It’s not unusual for parents to disagree when they are dealing with their son or daughter’s behavior particularly when the young persons is struggling with an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia.
Here is Sally’s story:
Sally is doing what she can. She is supporting her son and trying to understand his condition. Her understanding has been making a big difference to him.
One evening she finds herself having a rather challenging discussion with her son Tom. Her partner walks in hearing only a part of the conversation and responds to Tom by making a sarcastic comment. They start to argue and that really throws Tom. He has a meltdown. He gets very upset and runs upstairs. Sally wants to scream at her partner for being insensitive but instead she runs upstairs to check on Tom. She worries he might self-harm again.
Just as Tom was doing so well, the therapy seemed to be working and Sally was feeling so grateful. Then this happen. She is in despair. It seems like she is struggling on her own. Why can’t her partner just understand that being logical isn’t helping ? Why can’t he make an effort around Tom?
At times Sally feels she is the only adult in the household. Yes, she agrees with her partner that often it is impossible to understand just what is going through Tom’s head. Sometimes nothing makes sense.
But at the same time she wants Tom to know that she is there for him and will help and support him to fight the eating disorder, no matter what.
Sally is torn between her partner and her son. She sometimes feels she needs to take sides. What is she to do?
Is this something you have experienced?
Parents often express in my one to one sessions that illness such as eating disorders or self-harming are very hard to grasp.
By now you probably know that these conditions can cause the person’s behaviour to range from being bizarre to appalling.This is a fact and you need to be aware of it all the time.
Often parents have different views on how their child’s condition should be managed. Some parents tend to be more emotional and try to understand how their child might be feeling. Others are more logical and find it very hard to understand or even believe that there is something seriously wrong.
This can cause a huge disagreement and further arguments between the parents. But it’s not the child that’s causing it; it’s the eating disorder. When this happens, and it is not uncommon, your child’s disorder seems to be trying to take over your lives too. Awareness is the first step to being able to stop this taking hold.
There isn’t one right way to respond. Everyone is an individual and will respond differently.
There are a few basic rules that will help you to help your child struggling with anorexia or bulimia:
- It is crucial that you (parents) unite and that your approach is consistent.This may be spending time together discussing how you could respond and then support each other (whether you get it right or wrong).
- Remaining calm, consistent and compassionate is key ! Always listen to the young person’s point of view! Alternate between offering assistance and guidance. Lead the way by setting limits, giving encouragement and sometimes just quietly observe the young person’s progress.
- Avoid arguing with or trying to dominate your child. You will be arguing with your child’s illness rather than your child and it will not work; it may get worse. There aren’t always obvious answers but showing a little bit of curiosity (without blaming and shaming ) and showing your child that mum and dad are interested and want to listen will be a step in the right direction.
It can be difficult not to feel very emotional about what the young person is doing and this can get in a way of responding in a calm way.
It is therefore important that parents support each other emotionally. If this is not possible, have other friends or family that are able to provide emotional support. Build a circle of support.
In order to be compassionate, keep reminding yourself that this is an illness. The difficult behavior is unintentional and not personal. Think about the compassion you would generate if it was a physical illness.
Parents tell me that when their child sees their parents having a supportive and understanding relationship, it has a positive effect on their child.
Over to you
What’s been most helpful about managing your child’s behaviour? Are you able to stay calm and compassionate in difficult situations ? What has worked for you?
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