We’ve all heard it before: having a child with an eating disorder
is one of the most difficult things a parent can experience.
In fact, the research shows that it is more difficult to have a child with an eating disorder than to have a child with schizophrenia; while schizophrenia is often considered the most serious mental illness of all.
For those of you who are caring for a child with an eating disorder, we ask you: are you meeting your own needs while you worry about the life of your child?
Don’t overlook your own needs
Eating disorders traumatize both the person who suffers from the disorder and also the ones who love them. Eating disorders take a toll on family members’ well-being, especially caregivers.
As professionals, we often tell our patients: you didn’t cause your eating disorder, but it is still your responsibility to recover.
And we also tell family members and loved ones: families do not cause eating disorders, but eating disorders are still a family problem.
Your child may be starving themselves or engaging in other dangerous behaviors such as purging, over-exercising or binge eating. These behaviors may pose a threat to your child’s life, and you may worry that your child may not able to see it. This can leave you feeling helpless and overwhelmed.
Self-care is of critical importance
Because of the huge and stressful impact that eating disorders have on caregivers, you must practice regular, mindful self-care in order to cope with the challenges you face — so that you can be even more present in the lives of your loved ones.
Your life, and the lives of other family members who are involved, cannot revolve around the eating disorder! You must practice self-care and there are a number of ways that you can do that, starting today.
Balance three types of self-care
Your loved one is getting a lot of support in treatment on practicing self-care. We want you to feel supported in this area, too. Here are three important elements to consider when practicing self-care. As you read, you may want to ask yourself:
What types of self-care do I most enjoy?
- Emotional self-care
Parents may feel guilty — or even responsible — for their loved one’s illness and may even question if they are doing enough to help. If this seems familiar to you, remember this: you have loved your child. You have done your very best for them, and you always will. You may not have all the answers, but you can learn. Remembering this requires self-compassion. With self-compassion comes the possibility of change and growth. You will learn a lot on the healing journey with your loved one. Family members often find benefit from being in therapy themselves when dealing with these difficult illnesses. Therapy can help you unburden yourself, develop more effective strategies for supporting your child, and help you set good boundaries.
- Physical self-care
Physical self-care includes getting enough rest, nourishing your body, exercising, and respecting your body and its needs. Do things that are fun and feel good. A walk in the park, a relaxing massage or acupuncture session may help to reduce stress and improve your mood.
- Spiritual self-care
While your loved one is in treatment, we encourage you to stay in touch with your values and continue to work towards your own personal goals. Be mindful of your inner and outer experiences. Engage in practices that make you feel at peace. Honor your feelings and express yourself in healthy ways.
Regular self-care during recovery can benefit the entire family. What will you do to practice self-care today?
Dr. Theresa Fassihi is the Executive Director of Eating Recovery Center, Houston.