April 7, 2021, noon
Something we don’t often talk about is mothering while having an eating disorder. Some of us have had eating disorders for decades, while others develop eating disorders after our kids are born. Either way, having an eating disorder when you’re parenting brings up some serious challenges.
Having an eating disorder can be a way to cope with difficult emotions and almost nothing brings up as many difficult emotions as being a parent. In our society, parents, especially moms, are under tremendous pressure to perform “perfect” mothering while juggling work, a greater share of household duties, and generalized expectations of femininity.
Based on everything we have learned in society, moms are supposed to:
These are just the tip of the iceberg. The pressures we face as mothers are endless. This pressure can create perfect conditions for an eating disorder. The more stress we feel, the greater our chances of continuing our eating disorder, relapsing, or developing a new eating disorder.
If you have an eating disorder and are worried about how it will impact your child, please rest assured that you are not alone. Many mothers struggle with eating disorders. Here are the five things I want parents who have eating disorders to know:
Eating disorders are not something we choose to have. They are complex biopsychosocial disorders that arise from multiple factors. You cannot intentionally create an eating disorder any more than you can just switch it off one day because you don’t want it anymore. Don’t beat yourself up if you thought that becoming a parent would somehow terminate your eating disorder. Lots of us wish for that to happen, but it’s not usually how things work. The stress of parenting often makes having an eating disorder harder, not easier.
Having an eating disorder does not make you a bad parent. Lots of parents have eating disorders and are able to raise healthy kids. The key is to recognize that you have an eating disorder and work to manage your symptoms as much as possible so they don’t impact your kids. Don’t assume that if you have an eating disorder you’re destined to raise a child who has an eating disorder. In fact, recovering from an eating disorder may give you the tools to help prevent an eating disorder in your child.
Being in recovery is tough, and it can make things feel worse before they feel better. But just because recovery is hard doesn’t mean that we can’t raise healthy children while we work on ourselves. In fact, I think that parents who are in recovery or have gone through recovery for an eating disorder are better parents because they are aware of their emotional needs and recognize the importance of mental health. As you learn new food and eating skills, you can pass them along to your child.
Some parents feel guilty spending time and money on recovery when they have kids. They think that it’s a “waste” to invest in themselves. But I can assure you that your recovery is worth it. When parents improve their mental health, their kids benefit. I assure you that it is not better to just struggle through without help. And you don’t have to identify as 100% recovered to make the investment in your recovery worthwhile. Just showing up and putting in the work is progress. Don’t let feelings of guilt stop you from getting the care you deserve.
It’s possible that parenting while in recovery can help your own recovery. For example, you may struggle with poor body image, but as you watch your adorable toddler you remember the joy of being in a body. You may see your tween look at herself in the mirror and gently remind her how loved she is. As you share kind words with her, you are also sharing them with yourself. In my experience, learning to raise body-positive kids can help us become more body-positive about ourselves.
Parenting when you have an eating disorder is not easy, but it’s possible. And it can be easier if you get the help you need and deserve to feel better. I think most of us can relate to the idea that recovery may seem more important when we have kids to think about as well. And remember that even though we rarely recover simply because we become parents, some of us may find that recovery makes us better parents than we would have been otherwise.
That was my personal experience. Going through recovery while I was parenting was both brutal and powerful. I found that as I learned to care for my emotional health, I became a better parent to my child and myself. This combination came together beautifully to put me in a solid recovery and build a healthy relationship with my child.
About the Author
Ginny Jones is a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders. She has 15+ years of coaching experience and is an expert in helping parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other difficult parenting situations. In 2016, Ginny founded More-Love, a website dedicated to helping parents raise kids who are free from body hate, eating disorders, and disordered eating.
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