Impersonating their mothers

There is an interesting phenomenon on the popular online Parents Forum I sponsor. Over the years I've gotten pretty good at spotting the pattern: a torrent of very urgent requests for help, reports of rapid weight gain and how scared the child is, minute details on calories and weights, and this phrase: "I don't know what to do."

Usually, the details end up being mostly true. Except the writer is the child, pretending to be their own mom.

I used to be shocked at how popular my site for parents is to sufferers. You would think they would have little interest in a philosophy of making people eat and taking choices away from the sufferer.

But really, it makes sense. Sufferers are starving and obsessed with food as a result. They want someone to save them, and they want to eat. So what could be more attractive than a bunch of parents working so hard to support and feed and save their children? (Aside from the Food Channel)

The irony is, many of these young people make terrific mothers on paper. They are fiercely loving and very engaged. They know food, and they know what patients need. They show terrific insight into the dynamics of love and fear and control. The only thing they don't know is how to stop pretending to be their own mothers and let their real parents take over the job.

Trust your real mom and dad. Just for a moment, long enough to get it all out. They want to help. This is the bravest, most loving, most motherly thing you can do.

(***And a personal note to one of the bravest young women I know of: you did the right thing. They love you so much. Keep trusting them.)


  1. Dear Laura,
    While you happen to connect with many of the parents who are willing to get their hands dirty in order to help their children get well, I know that not all of them have that support. Sad but true. Some parents react differently and need more support in standing up to the ED, part of the wonderful purpose of your forum,and others are still in a fog. Some may actually think that the ED is a choice or way to get attention. There are all kinds of people. Some parents have even led their own kids to believe you are a mean mom...imagine, one of the kindest, softest women I've ever met! And because you were tough enough to say "NO" [with her dad] to starving you became a threat to some moms. That's scary but it speaks more of them than of you. Know that!
    I wonder if there's a way we can help those who need the added support of moms who aren't necessarily their own? I know that I wanted my daughter to count on me first but next I wanted her to gather her strengths from wherever she might find it teachers or the mom's of others or even from powerful quotes from the past. For some it might be aunts or grandparents.
    If the lurking or lying opens their eyes and helps them to ask for help or challenges them to think differently then it'll have been worth the lie. I think. There's much more than support on your site. There are some very bright parents and great information! You offer a no blame, honest though hard road to walk away from ED. You offer hand holding and true understanding, even if someone does need a different way. Especially if they need a different way! And while you see parents who are going through the trials of recovery with their kids, there are still many more without this kind of mom or dad in their life. It's a sad truth. I think if anorexia can be genetic then we must respect that it's quite possible that a parent might be fragile.
    Whenever I respond to a question on a forum I support on, even if the writer seems odd or possibly the person with an ED, I answer as if it's all true. Every now and then I get an email from a person with an ED asking "How?" or sharing with me what they did to overcome their ED.
    I've gone and wrote a book but this topic has really caught my interest. What can I do to help? What do we need for those who might not have the support they need from the medical team or family in their area? Is there a way we, as lay people with experience, can begin to offer support within our communities?
    Anyway, keep going Laura! I am more than impressed with your progress and contribution. You truly humble me!

  2. Mary - you have been such a steadfast support to so many parents, even those who mistook your compassion. We all help out how we can. None of us can do this alone and we shouldn't have to!

  3. I think I now have many moms- I keep adding to the list! ;)

    I think most professionals underestimate the amount of support a sufferer needs. Sometimes support comes in the form of being backed into a corner and having your choices made very clear. When I did Maudsley, I still had the choice whether or not to eat. But the choice was so much easier to make when I was sat down in front of the table, told this was what I needed to eat, and that I didn't have to eat it, but I would sit there until I did.

    I got most of my support from my mom at home, but having virtual moms (like you, Mary, Harriet, Jane, etc) has been super helpful too.

    I know Ed hates you, Laura. But that means we're all in good company. ;)

  4. I have to jump in here and add to what Carrie has said. The amount of support it takes to confront and battle an ED is huge. (Not to mention the amount of courage and trust that it takes a sufferer.)That old saying "it takes a village" comes to mind.

    I'm so glad that there were websites like Laura's to help guide us in using a Maudsley approach in Carrie's refeeding. And I'm forever grateful to all the virtual Moms (and bloggers) who stepped up when she needed that extra measure of support. You have no idea how truly priceless it has been and continues to be.

    Thank You!!

  5. Carrie and Hope,

    The two of you represent a new wave of thinking and action in this illness. What you have done as a family is truly revolutionary. And inspiring!

  6. Unfortunately, , some parents are not available to trust, either by divorce, death, or removal by child protective services. Also, some parents have too much of their own struggles or not enough skills to put them in a position to trust. Encouraging individuals to trust in these circumstances is unhelpful and potentially hurtful. In these cases, it is extremely valuable to have other parental resources to those who are in very desperate life circumstances.

  7. Anonymous,

    Are you thinking that these young people are impersonating their mothers because they really don't have loving mothers?

    I see case after case where the sufferer insists that the family is dysfunctional and uncaring and I talk with the family and it is not true. The illness distorts reality.

    After recovery, people tell me they hated and distrusted their parents while they were ill.

  8. I agree with what anonymous had to say, there are some families for whom Maudsley is not going to work because of dysfunction within that family and it is difficult to encourage the child to trust the parents if there is issues of abuse. Unfortunately abusive parents can seem like the most wonderful caring people in the world to everyone outside the family, not saying you weren't entirely right in your assessment (I'm sure you were in these cases), but you know this is a big reason why nobody believed me when I tried to open up and get help for the emotional abuse that was happening to me. Talk to my Mother and she does seem like the most heartfelt, caring person who only has my best interests at heart (and I'm sure she did she just had a very unstable/disordered way of expressing it), matter of fact I think you'd probably come to the same conclusion, that it was the illness clouding my judgement and my family was not abusive but you would be wrong. Does that mean I blame my family for my eating disorder (long term anorexia) ? of course not, I used to before I understood it more, mainly because that's what the books and so called experts told me. Now I know better and I know that for me this is a biological anomaly that has become a maladaptive coping mechanism. Just because I don't believe my parents were/are part of the problem though does not mean they can be part of the solution. For my personal situation a family based maudsley approach would not have worked when I was a child and it certainly wouldn't work now, simply because my family is/was too dysfunctional and it would just cause more problems than it solved. Sadly this is the reality for some sufferers. I'm wondering what we can do to change this though? perhaps some sort of Maudsley Foster family system? Where instead of the person going into hospital they go into the care of a Foster family who is able to do the Maudsley program for them in a loving and healthy family environment.

  9. Anon,

    I'm a realist, and a foster parent, and I do agree that there are certainly families who can't do home-based care.

    I'd like every family to be given the benefit of the doubt, and all the help possible, and then perhaps to bring the WHOLE FAMILY into foster care!

    But you are right - the bottom line is getting the patient what they need!

  10. Laura, I'm not sure if you are already aware of this, but some of those who are impersonating parents are ED sufferers from the online ED community who completely disagree with the so called Maudsley Method. They impersonate parent's on the forum for their own amusement and also just to wait and see if a legitimate parent says one thing out of place or something they don't agree with so they can use that as proof that they are right and Maudsley does not work. For the record I do not agree with them or what they are doing and hopefully they will tire of it soon enough (or hopefully they will change their minds and see that Maudsley is a valid treatment option).


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