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Calm down, mom! Dad, can you stop raising your voice?

by Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, F.E.A.S.T. Board


“Calm down.” “Be confident.” “Relax, mom.” “Please stop shouting, dad.”

Isn’t it strange how that kind of message can cause us to feel rage and shame?

When a parent is faced with a child in our care who is raging, suicidal, and irrational, and we’ve begged and pleaded for help, stopped in our tracks while the rest of our family and our responsibilities derailed, the very worst thing to say to us is “Calm down, mom!”

As if we could. As if we should. As if our lack of calm is in some way the reason for this crisis.

And yet, the truth is, we must. The magic that we have as parents, that no one else has, is the power of getting really, really calm.

Calm is not apathy, nor is it lack of engagement. Calm is powerful. Calm is centered and focused.

Calm is not ignoring the crisis nor is it easy. It’s courageous. Courage is not the lack of fear it is acting despite fear. We are scared. Our kids need our calm.

The kind of calm that helps a frightened child leave a burning building. The kind of calm that keeps everyone together when lost.

Parents are able to do difficult things.

In fact, no professional or co-worker or social worker or neighbor or even sibling or friend can do what a parent can do: to calmly and resolutely stand up to fear. We’ve done it since our kids were babies. We’ve done it without sleep and without support and without the perfect book to tell us how. We do it without compensation and, if we do it right, without gratitude in return.

I know it seems like an insult to tell a parent to be calm when facing florid, active, in-your-face mental illness. Occasionally, it is: there are still some in positions of treatment providers who distrust or underestimate parents. But that’s not under our control. What we can control, the only thing we and no one else can control, is our reaction.

Mental illness can cause sufferers to mistake the intentions of others, even loving intentions. Mental illness symptoms can distort and manipulate emotions. The glorious and unique power of parents is that we know our person best. We know what is “them” and what is the eating disorder once we get the hang of it. We know that we’re good parents, and we know that even if our person can’t see it, we mean them well. We know nothing will make us believe that they are not loved, and that we are not loving. We can be calm in that storm like no one else can: with love. Courageous love. Exhausted, worried, sometimes angry, courageous love.


  1. Sean and Rhonda Hi.

    2 months ago we never heard, nor knew what DBT was or why it was of interest. My wife just found this wonderful resource that we will be using often!

  2. Hector M. Rodriguez

    This is true. I need to be reminded of this…every day. Calm is not silence. Calm is measured. Calm is stepping back and listening. Calm is understanding and being wise. Thank you for this post. it is right on target.

  3. Jennifer

    Wow I sure needed this today. It is so hard to watch our child go through this. There are days I am so full of emotion. It’s good to be reminded that we just need to stay calm. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. This is teaching me a whole lot of patience

  4. Khaleesi

    Hallo, meine Tochter hat sich vor sieben Wochen das Leben genommen. Sie war magersüchtig und hatte Borderline. Meine zweite Tochter hungert jetzt auch.

    • Judy Krasna

      I am so very sorry for your loss and for the great difficulties that you are experiencing. I lost my daughter to her eating disorder 5 months ago, so I have some idea of what you are going through. Please know that we at FEAST are here for you; you are not alone. Our parent support volunteers would be happy to speak with you and offer you resources that may help with your other daughter. You can send mail to or you can use the chat feature on our website, the blue button in the bottom right corner. Also, our moderated parent forums are a terrific source of information and support. The links to the forums can be found on this page If it’s OK with you, I will be in touch privately to speak further.

    • Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh

      My deepest condolences, Khaleesi. This community is here to support your family, and help you support your currently ill daughter as well. Please let us know how and in what ways we can support you.

  5. Jane

    Laura that is so true , easy to forget sometimes but then my “mother’s instinct” kicks in and I know calm is the only option …

  6. Tasha

    Thank you Laura! I am so glad I saw this post. I needed this reminder to stay calm today. As you so eloquently put it « calm is not ignoring the crisis, calm is courage and our kids need our calm »

  7. Marilyn G

    Thank you. I needed this today. Even though my daughter is 33 I am still the mom caring for her. “Calm is courage”. I’m hanging on to this.

  8. Maria De Lucia

    I am astonished at the lucidity of the explanation so that we, aching parents, may learn to focus on self control and coping with the unknown intruder in our child’s life; so that we may guide our afflicted family member to recovery. I am impressed and I am appreciative of people such as Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh at F.E.A.S.T. who use their platform to help & guide others.
    Sincere thanks for providing understanding to suffering families of the afflicted.

    I appreciate the F.E.A.S.T. resources available. They do help me guide my way to continue to be a great Mom in hopes of seeing better and brighter days for my daughter.

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