Originally published on nyxiesnook.com. Republished here with permission. Get your blog featured!
June 1st is International Parent’s Day and I wanted to address the issue of the burn out in mothers or fathers when a child has an eating disorder.
How can parents practice self-care when their child has an eating disorder?
So often the focus is on how parents and guardians can help their child/loved one in recovery, but we forget that they need to practice self-care, too.
I can’t begin to imagine the horror of watching your child go through an eating disorder. I’m only twenty-six and have yet to become a parent myself. My maternal instinct is far from developed, and at this point, I’m wondering if it ever will. But, in hindsight, I put my parents through hell. Or, rather, the eating disorder did.
It’s no one’s fault when a child developes an eating disorder in the same way that it’s no one’s fault if they develop a chronic or terminal illness.
Yet I’ve heard so many parents blame themselves almost entirely. ‘Is it something I did?’ ‘Was I not good enough?’ ‘Why didn’t I see this?‘
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It’s human nature to blame ourselves for things far out of our control, especially when it involves our loved ones. I can only imagine that as a parent this increases tenfold.
Often if we’re involved with helping other people we forget that we need to take our own health into account, too.
It may sound selfish, but how can you breathe life into someone else without first taking a breath yourself? This is why it’s so important that parents and guardians take time to practice self-care.
Here are my tips for practicing self-care as a parent of someone with an eating disorder:
1. Find support for yourself
Don’t be ashamed to get yourself a therapist or join a support group.
There are many out there for parents who just need a little room to breathe and discuss people in a similar situation.
Understandably, talking face to face might not be your thing. If this is the case, there are many groups available on Facebook that can connect you with peer support.
An organization called FEAST is one such place where the families of sufferers can go to discuss their issues. It provides online communities, self-help tips, events and even a blog with all the latest information.
2. Keep the lines of communication open
It’s difficult to talk about an eating disorder; I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t. I struggled a great deal opening up to my parents as a teenager, and this feeling hasn’t gone away.
What has changed is my age and understanding of the illness. I can honestly say this time round I’m far more honest about what is happening inside my head.
Find a way to open the lines of communication with your child whether you live with them or not.
It won’t be comfortable and it won’t be pleasant, but it’s necessary to keep an open book so you both are able to voice concerns to each other as the process moves on. Honesty is the best policy.
3. Talk yourself out of self-blame
You can not control mental illness, nor can you control another person’s response to those illnesses. You did not cause the eating disorder, and blaming yourself will only harm your own mental and physical health.
It isn’t always easy to convince ourselves or our innocence, but with professional health and support, there is progress to be made.
4. Understand that the person and the eating disorder are separate
Parents, guardians, and carers: If your child is being an ass to you during their eating disorder, please know that it’s not them.
The eating disorder and the person are two different things. How we (the sufferers) react is often out of our control. We don’t understand it but it’s an overwhelming fear and compulsion that drives us to do horrible things to ourselves and our loved ones.
If we fight and scream, it’s not that we love you any less; it’s that we are so terrified and frustrated that we don’t know what else to do.
That being said, we (as sufferers) need to take responsibility for how we act. We need to understand that it’s not okay to allow the eating disorder to allow us to do that. There is a certain amount of control we need to try and take back to prevent ourselves from being twisted into hateful, spiteful gremlins.
5. Educate yourself about eating disorders
Research won’t help you understand living with an eating disorder completely, but it will give you enough knowledge to work off of.
Eating disorders are so complex that not even we really understand them. Don’t beat yourself up if you get frustrated over the whole thing.
There are many resources online and most likely at your local GP office or treatment center. Even try the library for resources.
You can find resources here at Libero! (Click Here) and here are a few more:
6. Take time away
I don’t mean this as awful as it sounds. If you live with your child then it can be increasingly stressful and hostile to be in the same home together, especially at the beginning.
Getting away from the situation will allow you to breathe and recharge without the presence of the eating disorder looming overhead.
Do not feel like you are being selfish by taking time to yourself. This is basic self-care and self-care is not selfish.
Go for coffee with a friend. Take a weekend away if resources allow. Go shopping. Go for a walk. Just separate yourself from the eating disorder for at least a few hours. This will also help in reducing your stress somewhat, which is vital if you want to maintain your own mental health.
7. Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle
Nourish yourself, exercise well, get enough rest and take up relaxing hobbies!
Eating enough and eating the right food is vital in order to regulate our blood sugar, weight, and even moods. If you forget to feed yourself properly in the process of trying to feed your child, then you aren’t doing yourself much good. On top of that remember to keep yourself hydrated!
Try to maintain a proper sleep schedule and get enough rest every night. If you’re having problems sleeping due to anxiety, you can consult a doctor about medication including natural remedies. If you don’t want to try the medication route then have a look at some of these tips to help you get over to sleep naturally at night.
If you are able to exercise then you have one of the worlds best natural de-stressors right at your fingertips! Get out for a walk in nature, go for a hike, go to a class at the local gym or even do some home yoga. Exercising releases endorphins and helps us release any pent up tension. By maintaining an exercise routine, even if you’re taking it up for the first time, you’re doing something for yourself and the maintenance of your body. It’s almost like taking back a little bit of control which you may feel has been lost to your child’s eating disorder.
These simple daily acts are my top most affordable and effective ways to practice self-care.
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