On June 1st it’s International Parent’s Day! I want to address the issue of the burnt-out parent dealing with an eating-disordered child. Just how can parents practice self-care during a child’s recovery?
So often the focus is on how parents and guardians can help their child in recovery, but we forget that they need to practice self-care too.
I can’t begin to imagine the horror of watching your child go through an eating disorder. I’m only twenty-six and my maternal instinct is far from developed. But, in hindsight, I put my parents through hell. Or, rather, the eating disorder did.
It’s no one’s fault that they develop an eating disorder. Just like it’s no one’s fault if they develop a chronic or terminal illness. Yet I’ve heard so many parents blame themselves almost entirely. It’s human nature to blame ourselves for things far out of our control, especially when it involves our loved ones. And I can only imagine that as a parent this increases tenfold.
If we’re involved in the care of others we often forget to take into account our own health too. It may sound selfish but how can you breathe life into someone else without first taking a breath yourself? This is why it’s so important that parents and guardians take time out to practice self-care.
How to practice self-care during your child’s recovery.
Find support for yourself.
Don’t be ashamed to get yourself a therapist or join a support group. There are many out there for parents who just need to talk with others in a similar situation. Understandably, talking face-to-face might not be your thing. If this is the case, there are many groups available on Facebook that can connect you with peer support.
Keeping the lines of communication as open as possible.
It’s difficult to talk about an eating disorder, and I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t. I struggled a great deal opening up to my parents as a teenager, and this feeling hasn’t gone away. What has changed is my age and understanding of the illness. I can honestly say that this time around I’m far more honest about what is happening inside my head.
Find a way to open the lines of communication with your child whether you live with them or not. It won’t be comfortable and it won’t be pleasant, but it’s necessary. Honesty is the best policy.
Talk yourself out of self-blame.
You can not control mental illness, nor can you control another person’s response to those illnesses. You did not cause the eating disorder, and blaming yourself will only harm your own mental and physical health.
It isn’t always easy to convince ourselves, but with professional health and support, there is progress to be made.
Understand that the person and the eating disorder are separate.
Parents, guardians, and carers; If your child is being an ass to you during their eating disorder, please know that it’s not them. The eating disorder and the person are two different things. How they react is often out of our control. They don’t understand it but it’s an overwhelming fear and compulsion that drives them to do and say horrible things.
That being said, they need to take responsibility for how they act! They need to understand that it’s not okay to allow the anorexia nervosa to allow them to do that! There is a certain amount of control they need to try and take back to prevent themselves from being twisted into hateful gremlins.
It won’t help you understand completely, but it will give you enough knowledge to work off. Eating disorders are so complex that not even we really understand them, so don’t beat yourself up if you get frustrated over the whole thing.
There are so many resources online and most likely at your local GP office or treatment centre. Even try the library for resources!
Take time away.
I don’t mean this as awful as it sounds. If you live with your child then it can be increasingly stressful and hostile to be in the same home together, especially at the beginning. Getting away from the situation will allow you to breathe and recharge without the presence of the eating disorder looming overhead
Do not feel like you are being selfish by taking time for yourself; this is basic self-care, and self-care is not selfish!
Go for coffee with a friend. Take a weekend away if resources allow. Go shopping. Go for a walk. Just separate yourself from the eating disorder for at least a few hours. This will also help in reducing your stress somewhat which is vital if you want to maintain your own mental health.
Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Nourish yourself, exercise well, get enough rest and take up relaxing hobbies!
Eating enough and eating the right food are vital in order to regulate our blood sugar, weight, and even moods. If you forget to feed yourself properly in the process of trying to feed your child, then you aren’t doing yourself much good. On top of that remember to keep yourself hydrated!
Try to maintain a proper sleep schedule and get enough rest every night. If you’re having problems sleeping due to anxiety I, personally, see nothing wrong with a natural sleeping pill if needed. If you don’t want to try the medication route then have a look at some of these tips to help you get over to sleep naturally at night.
If you are able to exercise then you have one of the world’s best natural de-stressors right at your fingertips! Get out for a walk in nature, go for a hike, go to a class at the local gym or even do some home yoga. Exercising releases endorphins and helps us release any pent-up tension. Not only that but by maintaining an exercise routine, or even if you’re taking it up for the first time, you’re doing something for yourself and the maintenance of your body. It’s almost like taking back a little bit of control that you may feel has been lost to your child’s eating disorder.
Is there anything else you would add to this list?
For parents out there who are struggling with a child’s eating disorder, what have you done to help yourself?