Your child has been diagnosed with an eating disorder by one of the doctors at Kartini Clinic. Whether this is a restricting disorder with fear of fat, a bingeing and purging disorder or what we call ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder), it matters little. What matters is that the prospect of treatment is new and intimidating to you.
Before treatment was decided on, you may have struggled with typical and understandable ambivalent feelings: are we over-reacting? Are we under-reacting? Is this our fault? Will the doctors and therapists blame us? And of course: how on earth are we going to rearrange our lives to accommodate family-based treatment?
Step one: take a deep breath. We will walk with you through all the details of treatment. We will take one step at a time and help you gain confidence in the process, which many families have been through before you, and confidence in the treatment outcome, which is growth and healing.
Step two: be gentle with each other. Fathers and mothers may react very differently to the information that their child is sick enough to warrant treatment. Often (although these roles certainly can be reversed!) fathers cope with their fear by focusing on the financial picture for the whole family. This is not uncaring, it is responsible. Every fiber of being in the other parent may be screaming: who cares about the cost? Just treat my child! And while this is understandable, we are all grown-ups here and we are going to have to find a way—together– to help you keep a roof over your family’s head, pay for health insurance, keep your job and care for other children in the family. So take a second deep breath and listen when our insurance professionals talk. Their job is not to place barriers in front of your child receiving treatment; they are going to be at your side advocating to knock those barriers down. It’s not cold and calculating to listen as they outline your insurance benefits, it’s practical. Take notes if you can, put your smart phone on “record”, if you wish, and take the card they offer you to contact them later when you can clear your head. Knowing you have people truly on your side can decrease your sense of panic.
Step three: Let’s talk about safety. If your child is terrified of treatment (they’re going to make me fat! I’ll kill myself first!) spend some time before you leave going over a safety plan with our doctor. Are there guns at home that are not locked up? Who will make a plan to take care of this immediately? Are there Costco-sized bottles of Tylenol and Aspirin at home? Lock them up too. Can one of you sleep with her/him or at least sleep in the same room? When you take them anywhere in the car, if they are upset or have made threats against themselves, put them in the back seat with the child locks on. These are some examples of simple plans you can make together. Knowing your child is safe will decrease your panic.
Step four: understand the nature of eating disorders before you take one step out of our office. What I mean by this is that all biology and research point to the fact that eating disorders of every kind are brain disorders and can run in families. Knowing this helps you internalize the most important message of the day: parents do not cause eating disorders and children do not choose to have them. Your child is not “doing this”, it is “happening to them”. It literally does not matter whether or not you have talked negatively about your own weight, have fought with your spouse, have been divorced amicably or horrendously, or have the “perfect family”; you could not cause an eating disorder in a child any more than you could cause autism. Knowing that no one at Kartini Clinic will blame you can also decrease panic.
Step five: be firm but gentle with yourself and your child. Tolerating our own children’s distress is far and away the hardest thing about treatment. Their pain is our pain—no, it is worse than our pain. But only real healing will ultimately take away their pain.You cannot do so by hedging about the need for treatment or eating or weight stabilization. “As your parents we have decided to get treatment for you and for us, and we are going to start now.” Calmly. Lovingly. Firmly. Remember those temper tantrums as a toddler? Deep breath, and ignore. The certainty of doing the right thing can decrease panic in both you and in them.
Step six: make your orientation appointments, your family therapy appointments, your nurse appointments, your medical appointments and attend parent group. Though you may feel like you are thirsty and trying to suck on the end of a fire hose, ultimately more information and more support will make the process go faster and the outcome more assured. And finally, the last step.
Step seven: educate yourself. Kartini Clinic providers do not expect you to know what to do, what to say and whom to tell right out of the box. You will want to know “why” and we encourage this. Why do I have to eat on the meal plan with him? Why can’t she continue to exercise? Why are parents in charge of food? Why are you drawing so many metabolic labs? Why can’t she eat sweets? And when? When will she understand that she is beautiful? When can we be done? When can I trust her to eat on her own? These, and many more, are perfectly valid questions which you will need to have answered for yourself several times over as you move through treatment. There are not enough hours in the day to answer them all as often as we would like, so we encourage you to do your homework. Folks: do your homework! Your child and your family are at stake. Read your Parent Handbook, cover to cover. Read the blogs. Send the blogs that you find relevant to your relatives, friends and coaches. Join the FEAST parent forum and talk with other parents. Read Give Food A Chance. Ask the grandparents to read it. You know, the way we all do research on the web when trying to understand the best car to buy, the right food processor, the right college. Surely this deserves the same level of attention and thought? Educating yourself will help you focus your important questions when you do see the doctor or nurse. It will — you guessed it — reduce the panic you feel.