By Judy Krasna, F.E.A.S.T. Executive Director
Unfortunately, children don’t come with a parenting manual. I think we all learn by trial and error, using our intuition to guide us along the way. There are always trials and there are always errors. It’s part and parcel of parenting.
When the stakes are low and we make mistakes, the consequences are limited. However, when the stakes are high and we make mistakes, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. We are wracked with guilt, beating ourselves up about the choices that we made, the things we said, the reactions we blew, and the opportunities we squandered.
When your loved one has an eating disorder, your parenting is challenged in ways that you never imagined. The stakes shoot up, and all of a sudden they are higher than they have ever been for anything in your life. You feel the intense need to be perfect; you feel that your child deserves you to be perfect in this situation, when he/she/they need your help so desperately.
The thing is, nobody’s perfect. It’s a cliche for a reason; it happens to be true.
Everyone messes up. It’s normal. It’s expected. It’s human.
Everyone says and does things that they would never do under “normal” circumstances.
Everyone feels absolutely horrible afterward and would do anything to take it back. Whatever you said, whatever you did, sits on your chest and crushes your soul. You feel like the worst parent ever.
I’ve been there. I can think of one night in particular. My daughter was unceremoniously thrown out of the inpatient program where she had been for 7 months, without any warning whatsoever. She came home and promptly refused to eat. That first meal was hell. I lost my patience and my temper in a way that still makes me ill when I think about it. In retrospect, I wasn’t fueled by frustration or anger, I was fueled by sheer terror.
On that night, I wasn’t the parent that my daughter needed. I said the wrong things, I did the wrong things, I reacted the wrong way. Straight up, we should have recorded that meal and used it as a cautionary educational tool named, “things you should never do while refeeding your child.” It was that bad.
In those situations you have 2 choices. You can either beat yourself up about it and let it take your confidence away. You can let it defeat you. You can let the worst day, meal, etc. of your life define you as a failure. You can let the eating disorder convince you that you’re a bad parent and that you can’t possibly win.
You can give yourself grace. You can forgive yourself for reacting from a place of extreme emotion under inhuman pressure. You can excuse your behavior and learn from it so that next time, you do better. Behaving differently the next time around doesn’t erase the mistakes you made in the past, but it has the potential to shape the future differently, and that’s what counts.
If you’re that parent who feels like you’re irredeemable because you said or did something horrible to your person with an eating disorder, consider yourself redeemed and in incredibly good company. You are far from alone.
Giving ourselves grace is a really hard thing to do, especially when the stakes are high. But I think it’s the best thing we can do to help our kids; expect to make mistakes (that perfectionistic personality that our kids have–sound familiar, anyone?), fix them to whatever degree possible, learn from them, and move on. Don’t get caught up in what you’re doing wrong, focus on what you’re doing right and keep doing that.
It’s difficult, my friends, I know. But I think that learning how to give ourselves grace and be kind to ourselves makes it a little easier.