Your Child’s First Week Home After Eating Disorder Treatment
Upon your child’s return home from eating disorder treatment you will likely experience a mixed bag of emotions: relief, excitement, trepidation, and feeling overwhelmed. These are all normal and understandable emotions.
Before your loved one returns, take the time to acknowledge and process these feelings. Prepare yourself for the next stage of your child's journey to recovery – the stage where day-to-day care again falls to you, the caregiver.
Expect that your child may look, act, feel differently than what you have become used to. The family will take a while to adjust. Periods of transition are difficult and take patience and persistence. Below are some tips to help you support your child’s recovery.
You’ve got this! You don’t have to be perfect. Parenting is difficult, and you’re going to do just fine. Take a breath. It’s normal to feel anxious, worried, sad, distressed, as well as angry, overwhelmed and inadequate.
Don’t be surprised if you feel guilt, sadness, or sympathy as related to your child. Practice allowing those feelings to be and resist urges to act on them without turning over your control of your child’s recovery before they are ready.
Be, or at least “act” confident in front of your child. During meal times, show a “We’ve got this” attitude. Be on the same page with your spouse and have discussions or disagreements away from the child.
The fight is with the illness not with the child. Remember, you and your spouse are standing up to and united against the illness, not your child. You’re working together so that the symptoms of the illness do not return. Your child needs you to be setting limits that support their health.
Keep it simple. Your child will likely want to return to everything they were doing. It can be difficult to keep in mind that they have a very serious illness which requires sleep, rest, food and hydration. If they were returning after treatment from another serious medical illness, you would never have them return to their same schedule. With that in mind, you will be able to help them rest and restore. Keep it simple allowing bodies and minds to recover.
Lighten the mood. You have a strong job to do at the meal, as meals are family time to share and connect. Keep the conversation off the food. Ideas for good conversation starters are Brain teaser cards; Chat Pak; trivia cards; regular cards; and 20 questions; categories (things associated w/ summer for example).
Remember that recovery is not a straight line. There can be many stops and starts along the path.
Practice good self-care even when you understand that what you’re doing by taking control and being in charge of your child’s recovery is what is right and best, but is also extremely challenging. Practice good self-care, and get support from others. You’re not alone. Also, know your threshold and when you need a break. Know when you need the support of your partner, to take a break or a walk. We all need to know when we are no longer able to be effective.
Parenting a child with an eating disorder can be depleting.
Reengage in life by finding ways to return to your hobbies, your work, and your other children. Ask for assistance from your supports to allow you to do so – whether a support group, therapist, partner, friends, co-workers.
Recovery is at all times not just meals. Make attempts to engage with your child at times other than meals or snacks as they don’t like to be seen only as their eating disorder. Parents need to see their kids as someone other than the eating disorder as well.