Mothers are the cornerstones to every family. They give birth to their babies, watch their children grow, make sure they are fed, dressed and are loved unconditionally. They make sure the house is clean, homework is completed and turned in and will go to battle at any time, day or night, in order to protect their children. The majority of mothers in present day have jobs outside the home that require them to take time away from their family which can create even more stress on mom. When superhero mom gets sick, her family can suffer enormously. So, what happens when mom enters eating disorder treatment?
Perfectionists, mothers and eating disorders
Mothers are known to keep a tight schedule whether it is making sure the kids get to school on time, picking them up from sporting events, attending school conferences, and making dinner all while balancing a full time job drives many mothers to be perfectionists. There seems to be no room for error when raising a family in this day in age and with the pressures from society to look younger and always be at your ideal weight, the pressure can rise even higher. Social media makes motherhood look easy and as a result many moms may feel they are failing in their role but often do not realize social media only accounts for the one percent, the tip of the iceberg of reality in which the majority of bloggers and social media influencers post unrealistic pictures of the best moments of their family life while intentionally leaving out the daily struggles and challenges of reality. Individuals who have a history of eating disorders are more likely to strive for perfectionism and control, a behavior that can be documented back to childhood. Whether it is calorie counting, excessive meal planning, obsessive thoughts about body image or obsessions with exercise routines, eating disorders go hand in hand with perfectionism.
The effects of eating disorders on the family
Signs and symptoms of eating disorders in mom can trigger conflicts within the family. Studies have shown that mothers with eating disorders are more likely to overfeed or underfeed their children and conflicts are more likely to arise during family mealtime, which is usually a time for bonding. Mothers will try to hide warning signs associated with their eating disorder but overtime these signs can become apparent among family members and create concern and conflict. In some families the children take on the caregiver role for other siblings or self, as the parent is entrenched in their thinking or behaviors. Other women report fears of guilt or shame around unhealthy modeling of food behaviors and thoughts, as well as being a ‘failure’ at parenthood to their children.
Entering treatment whether it is outpatient care, residential treatment, partial hospitalization or inpatient care can create a shift in the family dynamic as mom is spending much less time with her family in order to recover from her eating disorder. This can be stressful for both the mother and the family. Mom may feel guilty for abandoning her family while her family is extremely concerned for her and wants her to get better. Staying in recovering and learning new coping skills can create a better family environment long term. Supporting mom through these tough times and offering words and acts of encouragement can help her successfully persist through treatment.