Childrearing

My Mother’s Biggest Parenting Mistake Taught Me Not To Ignore Disordered Eating

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tiny food on plateThis is a reader submission for our Mother’s Day essay contest, “What My Mother’s Biggest Parenting Mistake Taught Me About Parenting.”

When called upon to describe my mother to those who haven’t met her, I default to saying, “Imagine a hippy Disney princess.” Lovely, slender, blonde-haired and blue-eyed with definite flower-child undertones; that’s my mother. Growing up, she taught me to appreciate literature, art, and music.  I learned to swim before I learned to walk and my partner constantly voices surprise when I can tell her different species of birds and wildflowers as we hike.  All this knowledge, plus much more than I could begin to detail here, comes from my mother, and her love for me.

Out of many things I would emulate from my mother’s style of parenting, one thing sticks like a thorn in my shoe as something I hope never to repeat:  It wasn’t until I turned 18 that I found out that my mother has had an eating disorder since she had been in junior high school.

Suddenly, so much made sense.  The way she talked about my body, about what I ate, and how I looked. One of my earliest memories is coming up to my mom with my snack and asking her if there was any fat in it. At 10 years old, I began my own battle with an eating disorder, one I still struggle with today.

My mother knew about my disorder after a while and had moments of trying to help. But it must have brought up too many emotions for her. Most of the time we silently pretended that we were all perfectly fine.  I thought that we were supposed to buck up and pretend things were wonderful 24/7.  Now at 23 and thinking of having my own children, I would do anything in my power to break this cycle.

When I begin my family, I will learn from my mother’s mistake.

My mother’s struggle with her disease and its effect on me will help teach me what I can do to give my children whole, healthy images of themselves.  I will try to emphasize health and not having a trim girlish figure.  I will bite my lip and not make comments on the size, shape, and quirks of my children’s bodies.  I will not make food into an evil substance, just fuel that we can enjoy and savor that gives us energy and keeps us strong.

If by a twist of fate I do have a child with an eating disorder, or disordered behaviors, I won’t ignore it.  We will deal with it together, because dealing with it alone only lets the disorder fester and grow.

Trying to keep a brave facade at all times tells children that showing weakness is not allowed. I want my family to be one in which we can all trust each other with our weaknesses. I will strive to have a family that faces its problems together.  A family where being human, with all our flaws and faults and differences that make us unique individuals, can be celebrated.

I hope to share many of my mother’s legacies with my children.  The way she taught us in everyday moments.  How she read to us, laughed with us, and got excited about learning with us.  All the folk songs and poems we memorized and giggled through together.  She taught me love and compassion and probably many things that I’m not even aware of.

But she also taught me how easy it is to tear down a child’s self esteem, and how much children listen and observe, even when you think it flew over their heads.  That is the lesson I will hold on to. I will stay mindful of her mistake, to keep yet another generation from falling down the same rabbit hole.

(photo:  OPOLJA / Shutterstock)