Becoming a Human Guardrail for Your Child
When my daughter was discharged from her inpatient stay at the Eating Recovery Center, my husband and I were charged with a new task: becoming “human guardrails.”
A guardrail is defined as something that prevents people from falling off...a road, a ledge, a cliff. Our job was to prevent her from falling off in her recovery. Being barely 13 at the time of discharge made her not much older than a child. And navigating the road of recovery from anorexia nervosa can be tough for even the most well seasoned travelers. It didn’t take long for us to learn that this was not going to be easy.
At the onset of her arrival back home, we learned how to be the sturdiest of guardrails made of the strongest stuff and hugging tightly to a very narrow road. Our daughter eased back into life with very few freedoms and under extremely close supervision.
We added strength to our guardrails through the help of trusted friends and family, counselors and a whole new treatment team. The course she took wasn’t completely straight; she banged against those guardrails more times than I care to remember in those early recovery days. But we held strong. We knew how to keep her on course and what to do when she started to fall.
Over four years have now passed since we began this journey. And our role as guardrails has changed over that time. She no longer wanders a narrow road of limited freedoms and minimal choices but a wide road full of flexibility and daily decisions.
We no longer hover so closely as her parents, watching her every bite, but more observe from afar as she goes about her day. Time, age and experience has allowed the guardrails to be moved back. She’s no longer the young teen she once was, needing supervision every step of the way.
The process of loosening the reigns somewhat as a parent helping a child in recovery has been both liberating and terrifying. It’s like teaching a teen to drive; utterly fear inducing at first but eventually freeing as they gain independence.
Our daughter has earned back a large amount of her freedom, one day and one choice at a time. And we, as her parents, have learned to step back, slowly and cautiously as she has taken ownership of her recovery. She drives herself to her appointments. She plans her own meals and manages her daily behaviors.
Time and lots of training have given us all confidence in her abilities. But I hope she knows she never will have to go about this all on her own. That her guardrails will always be there in some form, watching over her, and helping to ensure she doesn’t fall.
The road of life is just so much better when we know we don’t have to travel alone.