If your child has an eating disorder, you want to get support for yourself as a parent. This is because eating disorders don’t only affect the person with the diagnosis – they affect everyone. And often parents becomes overwhelmed, stressed, and burnt out with the caregiving required when a child has an eating disorder.
These parents deserve and need support.
But while we know it’s important, getting support as a parent who has a child with an eating disorder can feel tricky. First, there are privacy concerns. Some parents worry that they shouldn’t share their child’s struggles with anyone outside the family.
Next, many parents believe they can’t divert their attention to their own needs when their child is having such a hard time. And finally, getting professional support for yourself on top of the professional support you’re getting for your child can become both time-intensive and costly.
I get it. Right now your whole focus is probably on your child. You just want them to feel better and recover from this eating disorder. But just like with all diseases and disorders that affect kids, parents need support in order to give the care necessary.
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For example, when a child has cancer and needs chemotherapy, parents are educated and supported through the journey. Clinical studies have shown that supporting parents through tough parenting challenges can significantly improve the child’s treatment outcomes.
An eating disorder impacts the whole family, and parent support will help you stay sturdy and strong while your child is ill, as they recover, and as you face the relapses and resistance that often come with the territory.
What sort of support does a parent need when a child has an eating disorder?
Parent support during a child’s eating disorder should include the following:
Education: parents should receive information both about eating disorders in general, treatment options available, and their child’s unique psychology, physiology, and eating disorder presentation.
Problem-Solving: parents will do better if they have others who can help them problem-solve when things come up. For example, parents need support figuring out how to handle school, sports participation, vacations, treatment, recovery, and more.
Emotional Support: having a child with a mental illness is terrifying and draining for parents. It’s best if they have emotional support and people who will listen to their feelings and provide compassion, support, and understanding.
Physical Support: a lot goes into eating disorder recovery, including driving to and from appointments, preparing countless meals and snacks, and stocking enough food. This comes on top of already packed schedules. Parents benefit when they have people who are willing to pitch in with driving, cooking, and caregiving.
How can parents get support during eating disorder recovery?
First, parents need to overcome their natural aversion to getting support during eating disorder recovery. Eating disorders have a lot of stigma attached, and thus many parents are reluctant to seek support. But supporting a child in eating disorder recovery is emotionally and physically taxing. Parents who get support end up being able to give better support to their child in recovery.
There are various forms of support available to parents who have a child with an eating disorder, including:
Support groups: the most well-known support group for parents is F.E.A.S.T. This is a global non-profit organization dedicated to supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders. There are also parent support groups on Facebook, and some providers and treatment centers facilitate groups. Each group is slightly different in approach and tone, so search for some options and test it out. If your first attempt to find a group is unsuccessful, keep trying!
Professional support: most parents are left out of eating disorder treatment, but there are exceptions. Look for treatment programs and professionals that actively include parents in the process and keep you informed and educated about what’s going on with your child. For more individual support, you can get a therapist or parent coach who can support you with education, skill-building, and resources.
Community support: parents should intentionally seek friends, family members, and local community members for support. If you are part of an organized religion, find out how your community members can help you. If not, reach out to friends and family. Your town or state may have parent support resources that cover mental healthcare, parents, and caregivers. Don’t be shy about asking for help and utilizing the resources available. Remember that it feels really good to help someone who is struggling, so your community will be happy to help!
Red flags to consider
As I mentioned, eating disorders have a lot of stigma. And, as we know, mental health in general is something that is often misunderstood and mistreated. As you reach out for help and seek support, be aware of how your support network makes you feel.
For example, if talking to your child’s therapist makes you feel hopeless and bad about yourself, that’s not helpful support. If a family member offers to cook dinner for your family once per week but often forgets to show up, that’s more disruptive than helpful. And an online support group may have some members who seem unhelpful and even feel toxic sometimes.
Yes, you want support. But be discerning. Receiving help should feel good, not bad!
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