By Judy Krasna, F.E.A.S.T. Board Member and Parent Volunteer
I would like to think that I am a competent mother. In fact, I was the mother that other mothers called when they needed to know what the math homework was, or what day parent teacher conferences were taking place, or what snack they needed to send for the holiday party, or what the kids were supposed to wear for school photos, or what to pack for the overnight school trip. You get the picture. I was the mother with the answers, the mother with the information, the mother who knew everything. And I felt pretty good about myself as a parent. I was on top of things. My kids always had what they needed, they were always prepared, and I knew what to do in order to take care of them.
And then my daughter developed an eating disorder, and the competent mom who I had always been lost her way. I was overwhelmed, and I was scared, and I was unsettled. I had no answers at a time when I needed them the most, and the professionals who we encountered had no interest in giving them to me. I begged my daughter’s treatment team for the tools to be able to help her, for the information that would assist me in understanding her illness, for any type of instruction on what to do. I was ready to step up and do whatever it took; but instead of welcoming me as part of the team, my daughter’s treatment providers told me to take a step back. They were the professionals, and they would deal with her eating disorder. We were pushed away, thereby sending a message to my daughter that her father and I were irrelevant. They drew a ring around my daughter, and clearly put my husband and me on the outside.
My intuition was screaming that they were doing more harm than good, that pushing us away was detrimental, that they were using the wrong treatment (which had zero evidence base in eating disorder literature), and that they were creating a rift between my daughter and the rest of our family that would greatly hinder her ability to recover. She needed us. Every time I approached her treatment team with questions (and at times with accusations), I was shut down. I was put in my place. I was told that treatment needs to be left to professionals, that there is no place there for parents.
I was sinking deeper and deeper into a hole of despair. My daughter was shrinking; not just literally, but the person who she was, the space that she took up in this world, was disappearing. That, more than anything else, terrified me the most. Since I knew my daughter so well, I recognized how bad the situation was. The people treating her were not concerned. She was gaining weight. From their perspective, everything was fine, but I knew that this was not at all true. They never knew my daughter before her illness and they refused to listen to me when I told them that with each passing day, my daughter was getting sicker. My input, my opinions, and my insights were inconsequential to the point of being seen as a nuisance. I was swatted away like a fly. I felt utterly powerless, helpless, and weak. I was frustrated, angry, and terrified.
I found F.E.A.S.T. at a point where I was desperate for help. What I gained from F.E.A.S.T. was not only education and support, but empowerment. For me, the empowerment was critical. On a practical level, it allowed me to stand up to my daughter’s treatment team; and ultimately, to be brave enough to go out and find her better treatment. It enabled me to advocate for my own daughter, and then in time for the daughters and sons of others. It validated what I felt– that I was the expert on my own daughter and that I needed to have a part in her treatment, because that would make it more productive. It gave me the strength to do the really hard work that needed to be done so that my daughter would be in a healthier place.
Part of the empowerment was also F.E.A.S.T.’s principle that parents do not cause eating disorders. You cannot be part of the solution if you are part of the problem. My daughter’s treatment team considered us part of the problem solely by virtue of the fact that we were her parents, without taking the time to get to know us at all. F.E.A.S.T. empowers parents to believe that we are part of the solution—a crucial part—and this goes so far in helping parents find their footing so that they can dig in and guide their child toward recovery. It gives us permission to parent again. I never realized that I lost that permission somewhere along the way until F.E.A.S.T. handed it back to me.
F.E.A.S.T. made me realize that I was still the competent mother that I had always been, I was just the competent mother of a daughter with an eating disorder. This helped me regain a part of myself that I desperately wanted back, and taught me everything about the gift of empowerment.