As a mother, my first priority has always been to protect and take care of my children. One of the most heartbreaking parts of struggling with an eating disorder was knowing that it was affecting my children and marriage. Yet I felt like I was unable to stop the behaviors and disease.
While at times I was in denial, deep down I knew my family deserved a healthier, more present mother and wife. Sadly, for some time, feeling unable to change my behaviors, I allowed these dark feelings to feed the eating disorder.
When I reached my lowest point, I was able to finally admit that I couldn’t be the mother or wife I wanted to be without additional help.
I am so thankful that I came to a point of reaching out for help, because today I’m able to fully enjoy the chaos of raising a family. No, I’m not perfect. No mother is. Even so, I can honestly say I am now closer to the mother I would like to be than ever been before.
If you are a mother who is struggling with an eating disorder, know your actions towards yourself and your body are sending them a very loud message. Regardless of what you say to your children about themselves, they are watching how YOU treat YOURSELF.
Children learn from watching their mothers and they build their own construct in their head of what it means to be a woman in this world. Recently I considered what lessons I sent my boys when I was entrenched in my eating disorder versus the lessons that I want to actively teach them. I challenge you to consider what you are teaching your children.
What the eating disorder behavior teaches my children:
- The world is a scary place and you must attempt to control everything in order to keep yourself safe and happy.
- Always look for the negative in a situation and expect the worst case outcome.
- There are good foods and there are bad foods. Consequently, people who eat good foods are good people and people who eat bad foods are bad.
- We should look at everything in extremes.
- Always strive for perfection. Being the best is all that matters.
- If I can not do something perfectly the first time, I should just give up.
- Weight determines your value as a person.
- A person’s health can be determined by their appearance alone.
- Appearance and what is on the outside is what matters.
- What matters is what people see on the outside because they judge you based on your appearance.
- Losing weight is more important than enjoying a meal with family or friends.
- Meal time is stressful.
- It is ok to hide, lie, and be dishonest.
- I am not capable of making changes and improving myself.
- If I could just lose weight I will be happier and healthier.
Clearly, these are not lessons I would ever want to teach my children. If you are honest with yourself, what other messages does your eating disorder send to your children?
Once you have identified the things you don’t want to instill in your children, realize that you have the power to change the story.
Instead of continuing to focus on ways your eating disorder is wreaking havoc on your family, consider the lessons that you DO want to teach your children. These are the lessons that recovery also teaches.
What I want to teach my children:
- To love and accept others for who they are on the inside
- Trusting others and having faith is commendable.
- All humans are valuable, beautiful, and worthy of love.
- to be kind to themselves and to others.
- Use mistakes and set backs as a way to learn and grow.
- Believe you are capable of overcoming challenges.
- Move their bodies joyfully, not just to change or manipulate it.
- Listen to you bodies. Eat when you are hungry and stop when they are full. Most importantly, trust your body.
- You are great just the way they are. Don’t try to change yourself into something you aren’t.
- You are good and beautiful just the way you are.
- It is ok to ask for and to accept help.
- Everyone needs help sometimes in order to learn and grow.
- There is so much good, beauty, and hope in this world.
- Your purpose on earth is so much greater than what you look like.
- Life is going to be hard and difficult sometimes. But you are capable of handling the ups and the downs.
- Strive to be present and mindful.
- Be forgiving of yourself and of others. Understand that perfection simply does not exist.
Wherever you are on this journey, it is never too late to reach out and ask for help.
Perhaps the most powerful lesson of all that a mother can teach her children is one of resilience and strength.
By honestly facing your disorder, seeking help, and choosing recovery you can teach your children an important lesson. That from pain comes beauty. And that we all have the strength within ourselves to live a healthy and free life.