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Advice for Parents

My “in a perfect world” desires by Doris Smeltzer

In preparing for an upcoming presentation in New York, I created a list of things I would have liked, as a parent, to receive from a treatment team in relationship to our daughter’s eating disorder. They are a reflection of my learnings since our daughter’s death. I am completely cognizant of the fact that had this “in a perfect world” list been my reality it may not have changed the outcome. I share it because back then I had no idea what I needed.

It would have been helpful to me if members of a treatment team had …

1. Told me that the eating disorder did not intend to go away quietly and that it could take my child with it.

2. Explained to me why my child could not think rationally— educating me about the effects of starvation, bingeing and purging on the brain and body.

3. Helped me understand that my child could not begin the arduous task of giving up her eating disorder until she was capable of rational thought.

4. Taught me about the normal changes related to puberty. I did not have accurate information about these changes. I needed to know that a female must increase body fat by 120% for menstruation to begin—that this more than doubling of weight during puberty is a natural, biological process in the female body. This would have allowed me to normalize these changes for my child.

5. Known that I was experiencing a great deal of denial and guilt about my child’s illness—helped me understand that attempting to find the “source” or taking responsibility for my child’s eating disorder wasted energy and time and was irrelevant. Reminded me that I did the best I could with what I knew at the time.

6. Explored characteristics in me that mirrored my child’s. Helped me examine and begin to change my own perfectionism, all or nothing thinking, and/or tendency to put the care of others before my own self-care, which would have made me better able to help my child do the same.

7. Modeled and discussed ways that we, as a mother and a father, could have celebrated our own body types.

8. Been real with me—genuine and emotionally present.

9. Encouraged me to grieve the family of times past, and the past experience of and relationship with my child. This may have allowed me to focus on the now. Helped me see how as a family we could work together to create a future that included more helpful ways of being in relationship.

10. Validated for me that pain is a fact of life, but that I did not have to suffer. Helped me develop strategies or find resources that supported me in ways that might have alleviated or reduced my suffering.

Again, these are my “in a perfect world” desires. For a comprehensive list of “rights and expectations of people with eating disorders and their families” please see the World Wide Charter on the Academy for Eating Disorders website at http://www.aedweb.org/public/WorldCharter.cfm

Blessings until next time,


Reprinted with permission from EatingDisordersBlogs.com “Advice for Parents”


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