Help! My sister blames me for my daughter’s eating disorder

My daughter has both autism and an eating disorder

Hello! Today I’m going to respond to a letter from a mom whose daughter has both autism and an eating disorder. Her sister’s judgment and criticism are making family events unpleasant, so I’ll review how to set boundaries and provide education to family members.

The letter

Dear Ginny, 

My 11-year-old daughter was diagnosed with autism and an eating disorder. Sadly, these conditions have affected her social interactions, particularly family events, which almost always revolve around food. 

Unfortunately, my sister seems to blame me for my daughter’s diagnosis. She says that my own food issues and lack of boundaries are responsible for my daughter’s behavior. She believes that my daughter is imitating my eating habits and is just being stubborn and difficult. 

Despite my attempts to explain that kids with autism are often rigid and stressed about eating, my sister refuses to believe me, and she’s taken no steps to educate herself. Her constant accusations about my parenting being responsible for my child’s behavior are hurtful and make family events unbearable. 

I’ve told her that her words are damaging our relationship, but she believes that honesty, even if it hurts my feelings, is necessary for her to do what’s best for my daughter. While I cherish our relationship, I am close to cutting ties. 

I don’t want to, but her hurtful behavior and unwillingness to understand and educate herself about my daughter’s autism and eating disorder are driving a wedge between us and making family events unpleasant. What should I do?

Signed, Lori

My response

Hi Lori, 

I’m so sorry to hear about this! Your sister may be trying to do the right thing, but I can imagine how hurtful this is for you, and you don’t deserve to feel as if you are to blame for your daughter’s eating and social behavior. I think we both know that if your sister wanted to do the right thing she would offer you support rather than judgment and criticism. 

⭐ Get ready for recovery and find out how you can prepare yourself for maximum success.

⭐ Find out the essential steps and family rules you need to have in place for recovery.

⭐ Make your home recovery-ready with six simple steps that anyone can do.

Your sister is not an expert in autism, eating disorders, or parenting, because nobody who is an expert in those things would treat you this way. While I can certainly understand that she is worried about your daughter, her behavior is hurtful, and I think it’s time to set some clear boundaries. Here’s what I recommend: 

1. Before the next family event

Before you go to the next family event you should call your sister and tell her that her comments have been hurtful and uninformed and that you’d like them to stop. Here’s a possible script: 

Sister, I know you love my daughter and me, and I know you want to help. But your comments at family events have been deeply hurtful. I’m going to ask you to stop judging me and criticizing her for how she’s eating from now on. Can you do that for us?

2. Warnings during family events

It would be wonderful if your sister got the message and agreed to stop making hurtful comments about your daughter and your parenting, but it’s unlikely that she’ll stop without reminders from you. She has strong ideas about how you should be doing things and feels compelled to share them with you. But your priority is to take care of your daughter and yourself. Here are some possible scripts for warning your sister about her behavior in real time: 

Sister, remember that I asked you not to make comments about my daughter and my parenting. Please stop.

I know you’re trying to be helpful, but I’d like you to stop. 

Please don’t say things like that.

3. Boundaries during family events

It would be amazing if your sister could heed your warnings and cut off her need to judge and criticize you and your daughter, but that’s unlikely. So you’ll need to be prepared to back up your warnings with boundaries. A warning is when you ask your sister to change her behavior. A boundary is when you take action to change the situation. In other words, boundaries are about controlling your behavior, not other people’s. Here are some possible scripts for setting boundaries in real time: 

Sister, it seems like you’re having a hard time not judging my daughter and my parenting. If you keep going, we’re going to leave.

I understand how important this is to you, but if you can’t stop, I’m going to keep my distance from you for the rest of this event.

You seem more committed to making your point than listening to my perspective, so I’m going to walk away now.

The key to boundaries is that they are 100% within your control. That means that if you state a boundary, you must follow through on it. 

⭐ Get ready for recovery and find out how you can prepare yourself for maximum success.

⭐ Find out the essential steps and family rules you need to have in place for recovery.

⭐ Make your home recovery-ready with six simple steps that anyone can do.

4. Follow-up after a problematic interaction

Hurt feelings make it hard to stay close to people. So if this relationship is important to you, then you need to follow up after any problematic interactions. This final essential step is the only way to reinforce your expectations and reduce the chance of your sister continuing with her behavior. Here’s a possible script: 

Sister, our relationship means a lot to me, so I want to talk about what happened yesterday at the family event. I was hurt by your comments, and even more hurt when you didn’t stop even after I asked you to. As I said, I’m parenting my daughter in extremely stressful conditions. Autism and eating disorders are not something caused by poor parenting, and your continued suggestion that I’m causing my daughter’s problems is deeply damaging to our relationship. I’d like to ask you not to do it again. Do you think you can do that?

5. Offer more education

If your sister appears open to learning more about autism and eating disorders, you can provide her with more information. The most important messages you want to convey are that: 

  • Parents don’t cause autism or eating disorders
  • Parenting a child with both autism and an eating disorder is extremely stressful 
  • The best thing your sister can do to support you and your daughter is educate herself and help reduce stress at family events. 

Lori, I’m so sorry this is happening to you, but I hope these ideas have been helpful. For more support, here are two articles to help you educate friends and family members: 

Sharing an Autism Diagnosis With Family and Friends

Dos and Don’ts for helping a friend who has a child with an eating disorder

Parent support for a child with autism and an eating disorder

Let me know if you’d like to schedule a coaching session to discuss how you can support your child who has autism and an eating disorder.

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Published by Ginny Jones

My mission is to help reduce body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders.

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