Yes, some parents suck.

I get the feeling, often, that people think I'm overly starry-eyed about parents. That in my eyes all parents are wonderful, can't do wrong, and are always ready fight a pack of wolves to save their babies.

My message of "it's not your fault" is seen as letting parents "off the hook."

(Let's leave aside that this wouldn't even be a question if we were talking about childhood leukemia.)

But let me say this publicly and loudly: some parents really do suck. No question. I'm not naive, nor am I simply philosophizing:

I was a foster parent. I've taken care of an 18 month old with a cast from hip to toe due to a spiral fracture he didn't give himself. I've shuttled a baby in and out of the back door of social services for parental visits with parents who had been raising the child in a motel crack house.

Some parents are neglectful, abusive, incompetent, or carrying on a family inheritance of mindlessness. And some of those people are raising kids with eating disorders.

But if you ask almost any child in the toughest part of recovery whether his or her parents are abusive, neglectful, over-critical - or any of the other sins of the week in ED theory - they'll tell you "yes." But that doesn't make it true.

Ask an Alzheimer's patient whether her daughter is stealing her good silver if you think it is.

A recent comment on this blog suggested that for those families unready or unwilling to step up it would be a great idea to have Maudsley Foster Families. I agree. But let's start with the benefit of the doubt for all parents.


  1. I agree that some parents suck! Some professionals do too.
    I also think that we live in a society that assumes guilt and expects near perfection from parents where our children are concerned.

    Someone once told me that parents were the least supported yet had one of the most important jobs there is. Why is that?

    Asking a teen, never mind a sick one, if they feel like everyone is trying to control them is just plain dumb. It's leading and loaded. Even I'd say "yes" some days.
    When I stated that I felt guilty, in your last post, I meant that I wanted no stones left unturned. I didn't want secrets destroying my child which we know sometimes happens.
    I agree though, that parents, especially those seeking help, deserve firstly to be treated with respect and assumed to be wanting whatever is their child's best interest. Sadly, some places have taken this to mean that 'we' are the problem instead of the people who can help.

    There are still a few diseases in which stress is blamed as a cause. A dr. once tried to make my dad's broken back be about his days as a boy surviving a war. My mom put a firm stop to that T's interest in listening to my dad share his story week after week. He needed help with chronic pain from an injury! She stood up to that Dr. and let him in on her thoughts. Needless to say, he was dropped.
    Where I can see how an incident for some people triggers a desire to abandon oneself, I know that until we help them firstly to eat we may be getting distorted lies regarding reality. If we affirm a lie we risk making it seem even more true. Is there not a great danger in playing with a fragile mind let alone a healthy one?
    Sometimes I have a low opinion of the medical world Laura, so I'm glad you are there working to help them see we aren't always to blame and it's a bad to assume when our child is sinking.
    I know, I ramble.

  2. I sure don't think Laura is trying to let parents off the hook. After all, she's challenging us to do one of the most difficult things a parent can do -- feed a starving anorexic child. That takes courage and love. It's not about shirking responsibility.
    Has anyone else had the following experience? Anorexic daughter blames parents for their failings, and therapist sees parents as guilty. Anorexic child blames therapist for his or her failings, and therapist responds that its merely the Eating Disorder talking.

  3. hello
    I am bulimic and im 17.
    i totally blame my parents for one:not noticing me ever because they are to wrapped up in their problems
    two: my dad being a druggie
    three: my mom being stupid to have 4 kids with a druggie who has never been clean for more than a month in his life and knowing this the whole time
    Four: For my mom being attention seeking and pretty much exagerating sickness 24/7 and making sure everyone knows she is sick
    Five: For taking me out of rehab for my ED after only 2 weeks due to my dad being in his rehab at the same time and we had to go see him
    Six: Making me pretty much being stupid in life all together(theres so much more reasons i resent them)

    They created me, a monster. I have to pay for their stupidity
    I have done well so far i am lucky.
    But i have never felt so lonely and neglected as of tonight because i have realized they really dont care all that much.

    Just thought id let you see the point of view threw the child of an Eating disorder

  4. A,

    I'm so sorry your parents are unable to love and protect you they way they should. You deserve better. I hope you have, or find, stable and nurturing adults in your life to give you safe harbor. You have a whole life ahead of you to care for and be cared for. You are not a monster, and by reaching out - even here - you are not alone. With care, Laura

  5. "But if you ask almost any child in the toughest part of recovery whether his or her parents are abusive, neglectful, over-critical - or any of the other sins of the week in ED theory - they'll tell you "yes." But that doesn't make it true."

    OK, this is where you've lost me. Frankly, I find this a disgusting statement. My parents were abusive and neglectful before I got anorexia, they were abusive and neglectful during, and they would continue to be so now I am recovered, except that a smart adult eventually got me treatment as far away (geographically) from my sole surviving parent as possible. Accusing children of lying about traumatic and abusive experiences, or encouraging parents to avoid any responsibility for hounding a child into illness, is disgraceful. Too many children are abused to death at the hands of their parents every year in this country, often because no one believed them or cared enough to intervene, without someone encouraging people to ignore abuse in the area of mental health as well.

    But of course, it's not as black and white as that - abuse and ill-treatment can be less obvious and more insidious. A while back you posted a link to a blog in which a mother of a recovered anorexic recalled her initial discomfort at seeing her daughter's legs get fat as she recovered. What all the commenters fawning over this mother failed to realise was that if that was her mindset about weight and fat at that point, it had probably been her mindset for some time - probably since well before her daughter was diagnosed with anorexia... and she had conveniently neglected to recall in her blog post whether she'd made comments about her daughter's supposedly chunky legs (or her own, or other people's), before she developed anorexia. What bothers me about your blog is the way you give ALL parents a hall pass... and while you'll sometimes admit that say, parents who are horrendously physical abusive may have had something to do with anorexia, you won't apportion any blame to those makers of the snide/sidelong comments about weight and food because, "oh, their kids would have gotten anorexia anyway."

    I just can't find someone credible who says any memories a child with anorexia has of being abused is a lie. That's just not true, and thank goodness I didn't go to a therapist with such a sickening attitude, or I'd probably be dead now.

  6. The rate of abuse reports by patients with anorexia is actually lower than the rates in the general population. With bulimia it is slightly higher.

    Abuse should ALWAYS be considered serious and taken seriously by treatment providers and by any adults who have any suspicion that abuse has occured.

    Abuse should NOT be suspected just on the basis of an eating disorder diagnosis.

    It is unacceptable and damaging for parents to make "snide/sidelong comments about weight and food." Full stop, no excuses, unacceptable and damaging. Comments and attitudes by parents and society DO have an effect on people - very serious effects. We need to address this in our society and change attitudes for the health of ALL people. For those with a predisposition for an eating disorder it is even more critical that we surround them with healthy attitudes.

    What you may not be hearing - but I am saying - is that although we don't cause an eating disorder with these attitudes we do harm that person's mental health and make them more likely to do things that put them at risk of an eating disorder, to maintain the disorder, and to make treatment more difficult. But that is different than causing the eating disorder.

    And yes, the thoughts and memories of patients ARE altered by their mental illness. Patients often suffer from delusional beliefs about the people around them, altered and selective memory, and many of the symptoms of personality disorders. Not all patients, and not all the time, but yes - mental illness does sometimes have this effect. Thoughts about family are often temporarily altered just as thoughts about food and calories and body shape can be completely altered.

    The only reason to yammer on about this, and the purpose of this blog, is to help parents understand that the thoughts of the patient are not always their free will - and may be temporary and extreme. It is important for parents to remain steady and seek out and work with a professional treatment team that will help the family support the patient with as much love and competence and information and commitment as possible.

    No one is saying that abuse doesn't happen, doesn't have an effect on mental health, or should be ignored or discounted.

  7. P.S. Anonymous, I am so sad that you were abused and neglected by our parents. It is heartbreaking to me that you suffered this way. My heart goes out to you and my admiration for the adults who DID get you to safety and healing.


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