The Pros and Cons of Mother Guilt

I'm all about "lose the guilt" to parents of eating disorder patients because that is one of the greatest obstacles for families trying to secure and support good treatment. Guilt is counterproductive, misguided, and even self-centered.

But my constant mantra about letting go of guilt has to be tempered, as well.

Parents don't cause eating disorders, but that doesn't make us perfect nor does it mean I think anything goes. In fact, instead of guilt I think we need to be all about taking responsibility for what we can and should do.

There is a value in examining our guilty feelings:
The Pros and Cons of Mother Guilt


  1. I know that any parent would easily fall into guilt patterns simply because they do care.

    Some parents never realize they have done anything wrong and would rather childishly blame the child for all of their own failings as a parent. Some parents would rather believe their child is such a problem child when in actuality they are a good kid in need of support and possibly therapy, but some parents would rather simply blame the child then address the issue, or even worse many parents live in denial about the real condition of their children watching passively as their children falter and fall into lifestyles that are damaging.

    I guess maybe its hard for a person to accept how very human their parents are, and that no matter what each parent does the best they know how to do,with what they have available, and with as much love and compassion as they within their own emotional circumstance can handle.

  2. also what about taking responsibility when the parent is to blame for first initiating the eating disorder either through their own eating disorder, or through abuse or through neglect?

    What about when it undeniably IS the parents fault that their child got sick because they firstly influenced their behaviour by restricting their childs food as a punishment, telling them that there is nothing worse than being fat and ugly, then as your children undeniably stopped eating and became very ill you ignored it, when they came to you, you denied they had a problem, when they finally passed out at school it took a school nurse threatening you with neglect for you to get your children the help you always knew they needed? Dont you think that a parent like that should feel guilty?

    Or am I just really angry?

  3. Hey im an angry kid im sorry i have alot of emotion in my comments. It is just that i always wanted my mom to care the way that you do for your daughter, Im a little jealous and bitter myself as im sure you can tell in my many ranting comments. I will try to be more understanding of my mothers position and remember that she too is hurting and struggling. I will also thank you for the work you do because it means alot to girls like me.

  4. Chalice,

    Please don't apologize for emotion - it is a GOOD thing.

    I'd separate the issues here. Should a parent EVER do the things you describe? No. If they did them, should they feel guilty? Yes. Should they feel guilty because their child ended up with an eating disorder? No. Why? Because those are things no parent should do no matter what, period, ever. We don't have to justify our anger at these parents by the illness, but for the behaviors and neglect.

    I don't believe that eating disorders can be caused by other people. I believe eating disorders are a brain issue and happen for reasons we do not understand well to all sorts of people with all sorts of parenting and lives.

    I know it can sound very silly to parse these things out but it is important: to prevent parents from blaming themselves for things they haven't done and to hold parents responsible for what they DID do even when there is no visible ill effect.

  5. This piece really caught my attention as it was something we struggled with for a long time as a family, and continues to recur at stressful times, even though I am in recovery.

    I completely agree with the importance of letting go of guilt and blame, mainly as it doesn't move things forward and, as I learnt, can create a kind of angry stalemate. I wrote a piece on my blog ( about this; because, letting go of my own frustration and anger, whether it was deserved or not, was key to creating space for recovery and change.

    This was easier said than done at times, particularly as the anger and resentment worked in both directions; however, trying to see beyond responsibilty and just accept how things were really helped me - and my family - to clear away some of the unhelpful emotions and concentrate on going forwards.

  6. Laura,

    Your right, there needs to be more compassion on the side of the parents because as much as i have my head in ana now, i know my parents couldn't have known what to do to help me, still dont, and if im blaming them in truth im blaming them for being human and having their own disorders to deal with. I had unreasonable expectations of my mother because i couldn't see just how sick she was and that she couldn't help me till she helped herself but it doesn't mean she didn't care, she probably cared so much that she spiraled in guilt and then avoided thinking about it because she didn't know what to do. Hell both me and my little sister delved into anorexia at the same time.

    Good point that no one else can cause someone to have anorexia, it makes me feel less guilty about my sister getting anorexia after me, and some of my best friends who became anorexic after being around me. Maybe it wasn't my fault and I was just the living trigger. All good thoughts, and I will try to find more compassion and forgiveness even for my mother who was abusive but only because she didn't know what she was doing or who she was or how she truly effected others.

    I cannot blame my mother for being sick and clueless anymore than you blame me for being sick and clueless about how to go on and recover.

    So thank you

  7. Chalice,

    I dislike psychobabble but I can't think of a more appropriate word for what you've just expressed but to observe that you seem to be taking the absolutely beautiful and life-giving step of mothering yourself a bit. This is so so wonderful. We all need that, don't we? That sense of being a mother and a daughter to our own selves - holding the nurturing and protective and forgiving sense of ourselves and applying it TO ourselves. I am cheering, right now, for this mothering you are doing. I'm going to think about that today and find some ways to mother myself a bit, by your example.


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