The Importance of Parent Groups

At Kartini Clinic, we have had a parent support group from the beginning. At first my husband Steve and I led parent group. After a few years it was taken over by a much more competent leader, Kartini family therapist Leslie Weisner LMFT, in whose hands it remains today. As our program grew and developed we added more groups, all free of charge, for our patients’ parents. Jean Malnati, our parent advocate and herself a parent of a child with an eating disorder, leads the parenting skills groups, and Annastasia Weiss, our amazing chef and teacher, the cooking and nutrition/food skills offerings.

Taking a page out of the FEAST Forum’s book, where parents support each other online from all around the world, through thick and thin, we have tried to develop a parent-to-parent and therapist-to-parent opportunity to listen, speak out, absorb and –yes—cry.

So parent groups would seem to be an unmitigated good, and I believe they are. Yet not all parents choose to attend. Not all of them take advantage of this opportunity, and I wrote this to try to convince at least those who read my blogs that parent groups are a Good Thing!

I have been surprised, over the years, by the reasons occasionally advanced by some parents for not attending parent groups.

Some parents say they are too busy, which is understandable. Treatment, especially family-based treatment, is intense and demanding and parents are trying to hold down jobs and often have other children. Some parents are shy, which is why it is great to have the ability to speak one-on-one with Jean, our parent advocate, to literally go out for coffee with her and seek advice and comfort.

Once I had a mother tell me angrily, “I’m not going to go to some damned group where I have to listen to other people’s stories of woe. I am not interested in their problems, I have enough of my own.” She had no comfort to give and was not interested in receiving any from people she did not, as she told me, consider her equals. That was a sad response.

At some point in our lives, no matter how educated, well-positioned or smart we are, we all need comfort; we all need a shoulder to cry on, and someone who will, as the song goes, help us, “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again.”

May I encourage you to seek the support, in person or online, of other parents who have been through it– some of them several times, either during relapses with their one child or with more than one of their children. Such parents are incredible sources of strength and advice. And as Annastasia wrote to me about this subject: “To witness peers going through similar struggles at different stages brings light to the bigger picture of this disorder.”

Help is good wherever we find it. It can be dramatic, quiet, constant, intermittent or surprising, and we sometimes find help in the most humble of places.