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The Gift of Empowerment

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.

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4 Comments

  1. Holly

    Thank you for this! This is how I am currently feeling and needed the reminder that I know my daughter best and that I’m not crazy! Thank you!

  2. Kevin

    A heartfelt reminder that parental insight, knowledge, and contributions are VITAL on this journey. Thank you, Judy, for this wisdom-filled reminder.

  3. Karen Bogetz

    Judy,

    I am so moved by your past few articles. Not only do you express your thoughts so eloquently, your words touch my heart. Although we have not met, I feel as though we have known each other. The connection I feel to you provides me with support as I too fight the Anorexia battle with my youngest daughter. There are many similarities, the very competent and involved mother; the researcher for the best providers; the sisters who cannot accept their sister’s disease; the baby steps in hope of recovery; and the soulful drash and memorable message at your daughter’s minyans. You have inspired me to keep encouraging my daughter and her growth on this journey.

  4. Dawne

    I read this article with horror. I can’t imagine how terrible and ineffective that experience was for you and your daughter and family. I am eternally grateful for everyone who recognized the need for a better treatment. We’ve been fortunate to have FBT from the outset. Yes our GP was ignorant of EDs and I finally had to bypass him and take my girl to the ER. That was 14 months ago, she was immediately admitted and put on cardiac monitoring, bed rest and feedings. I was devastated! I had known she was in trouble months previous and couldn’t get heard. I used to think her outcome would have been different if we’d got ED help in March not June! Because we had such amazing help from pediatrician, dietitian, psychiatrist, and SW once she was hospitalized she survived. After two months she came home and inch by inch she improves. She still struggles daily with her ED voice but we keep plugging along. IF I had not been pulled, allowed, invited, encouraged and expected to be the MAIN caregiver from the start I cannot imagine how we would have rebuilt our relationship. She needed to relearn that I am her biggest fan and will always, always have her back. EDIs struggle to trust. She trusts me because they educated me on what to say and how to be and her trust in me enabled her to eat and live. I am so thankful for family based treatment. Bless you Judy, thank you for your post.🥰❤️

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