I am sitting in a classroom that is not my own, covering for a man who had to go get his sick child. This is not a big deal. Teachers cover for one another from time to time, and I am glad to do it. As he was leaving he said, “I am so sorry that I have to have you cover- my wife is out on a twenty-mile training run for a marathon and couldn’t go get him.” I said it was “no problem”, and he scurried out the door to go get his sick little boy. All the sudden, a wave of emotion hit my chest and my breath shortened… I use to be that mom. I was parenting while stuck in an eating disorder.
Now, not every mom or dad for that matter that forgoes to pick up their child due to a run is disordered. It may have been my colleague’s turn, his wife may have been unable to be reached. Or it may have been her “me time.” I am not judging their particular parental set up. Nevertheless, I was reminded of my old self.
Putting your ED before your kids?
I use to be the mom that put my disorder before my children. That feels awful to type out, but it is a true statement. I loathed the moments that I had to spend being a mom for years because it got in the way of me being able to feed my disorder.
There were times when I would put my kids down for a nap so I could work out. I would run them a bath in the middle of the day so I could have some alone time with the toilet adjacent to the tub.
I would pretend we were going to the park to have fun and play for their sake, and then I would make them sit in the stroller as I ran laps around the playground.
I was sick. Not sick as in a horrible person. I was mentally ill.
I sat my kids on the sidelines while I ran the race of anorexia with purging tendencies.
I am not here to bash myself. There are other moms and dads out there suffering from eating disorders, addictions, and mental illness that feel the guilt and the pain of dragging your children down a path that they did not ask for. I am here to tell you that you can lead them down a different road. You can admit to your mistakes and get help. You can re-enter your parenting role with renewed connection and joy you thought may never be possible. I have, and I will tell you how I did.
1. Admit there is a problem
The first step to getting the help you need is admitting you actually need help. For two years I fought tooth and nail with my husband that my running every morning rain, snow, or shine, was healthy. And that he should not gripe at me about my only “me” time.
Well, what my husband saw that I didn’t was because of my disorder I missed doing my daughter’s hair for two years. I missed helping my son brush his teeth. And I missed asking him about his dreams before he went to school. Missed walking them into their daycare classrooms in the morning, visiting with their teachers, seeing their cubbies, and giving them hugs. All because I had to run. ED told me I had to run. I had a problem.
2. Turn shame to regret
After I admitted to myself that I had a disorder and got the help I needed, I had a lot of shame directed towards my neglectfulness toward being a mom first. Two years I had put my eating disorder before my children. Now I had to sit in the shame.
I had a counselor tell me something that changed my thinking. Shame is a poisonous emotion. It does nothing but bring harm to one’s self. On the contrary, regret is a productive emotion. When a person regrets, he/she will change a past behavior to learn from the past and move on to a better future.
Shame = I am bad. Regret = I did something bad.
I changed my thinking from “I am a bad mom” to “I made some mistakes while I was disordered, but now I can change that”. After letting that sink into my soul, I could look at my kids with hope instead of sadness. I was sure of a different outcome for my relationship with my kids in the future. The disordered mom could stay in the past.
3. Give it a try
I was blessed that I got help when I did. My kids were two and four when I went into treatment. If I’m lucky, they will have very little recollection of the times I pushed them to the side to appease my ED. For some of you, I hear you right now saying, “It’s too late for me and my kids.” I am here to say, as a child that comes from a gambling/alcoholic father and a mother that suffered from anxiety and anorexia, it is never too late. Your children will always crave your love and attention. You still have the chance to make it right. So try.
However you are able or capable at that moment, try. Children are resilient. Children are forgiving. If you love and forgive yourself, they will follow your lead. And if they cannot at that moment, give them time. It took me a while to forgive my dad, but now he is my biggest supporter and friend. It took me a while to forgive my mom, but I never stopped craving her love and attention. We continue to work on connecting as mother and daughter even now.
Family is a balance that is difficult to find harmony with after battling a disorder or an addiction. If you can admit to the problem, turn shame into regret, and keep trying. The healing will come. It may look different than you expected, but it will take shape. As a parent, your kids are worth it.
Let me tell you, it is never too late to let your child know that they are worth it.