Parentectomy then and now

What is it about eating disorders that makes it okay for the child or adolescent to be separated from parents?

"From the early 1900s to the late 1950s, most American hospitals continued to promulgate strict rules separating children from their parents, cloaking them in the language of science. "

This is 2008. Children need their parents. Parents need their kids. Siblings need each other. Separation, or "parentectomy," is a cruel and archaic practice. It no longer happens with other childhood illnesses, and no child has to sleep in a hospital alone after surgery any more.

How do we explain the extremely limited visitation and phone contact that is nearly universal in inpatient and residential eating disorder care? Why is contact with family considered a reward, and why are patients in a position to punish their families by refusing contact?

What is it about an eating disorder that makes parents unnecessary and unwelcome?


  1. I remember writing about all of this in my undergraduate thesis when I was writing about Maudsley and Family Therapy. I cringed when I wrote about "parentectomy". Being a mom myself, I would never leave my little one. Even at 34 and struggling with this stupid, evil disorder, I need my parents-or anyone who can fill that role. Keep writing!

  2. I am going to cry. This happened to me. I am still hurting greatly about it. My daughter is still pushing me away. This was hugely hurtful, hugely wrong. I felt like I was trapped between watching my daughter starve to death (with no where else in state to take her) or leave her with 'the professionals' that were recommended to us. When my daughter totally stopped talking to us for the next 5 weeks, I called her inpatient therapist to say I didn't think things were working well and was considering pulling her out. I was told that they would make it difficult for us to get her admitted anywhere else should I do this. I was hamstrung. I had no power, no voice. I lost my confidence. I was blamed...openly, but also simply by virture of not being 'good enough' or valued enough to be there for my daughter. How else could I view this but guilty as charged? Sadly, my daughter's anger became focused on us.

  3. Let me put in a good word for the inpatient program at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. There, the parents are welcome at almost all times and are encouraged to visit as much as possible. We did not experience any parent-bashing or -blaming. However, even in those circumstances, our d went for periods of time not talking to us and otherwise being rude. Maybe those are inevitable symptoms of the illness. I don't know.

  4. Perhaps in some cases the family or issues that may exist at home is part of the root cause of the eating disorder. I think another thing could be giving the patient a chance to breath and reflect on themselves. Maybe it is easier to do that without the noise of the family.

    I do agree however that family and support are crucial part of healing.

  5. Eating disorders are not caused by parents, any more than schizophrenia or autism are caused by parents.

  6. As a mother, I could not, would not leave my child. I would be involved in the therapy, or there would be none. (which, has a lot to do with why we managed the Tourette's and OCD without 'professional involvment' ...and I have 2 very well adjusted teenaged boys with TS and OCD .. I refused to do it ..'their way'.)

    As a 43 year old ED patient, I cringe at Labrynths statement ...if my mother even started to include herself into my treatment, I'd buck ... and I'd buck big time.

    I've been thinking about this all day ...but then again ...maybe it's because she was one of those ..what is the term Laura uses ... "pathological" ? ...and therefore has not earned the right to include herself into my trust.

    My husband, and my children, have. Even if I don't want them there, they have earned my trust, and I'm slowly learning to include them into my recovery.

    Eeeks ... I just used the words 'my recovery'.

  7. Dreaming - keep using the words!


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