the family – including you – have a more meaningful, less stressful holiday.

1. Focus on feeding and rest

The first and most important thing when your child has an eating disorder is that you need to manage feeding schedules as much as possible. While we would all like to relax during the holidays, when there’s an eating disorder to contend with, we really can’t let up on feeding regularly and adequately. 

You may have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. All our best, most beautiful plans for the holidays will be derailed if our children’s basic needs are not being met. A child’s basic need for food and rest are both disrupted by an eating disorder, and the holidays will make them even harder to handle. So feeding and rest should be a top priority.

Plan ahead to make sure you have easy, low-stress meals and snacks on hand, and keep to a regular schedule of eating. If there’s a big event that you’re all attending, make sure you feed your child before and after the event.

Prioritize regular bedtimes and plenty of downtime and rest during the day. Our culture glorifies the idea of rushing around during the holidays, trying to cram in everything, and running ourselves ragged. But it’s far better to prioritize rest so you can truly enjoy the meaningful moments when they happen. Slow down and take a mindful approach to the holidays. Less is truly more.

Holiday Help! Discounted Coaching Session for Parents

Ginny Jones is offering a limited number of discounted 30-minute coaching calls to specifically focus on preparing for the holidays. Get help planning a holiday gathering that doesn’t trigger or support eating disorder behavior. Ask your parents to stop policing your child’s plate. Interrupt Aunt Margaret when she starts talking about her diet. Tell Uncle Cornelius not to pinch your child’s side and wink about recent weight gain. Set boundaries and feel confident about how you handle the holidays this year.

2. Prioritize connection

Once you have figured out the basic needs, you can move up the scale a little bit and focus on belonging and love needs. These needs are met in moments of connection and intimacy with our families. This can take you from managing to “handle” the holidays with an eating disorder to actually enjoying them.

Most of the stress of the holiday season comes from misguided attempts at connection. Rigid traditions that everyone feels obligated to perform are meant to connect, but fail. True belonging comes from authentically enjoying yourself with others. So this year, focus on the things that build connection and let go of the things that don’t.

Traditions build belonging. But they should be regularly evaluated to make sure they’re still doing their job. Create two columns on a piece of paper and write down all the traditions that you typically follow during the holidays on the left side. Now on the right side write down whether these traditions build emotional connections and intimacy. 

It’s not enough to do something because you’ve always done it. Hold your traditions to higher standards and ask: will this build belonging?

If you have a great list of strong traditions that build connections, great! If not, that’s OK! You can try some new traditions this year. Here are some options for connecting that you can consider for your family:

Ways to connect with family

  • Walk: go for a casual walk outdoors and play a game like “I Spy.” 
  • Drive: travel to a beautiful spot in nature and bring a big blanket and hot drinks to share. 
  • Art: get a large piece of paper and different pens and pencils and co-create a “piece of art.”
  • Get Closer: play a game like  Where Should We Begin to learn about each other and build intimacy.
  • Listen: ask each person to suggest a song that represents the past year. Create a playlist and try to guess who chose which song. 
  • Dance: designate a DJ or just pick a playlist, clear out the furniture, and have a dance party.
  • Sit: light (or turn on) a fire, pile the blankets and pillows on the floor, and sit together reading, listening to music or an audiobook, or doing nothing.
  • Make: buy packaged gingerbread house kits and make bizarre gingerbread houses that you would never find in a magazine.

Tip #1: keep these activities short. To optimize the chances of everyone having fun, limit the time you plan for any activity. Let people drift away if they get bored and keep the fun going for the people who want to.

Tip #2: have low expectations. Don’t insist on any activity being magical. Stay loose and be flexible and open to failure. Rigidity isn’t fun.

To handle the holidays with an eating disorder, give yourself the space to reimagine them through an entirely new lens. Ask yourself: am I doing this because we’ve always done it, or am I doing this because it makes us feel connected to each other? Double down on the things that add connection, and drop the rest. You’ll have more time and space and reduce everyone’s stress levels.

3. Know the triggers

If you have large extended family gatherings, then you need to plan ahead. Many of us have magical thinking when it comes to holidays. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we build an image in our head of calm, cozy holidays spent in loving connection with our extended family. 

In this magical dreamland, we fail to prepare ourselves for the realities of our family dynamics.

The way to handle the holidays with an eating disorder is to make sure you have been ruthlessly honest about the most likely triggers your child will face during family events. 

Get a piece of paper and list all the inappropriate or uncomfortable statements and situations around food and body issues that you can think of.

Common family eating disorder triggers:

  • Aunt Bertha likes to talk about what she can and cannot eat on her current diet
  • Grandpa makes comments about what’s on other people’s plates
  • Uncle Jerome is a personal trainer and always talks about “personal goals” and “burn it to earn it.”
  • Grandma will pressure everyone to eat more
  • Cousin Pat will stare at your child and ask why they’re so _____________.

You need to know the potential triggers to have any hope of navigating them gracefully. Most of us don’t prepare and then react and don’t feel great about it. Then we may spend hours after family events reviewing what we said or didn’t say. Flip that around and invest the time up-front to think about what might go wrong so you’re not blindsided. 

Holiday Help! Discounted Coaching Session for Parents

Ginny Jones is offering a limited number of discounted 30-minute coaching calls to specifically focus on preparing for the holidays. Get help planning a holiday gathering that doesn’t trigger or support eating disorder behavior. Ask your parents to stop policing your child’s plate. Interrupt Aunt Margaret when she starts talking about her diet. Tell Uncle Cornelius not to pinch your child’s side and wink about recent weight gain. Set boundaries and feel confident about how you handle the holidays this year.

4. Set boundaries

Once you have your list of triggers, you can come up with boundaries and responses. Here are some boundaries I recommend every family sets during the holidays when dealing with an eating disorder (or actually anytime!): 

  1. No talking about weight or bodies (positively or negatively), like:
    • You have an amazing metabolism and can eat whatever you want
    • Have you gained weight?
    • My doctor says I need to lose weight for my health
    • You look so skinny!
    • She is always watching her figure – and it shows!
    • I’m concerned about your weight because I worry about your health
  1. No talking about what people are eating (positively or negatively), like:
    • Wow – that plate is really full!
    • I can’t eat that – I’m being good today
    • She eats like a horse and doesn’t gain an ounce
    • I’ve been eating keto and feel 100x better now
    • Have a piece of this – I made it just for you!
    • Are you sure you want seconds?

If you are faced with a boundary violation in real-time, it’s best if you say something at the moment to redirect the conversation and protect your child from additional triggers.

Good responses for boundary violations: 

  • I know you’re trying to help, but we’ve got this, thanks!
  • Let’s talk about something else now
  • I know how important this is to you, but we don’t talk about people’s weight
  • Did you know we’re going to Hawaii next week?
  • Can we talk about something else?
  • We don’t talk about what people weigh/eat
  • I’d rather you didn’t say things like that
  • Eyes on your own plate!
  • Did you see Aunt Lena’s new clogs? They’re wild! 

If boundaries are repeatedly violated and/or you can sense that your child is becoming distressed, it’s OK to take a break from the party or leave altogether. Your child’s emotional safety is your priority, so while it can be awkward, it is within your role as a parent to make that decision.

Remember that everyone has a right to do what they want to do. And there are often consequences. For example, Uncle Jim has a right to talk about his diet, and you have a right to ask him to stop and/or leave the conversation if you want to. The less you make it about controlling Uncle Jim and the more you make it about choosing your responses, the better it will feel for everyone.

5. Check in on your child

Once the holidays begin it can be hard to slow down. But remember that stress is like a snowball that rolls and grows if not interrupted. Check in with your child every day to gauge how things are going. What is their stress level? How are they feeling? Are their eating disorder behaviors getting worse?

If your child is becoming stressed, consider changing your plans for the day or even the whole week. Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy, your child’s physiological needs must be met for them to find any level of comfort and enjoyment this holiday. Are they getting enough sleep? Enough food? 

If stress is a problem, learn emotional co-regulation skills so you can help bring your child into an emotionally regulated spot before any holiday events. This is a skill every parent who has a child with an eating disorder should learn. Check out this eBook for help

6. Embrace the mess

Finally, embrace the mess of the holidays. You’re doing your best. Your best is enough. No holiday is perfect, and it doesn’t need to be perfect. When parents strive for perfection they usually add to the stress. So relax. Be kind to yourself. And remember that this is a short period of time in a lifetime of love and connection with your child. 


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Why adult kids don’t come home for the holidays

Why adult kids don't come home for the holidays

Very few parents envision a future in which their adult kids don’t come home for the holidays. In fact, most of us picture a future in which we are surrounded by a loving, happy family of our kids and their kids, multiple generations joyously spending time together on special occasions.

Of course adult kids are meant to build their own adult lives and their own family traditions. So sometimes not coming home for the holidays, while hard, feels absolutely right and natural. You understand what’s going on and it doesn’t feel like they’re rejecting you or seeing you only out of obligation. You’re emotionally close and when you see each other it’s mutually gratifying. On the other hand, if you feel as if they are avoiding you or dislike coming home for the holidays, that is a different situation.

Sadly, many adult children dread coming come for the holidays. If you search on Google, you’ll find lots of advice to help adult children avoid coming home for the holidays. You’ll also find pages of advice for tolerating difficult family gatherings and how to get through family gatherings without losing it. This is so sad for so many parents, and I’m sorry if this is happening with your adult child(ren).

I assume that if you’re reading this article, you’re looking to understand why this happens and what you can do to change things. And please understand that while some things may be hard to read, there’s no blame intended in this article. The fact is that when we want to improve a relationship we can only take responsibility for our role within it. We cannot change the other person, only ourselves. This article is about seeing your responsibility and choosing whether you would like to change your own steps in the relational dance to effect positive change.

Get Help! Discounted Coaching Session for Parents

Ginny Jones is offering a limited number of discounted 30-minute coaching calls to specifically help you invite your child to the holidays and optimize the holidays for your adult child. Find out what to say, what not to say, and what to think about. Feel confident about how you handle this holiday.

The truth about family holidays

The sad truth is that Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, and even birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are often stressful family events that adult kids want to avoid spending with parents. You may have noticed that your adult kids are joining you for holidays less frequently. Or you may notice that your adult children seem stressed and unhappy during holiday gatherings.

The first thing to know is that this is more normal that we have been led to believe. The vision of family togetherness that we see in the media rarely reflects the complexity of our own families. Parenting adult children is entirely different from parenting young children, and it can be challenging for parents and adult kids to make the transition.

The next thing to know is that you can make changes in your own behavior that will make your adult child feel more comfortable about sharing holidays with you. This will make them more likely to come home and more likely to enjoy themselves while there.

10 reasons adult kids don’t come home for the holidays:

  1. Pressure to conform to previous versions of themselves
  2. Different political and religious viewpoints
  3. Criticism and judgement of their lifestyle choices (e.g. where they live and how they live)
  4. Criticism about their job/career choices
  5. Dislike of chosen life partner or criticism due to the lack of a life partner
  6. Criticism and judgement of their appearance (e.g. weight, tattoos, hairstyle, clothing, etc.)
  7. Sexual orientation and/or gender is not respected or is expected to stay “in the closet”
  8. Visits home tend to lead to relapses into addictive behaviors for which they are in recovery (e.g. eating disorders, substance abuse, self-harm compulsive shopping, etc.)
  9. Being with family triggers anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts
  10. Family members engage in addictive behaviors that the adult child is in recovery for (e.g. smoking, drinking, substance use, dieting, disordered eating, etc.)

What parents can do to make the holidays easier for adult children

Parents can definitely make holidays more joyful for everyone if they recognize some key changes that are within their power to make. Remember that we can’t force other people to change – we only have control over our own behavior. If our adult kids don’t come home for the holidays, it may help to make some changes in how we behave.

As much as we want our family to be close and loving, we cannot force that situation through cajoling, criticizing, or making our children feel guilty enough that they show up even when they don’t want to. We can only create the conditions that will make family holidays less stressful for our adult children and, over time, help them feel truly welcome and loved during family holiday events.

1. Acknowledge your role in the relationship

It’s important to recognize that while your children are adults now, you held tremendous power over them in the formative years of their lives. Recognizing the power dynamics – mainly that you held all the power for many years – is important as you move into an adult relationship with your child. Acknowledging your impact on your child’s development is not about being blamed for who they are as adults. But it is important to see that old power dynamics play a big role in your relationship with an adult child.

If you used punishment, particularly physical punishment, that was a way you had power over your child. Major family disruptions like divorce, moving, or major illness were also situations in which your child was both impacted and powerless. If these things happened in your family, you may consider talking to your adult child and taking responsibility for how your choices impacted them.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you had a true “choice” or did the wrong thing. It just means you acknowledge that what you did impacted your child. If you think your child is looking for an apology for times when they were powerless, give it to them nondefensively. You are not taking the blame (unless it’s warranted). You are taking responsibility as an adult who had the power to change a child’s life.

Get Help! Discounted Coaching Session for Parents

Ginny Jones is offering a limited number of discounted 30-minute coaching calls to specifically help you invite your child to the holidays and optimize the holidays for your adult child. Find out what to say, what not to say, and what to think about. Feel confident about how you handle this holiday.

It’s worth reflecting on your child’s life and considering whether you need to talk about things that happened in the past. Not because you were a bad parent or because your child is stuck in the past. Just because as life progresses, parents, who held the power for so long, often need to revisit old dynamics and address them compassionately and intentionally.

I know this can feel unfair and different from what you got from your own parents. But if you want to have a lifelong relationship with your child. If you want something beyond an obligatory and stressful holiday once per year. This is how you can do it. This is your challenge and your opportunity.

2. Recognize your child as a grown-up

You have known your child through so many growth stages. Most parents cherished the years before 10 years old, when they could play ball or go to the park together. And of course, many parents struggled with the teen years, when they felt irritated and confused by their child’s awkward and tumultuous quest for independence.

But your child is now a grown-up. This is actually the longest period of their life with you. We think in terms of parenting as the first 18 years, but many parent-child relationships extend for more than 50 years.

Don’t let your child’s first 18 years define the rest of the time you have together. You are still and will always be their parent. You are still and will always be the single most important figure in their lives. Even if they say they don’t need you anymore, we all remain our parents’ children in our hearts forever.

Allow your child to be the age they are. Then remember how you felt at that age. Remember how grown up you felt at 20, 30, and 40. Likely your life looked different from your adult child’s, but that’s how life is. You have a child, not a clone. Be curious about who they are today rather than holding onto a previous version of them.

And definitely don’t hold onto the fantasy version of the adults they would become that you understandably nurtured and cherished as all parents do. Celebrate them as they are, and allow them to grow up, decade after decade, gracefully or ungracefully, with the knowledge that they are loved and accepted unconditionally.

3. Remember that they have an adult life and real conflicts

Sometimes adult children use their adult lives as an excuse for why they don’t come home for the holidays. As a parent, you should try to understand how many of their excuses are because of your relationship and how many of them are because of genuine conflicts.

Adult children are typically in the heat of life right when their parents want to see them (and the grandkids!) more often. For example, they may be working a stressful job, trying to keep on top of bills, juggling childcare commitments, parenting, staying in a committed relationship, and coordinating with in-laws, ex-partners, dog-sitters, and more.

Often when an adult child doesn’t come home for the holidays there is a really good reason why it’s too hard or just won’t work this year. Remember in these situations that it’s OK to have holidays on non-holiday dates. For example, Christmas can be any date in December or January (or even July!). The less rigid you are about the date, location, and time, the more likely you are to get your kid to celebrate with you.

If, however, you’re fairly sure that your child is making up excuses because they don’t actually want to see you, then forget about the holiday. Focus instead on rebuilding the relationship and start working towards a different outcome next year.

I know this can seem hard, but pushing for a holiday gathering when your child is angry with you is unlikely to result in a positive, joyful event. It’s more likely to end in tears and anger. Invest time in rebuilding your relationship and understanding why holidays with you are stressful. Then work towards creating conditions that work for your adult child so that next year you have a greater chance of celebrating together.

4. Get to know who your adult child is right now

It’s all too easy for parents and children to slip into a habit of not talking about current interests and passions. It’s much easier to keep the relationship superficial, since it takes less courage to say you’re “fine” rather than talk about the lack of closeness in your relationship.

Likewise, it’s easier for your adult child to say work is “fine” rather than tell you that they are really concerned about recent downsizing efforts and that they actually wish they had gone into a different career. The result of superficial “fine” conversations is that neither person in the relationship feels seen or heard.

Love is almost entirely based on feeling seen and heard.

Most parents are great cheerleaders when things are going well. But how are you when it comes to darkness and difficulty? Having a deep, meaningful relationship with someone means being able to see their darkness, their frustration and anger, without being afraid. It means seeing their whole self – flaws, fears, pettiness and all – and loving it all without fear of what it says about you. If you haven’t practiced sitting with your child in their darkness and accepting their feelings without trying to change them, give that a try.

Love means accepting the darkness as well as the light.

The key to getting to know who your adult child really is right now is to not react negatively or dramatically to information that surprises or upsets you. Adult children have powerful antennae and can sense parental judgement, criticism, and fear in an instant. They may even intentionally bait you to get a negative response. It may seem weird, but it happens.

Coach yourself on being an active listener who does not over- or under-react to your child’s statements. This is a practice that takes time, but it is a huge and worthwhile investment in your relationship.

Adult children can all too easily slip into a pattern with their parents in which they don’t feel seen, known or loved, even when the parents want to see, know, and love them. This is something that most parents need to learn. Take your time, and keep trying. It’s worth it.

Get Help! Discounted Coaching Session for Parents

Ginny Jones is offering a limited number of discounted 30-minute coaching calls to specifically help you invite your child to the holidays and optimize the holidays for your adult child. Find out what to say, what not to say, and what to think about. Feel confident about how you handle this holiday.

5. Understand their recovery process if they’re in one

Does your adult child have a history of eating disorder, substance abuse, self-harm, depression, anxiety, and any other mental health condition and/or behavioral addiction? If so, you need to be conscious of their recovery process and how it is impacted by family gatherings.

If your child is in the active stages of recovery, which varies but can easily continue for five years or more of abstinence/remission, then you need to monitor the environment carefully and consider whether you need to remove any triggers. Your child’s recovery should be a priority for you and every member of the family. If you can facilitate a safe environment for your adult child’s recovery, they are more likely to continue coming back.

If you’re wondering what makes a safe environment for your child’s recovery, then ask them! Don’t stand on ceremony or pretend that your child doesn’t have any problems. They do. If they are in recovery, they have to watch out for triggers. They may not be able to tell you exactly what you need to do, but that’s OK. Just ask, and then do some research on your own. Talk to your family in advance to try and explain any necessary adjustments to accommodate recovery. Any step is a positive step.

Most people in recovery spend significant time before seeing family members preparing themselves for anticipated triggers.

If your adult child has been in recovery for years or even decades, don’t assume it’s as if the situation never occurred. Most of us who are in recovery will spend our lives learning more about why we encountered struggles, and many of us will experience relapses of anxiety, depression, and our disorders. This doesn’t make us failures, it just makes us perfectly normal. For various reasons, our families can be a source of great stress. The more you can do to help us avoid triggering environments at the holidays, the better.

6. Accept your adult child’s life choices without question

Parents want what’s best for their children. That’s a given. But many of us lose our way as our children grow up. We start to think that our kids’ life choices are a reflection of us as parents. While we certainly have a huge influence over our children, their choices as adults are theirs to own. We can support them and accept them, but we cannot control their choices or take too much credit – either good or bad.

Adult kids who don’t come home for the holidays frequently worry that they haven’t lived up to their parents’ expectations. This is often because parents have explicitly or implicitly let their kids know that they are a disappointment. Many parents criticize their children, both when they’re little and as adults. Many parents also compare children, creating a toxic state of competition. This often comes from a place of wanting your kids to succeed, but beware: it’s the most common reason adult children give for staying away from parents.

What adult children want from their parents is the same as what little children want from their parents. They want to be accepted. You may think there’s no way you can accept your adult child. Maybe they are addicted to drugs or a single parent or a bad driver. Maybe they are too thin or too fat. Perhaps they don’t go to church or do go to church or voted for a candidate you think is the devil. But here’s the thing:

acceptance is not the same as approval.

You are allowed to accept your child fully for who they are and still not approve of all their choices. The difference is subtle but critical.

It has been said that acceptance is so closely tied to love that it is indistinguishable. If all you are able to do to show love to your child is accept them, that is enough. Parents who accept their children love their children.

Parents who do not accept their children … well, they often have adult kids who do not come home for the holidays. Your adult child – whether they are 25 or 55 – wants to be accepted by you. They want to feel that no matter what they do, you still love them.

Getting adult kids home for the holidays

If you want to see your adult kid this holiday season, keep the above points in mind. Remember that your child has a choice whether or not to see you. Many adult kids don’t come home for the holidays.

This can feel really terrifying, but you have the power to improve your relationship with your child and move towards repair and joy. Even families that have been estranged for years can reunite, but it usually requires the parent to make some important changes like the ones listed above.

I hope you have a wonderful, loving holiday, and that you get to see and enjoy your adult child for many years to come!


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

Get Help! Discounted Coaching Session for Parents

Ginny Jones is offering a limited number of discounted 30-minute coaching calls to specifically help you invite your child to the holidays and optimize the holidays for your adult child. Find out what to say, what not to say, and what to think about. Feel confident about how you handle this holiday.

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Family scripts for an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving

Family scripts for an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving

Are you heading into Thanksgiving with a child or loved one who has an eating disorder? It’s important to make an effort to plan an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving. Food-based holidays can be especially challenging for people in eating disorder recovery. It can really help to plan ahead for success.

Many of our Thanksgiving family scripts focus on body-based and food-oriented comments. These comments may seem benign, but when your child has an eating disorder, it’s important to put a stop to them. It may take some practice, but it’s not hard to shift once you have these new scripts in mind.

Holiday Help! Discounted Coaching Session for Parents

Ginny Jones is offering a limited number of discounted 30-minute coaching calls to specifically focus on preparing for the holidays. Get help planning a holiday gathering that doesn’t trigger or support eating disorder behavior. Ask your parents to stop policing your child’s plate. Interrupt Aunt Margaret when she starts talking about her diet. Tell Uncle Cornelius not to pinch your child’s side and wink about recent weight gain. Set boundaries and feel confident about how you handle the holidays this year.

Here are some examples of new Thanksgiving scripts:

Greetings for an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving

Many people automatically comment on someone’s appearance as a greeting. However, this focus on appearance can be upsetting for someone who has/had an eating disorder.

Also, when we make appearance-based greetings, we miss the opportunity to connect with the actual person – who they are, what they mean to us, and what makes them interesting and important.

Instead of: You look great! Have you lost weight?

Try: I’m so happy to see you!


Instead of: Have you gained weight?

Try: It’s wonderful to see you!


Instead of: What have you been doing? You look great!

Try: How have you been doing? Tell me all about it!


Instead of: You look so pretty today!

Try: I’m thrilled to see you today!


Instead of: You look so skinny! Let’s fatten you up!

Try: I’m really glad you came!

Talking about food

Thanksgiving is a food-based holiday, and so, of course, it brings out many diet culture scripts, which basically assume that we are “bad” if we eat rich, delicious foods, and we are “good” if we restrict our foods to “healthy” options like salad.

This idea that how we eat determines our morality is very dangerous for someone who has/had an eating disorder, so it’s important to change the script. Here are some ideas:

Instead of: Uh-oh – I’m going to blow my diet today!

Try: This food looks delicious!


Instead of: I guess this is a cheat day!

Try: I’m looking forward to enjoying this day with you.


Instead of: I guess the diet starts tomorrow!

Try: I love being here with you.


Instead of: I’m trying to lose weight, so I’m not going to eat that.

Try: Tell me about how you’ve been doing.

Talking about feasting

So many people live in some form of dietary restriction, and then “let it all hang out” at a Thanksgiving feast. There is nothing wrong with feasting, but most people talk about it as a negative or something that will need to be atoned for later. This can easily lead to descriptions of the core eating disorder behaviors of restriction, binge eating, and purging.

Instead of: I’m stuffed! I definitely ate too much

Try: That was delicious!


Instead of: Good thing I didn’t eat all week to prepare for this pie!

Try: Thank you for being here today.


Instead of: I’m “eating clean” so I can’t eat any of this food

Try: I’m so happy to see you all.


Instead of: I’m going to have to not eat for a week to make up for this!

Try: I love being with you.


Instead of: I really shouldn’t eat more but I can’t help myself!

Try: Isn’t it wonderful to be together today?


Instead of: I can’t believe I ate all these carbs. My trainer is going to be so mad at me!

Try: This is a great day!

Holiday Help! Discounted Coaching Session for Parents

Ginny Jones is offering a limited number of discounted 30-minute coaching calls to specifically focus on preparing for the holidays. Get help planning a holiday gathering that doesn’t trigger or support eating disorder behavior. Ask your parents to stop policing your child’s plate. Interrupt Aunt Margaret when she starts talking about her diet. Tell Uncle Cornelius not to pinch your child’s side and wink about recent weight gain. Set boundaries and feel confident about how you handle the holidays this year.

Talking about exercise

Many people think of Thanksgiving as something we need to “work up to” or “work off.” This is called compensatory exercise and is an eating disorder behavior. It’s important for families to move away from normalizing eating disorder behaviors.

Instead of: I need to take a walk so I have space in my belly for all this food.

Try: I’m going to take a walk because it feels so good to be outside.


Instead of: I’m going to have to go to the gym after this!

Try: This has been a wonderful meal.


Instead of: It’s going to take weeks to work off all the food I ate!

Try: I have been really enjoying this day and being with you.

Plan in advance for an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving

If your family is like most, shifting the script will take effort. You can start the ball rolling by calling people who will be at the meal with you and your child and see if you can agree to gather with the intention to not perpetuate eating disorder talk.

Here’s a possible pre-Thanksgiving day script:

Hi Aunt Beatrice, I’m so excited to have you for Thanksgiving! I can’t wait to see you. This is a little awkward, but I wanted to let you know something that we’ve been working on. We’ve noticed that how we talk about bodies and food really makes a difference to our kids. So we avoid talking about bodies, diets, or saying things like “this food is so bad” or “I’m going to have to work this pie off later.” The truth is that we didn’t even notice how often we do it. But I just wanted to let you know that it’s something we’re working on, since you’ll probably notice we’re going to try not to do it this year.

Here’s some options for redirecting food and body comments on Thanksgiving day:

Redirect: Hey Aunt Beatrice, did you get that promotion at work?


Remind: Hey Aunt Beatrice, remember we aren’t talking about diets today. How was your visit with Uncle Fred?


Set a boundary: Aunt Beatrice, when you talk about my body like that. I feel bad, because it seems like you are criticizing my weight. If you continue to do that, we’ll need to leave.


Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a minefield for someone who has an eating disorder, and it will be more fun for everyone involved if we reduce the focus on food and bodies and focus instead on the many other things that make being together so meaningful.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

Holiday Help! Discounted Coaching Session for Parents

Ginny Jones is offering a limited number of discounted 30-minute coaching calls to specifically focus on preparing for the holidays. Get help planning a holiday gathering that doesn’t trigger or support eating disorder behavior. Ask your parents to stop policing your child’s plate. Interrupt Aunt Margaret when she starts talking about her diet. Tell Uncle Cornelius not to pinch your child’s side and wink about recent weight gain. Set boundaries and feel confident about how you handle the holidays this year.