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I’ve wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember. Even as a child, I knew I wanted to have kids of my own someday. When I got married, my husband and I bought a house that would be big enough for a family.
The only time I questioned whether I wanted to have kids was when I was sick with my eating disorder.
I didn’t feel worthy or equipped to raise children. I was depressed and so weak. I couldn’t picture a future where I was recovered enough to take care of another human.
Something shifted as I started to get well.
I began to see children in my future again. The most driving force of my recovery was my desire to become a mother. On my hardest days, I would think about how much stronger I needed to be to carry a baby and then nurture him or her. There were so many days when I thought this dream would never come true. As I moved through recovery, there were many bumps in the road, but I never questioned my goal.
Recovering from an eating disorder was the hardest thing I have ever done.
The journey was long and excruciating. While I don’t ever want to go through that again, I value some of the things I learned along the way.
Going through the process of recovering from anorexia has made me a better mother.
It’s hard to believe, and I could never have predicted it, but many lessons I learned through eating disorder recovery have helped me navigate motherhood.
My sons are 6 and 4 now, and I do my best every single day to use my past experiences to nurture them and help them grow.
Here are some things eating disorder recovery taught me that have helped me navigate motherhood:
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1. How to have empathy
On the outside, I appeared calm and like I had everything under control. In reality, my mind and body were being ravaged, and I was a mess.
I now see everyone I meet with a different perspective. I know that hardships are not always worn on our sleeves and that we can never know what someone is going through just by looking at them.
I teach my boys to give grace to others because we never truly know what someone else is going through. We read books and have conversations about people with different experiences than us.
It is important to me that they attempt to see things from the perspective of others.
2. All feelings are valid
As a child and young adult, I was always told just to let things go. If I voiced my frustration about something, I was brushed off with the idea just to move on. I learned through recovery that shutting down feelings is harmful.
Pushing my own feelings aside to avoid conflict was a habit that I needed to break. I learned to feel a wider range of emotions and how to express them in a productive way.
With my kids, I focus on accepting their emotions and helping them figure out how to process whatever is going on for them. I make an effort to never shut down how they feel, no matter how trivial a situation may seem to me as an adult.
3. How to eat and move intuitively
My kids will never hear me or my husband label food as “good” or “bad.” They will never hear me complain about my own body or comment on the bodies of others.
When I’m having a challenging body image day, I deal with it without involving my kids in any way. All foods are on equal ground in our house, and we eat them without judgment or glorification.
When I go for a run, I talk about how strong it makes me feel and how I love getting fresh air by myself. I don’t talk about weight or trying to change my body in any way.
Trying to limit their consumption of diet culture messaging has been fairly easy up to this point.
I know it will get harder as they grow up and are out in the world without us. My hope is that they have a solid foundation on which to stand when faced with harmful messaging.
4. Perfection is not the goal
Eating disorders are about control and perfection. My personality leads me toward liking things done a certain way and being in control of the world around me.
As I worked on recovery, I learned that the only way to be truly free was to relax my grip on everything.
I needed to let things go and accept less than perfection. I needed to realize that perfection is a goal that can truly never be reached. I learned that control is false security and that I am never fully in charge of what is to come.
My children have taught me a lot of lessons about perfection and control in the past six years as well.
They have taught me about living in the moment. We teach each other, really. They show me that it’s okay to focus on the right now and I remind them doing their best at any given moment is all we ask.
Being a mother was my main motivator to get to a place of recovery. Now, my children keep teaching me new lessons as I help them navigate their way in this world.
I hope that the hardships I have gone through to get to this point provide me with a perspective that helps my children thrive.
I do not ever want to see them struggle the way that I have, and I feel more equipped to support them when they inevitably face challenges of their own. I want them to express themselves and to be empathetic toward others. I want them to enjoy eating and moving their bodies.
I am a work in progress. I need to remind myself of these lessons often. What I’ve learned through recovery is with me every single day.
I would never, ever wish to go through the anguish of anorexia. Yet, I am grateful for these gifts I learned along the way.
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Amy is a full time mom and former teacher living in Massachusetts. She enjoys reading, running and playing with her kids. She strives to use her story of recovery to help others suffering with eating disorders.
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