There is no section on how to cope with your child’s eating disorder in “What to Expect When You're Expecting” parenting books. The task can be daunting and discouraging. It can take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This is why self care for parents is an important part of navigating the recovery process with your child.
Have you heard of the oxygen mask on an airplane analogy? Prior to take off you hear the flight attendant review the safety rules for the flight. One of them being “Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.” The rationale behind this? You must help yourself before you are able to help others. Now apply this same concept to helping your child who is struggling with an eating disorder.
Your child needs you to meet the needs of your physical, mental, and emotional health, before you are able to adequately help them. Here are 7 strategies to prioritize self care for parents.
7 step care tips for parents
1. practice self compassion
It is so easy as a parent to internalize and blame yourself for your child’s pain and struggles. Let’s make one thing clear, you are not to blame for your child’s eating disorder. You are taking on the role of supporting your child and you are doing everything in your power to help your child through this very difficult journey. You deserve a lot of credit!
With that being said, give yourself permission to feel all the emotions. You are going to be sad, angry, frustrated, and anxious in some moments. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling this way. Trust us, these are very normal emotions to be experiencing as you go through this difficult journey with your child. And remember you are also going to feel happy, relieved, and excited in other moments.
All of these emotions are all part of the journey and it is important you are giving yourself a space to process each emotion. Keeping all those emotions bottled up is going to leave you feeling on edge and emotionally burnt out.
Kristin Neff has many fantastic resources on the research behind self compassion as well as tangible skills you can practice in your daily life.
2. consider a parent support group
Just like your child may benefit from eating disorder support groups, as a parent or caregiver, you may also benefit from being around those going through similar struggles as yourself.
A support group can provide you a safe place to express your emotions and learn ways to cope, while building your box of tools to help your child through eating disorder recovery. While friends and family members can be the support you turn to when you are feeling frustrated, it can be incredibly comforting to be around people who not only understand but can provide advice.
If your child is seeking treatment at an eating disorder treatment center, they will typically provide parent-specific support groups. Make sure to ask your clinician if these options are available. Another great resource is F.E.A.S.T website linked here. As always, our team of dietitians are skilled in navigating supporting families in eating disorder recovery - reach out to us for further support.
3. commit to a sleep schedule (and sleep routine)
A sleep schedule can be difficult for anyone to follow, especially as a parent when you are trying to juggle the responsibilities of caring for children, a partner, a job, and now supporting your child through eating disorder recovery.
Sleep is your one time to recharge your body for the next day, which makes it so important to prioritize your sleep schedule. Start with a bedtime routine, whether that’s reading a book, listening to soothing music to wind down, or maybe putting on your favorite meditation audio. Whatever it may be, make it a routine. Set alarms on your phone every night to remind yourself it is time to wind down and prepare your body for the next day.
4. prioritize meals and snacks for yourself
While you are focused on making sure your child is sticking to a meal and snack schedule, don’t forget about yourself!
In the midst of high emotions, it can be easy for you to forget about fueling your own body. You are fighting an eating disorder with your child. This requires a lot of strength and energy so your child needs you to be energized and ready to take on the battle of fighting an eating disorder with your child.
Use your child’s meal and snack schedule as a reminder for you to eat as well. Eating with your child who is recovering from an eating disorder is actually recommended to provide meal time support, so it looks like this can be a win-win situation!
5. engage in activities that make you feel good
While you are caring for your child, make sure you set time aside to engage in activities that make you happy and feel good. This can be a walk around the block, attending your favorite yoga class, or starting a new art project. Making time for you will give you time to mentally and emotionally recharge by engaging in a hobby that can boost your mood.
Find an activity that will truly bring you joy and set aside time each day or week to focus on that activity.
6. make time for friends and family who fill your cup
It is easy for parents to become so engaged and focused on their child’s eating disorder that they forget about making time for friends and family. Don’t get us wrong, your child needs you to be fully engaged in their treatment so they can succeed, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make time for your own support.
Especially during this difficult time, you need to lean on friends and family to help get you through your child’s eating disorder recovery journey. So keep up with those monthly girl or guy weekends, going out to coffee with a friend, and dinner dates with your partner.
7. feel your feelings
We want to emphasize this. All of your feelings are valid and supporting your loved one in eating disorder recovery is hard work. Understanding how to be with your emotions and move through them in a way that feels supportive to you can be incredibly helpful. Everyone needs support and a space to talk through and navigate what is coming up for them. If you are in need of referrals for providers, make sure to contact our office!
how NourishRX can support you
As a parent or caregiver, supporting your child through eating disorder recovery requires you to provide your child with stamina to succeed. Make sure you also don’t burn yourself out in the process.
Your child needs you to have your oxygen mask tightly secured before you can help them succeed. And, here at NourishRX, we want to make sure you have all the tools you need to support them in recovery. That's why we created the Jumpstart for Recovery Parent Support Course in addition to our 1:1 nutrition counseling for individualized care.
Your loved one's treatment matters to us. Drop us a line to see how we can start working together today!