My brother's keeper

What is our responsibility to others? Other parents, I mean. Fellow parents facing an eating disorder.

In my advocacy I've focused on empowering parents with good information, believing that with the opportunity to know about the options, and that there are a variety of ways to respond to the illness, that parents get the chance to do a better job. I have developed a line there where I stop: I don't expect parents to use that information the way I do, or act the way I think they should. I don't take responsibility for whether they understand or use the information.Not only do I not believe it is my place I really think I risk disempowering the vulnerable parent from owning their situation and acting with the necessary confidence.

At times I do feel more zealous - especially when I see a dangerous situation. At these moments I feel irresponsible saying less, quieter, and without urgency. I see wrongs I want to see righted, I see risks and possibilities where the other parent may not and feel it my responsibility to speak up. So, where's the line? When is it over-reaching, meddling, even harmful? When does a fastidiousness about boundaries risk harm?

I won't pretend this is always simple or that I'm always successful. I've had infamous situations where I was so passionate that people felt pressured just by my stridency. I've had people disappear feeling judged. Others I feel I failed because I didn't do enough.

I know others who similarly struggle. I've seen people go take personal action to help a fellow parent and probably saved a life. I've also seen people get burned and burned out by putting themselves out for another parent and been unsuccessful. It is REALLY hard to watch another family struggle when we "know" another way - a way we believe is better.

I'd be interested to know how others find their peace with this problem?


  1. Personally I'm not at peace at all with this one at the moment - what ARE our rights and responsibilities in this field?

  2. Those times I get overzealous, finding myself stepping in and being even more vocal than usual, I have realized it is because of how poorly the other players are playing their part. And so I feel the urgency to step in and fix things. Unfortunately,it never works. It may change the course of someone's treatment, but may get me fired, as the messenger who's message was not ready to be heard.

    The best we could do is convey our wisdom. The rest is up to the families. They may not go about things your way, at first, but ultimately they might still come around when they are more prepared for change.

  3. I am trying to tell my story, honestly, just so that maybe one person will get some help or some comfort from it. One mother reached out to me desperately. I poured out my soul to her, gave her my phone number and she came back with a scathing, cruel note, threatening me. It has changed me.

  4. I strive to adopt the behaviour of the dolphin and St Bernard as described by Janet Treasure in 'A Collaborative Approach to Eating Disorders'. Provide information and encouragement, but the hard work must come from within those at the coal-face of the illness - the parents and the person with the eating disorder. We cannot do this hard recovery work for them. Part of the healing process is for them to do it themselves.
    Standing back and letting people make their own mistakes, perhaps to the point of risking their life, is hard to do. But it is the only way. If we interfered we would be living their life for them and that would not be right. We can provide the life line, but they must reach out and take it.

  5. I am moved, and of course also saddened, to hear what you all are saying. I have had these very concerns and experiences.

    June, I have come to the same place. It's a hard one, though. I do believe that true empowerment of parents and loved ones is not taking over the thinking or yelling loud enough at them or imposing my will - it is letting them own their learning and decisions.

    I don't, however, feel the same way about patients. I believe the illness takes away the ability to be empowered in that way and although we should nurture and welcome that self-empowerment it is important for us as caregivers NOT TO WAIT for it or to require it from our loved ones.

    The hard work of treatment for families is the early stages, and the hard work of recovery for patients is the late stages - the ability to reach out and take it need not the be price of admission, right?

  6. Dear Laura,
    Indeed I agree that the hard work of treatment for families is in the early stages - that is, as long as it takes to overcome the debilitating power of the illness and allow the patient/child/adult to regain sufficient self identity to make decisions for themselves (rather than the illness manipulating their thought process and making life-threatening decisions in the interest of the illness rather health-giving decisions in the interest of the child/adult). The hard work to get to this stage has to be done by the families in collaboration with their therapist and they will reap the long term benefits AS A FAMILY. We can be along side the families as friends and dolphins ready to encourage and offer support. One of my main concerns is for the child/adult whose family is not interested in providing such vital support. They need assistance to create a surrogate family. I look forward to more discussion on this.

  7. Very true, June. All patients deserve a family that steps up with that vital support and "family" doesn't have to be family of origin!



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