Parents don't cause eating disorders. We don't trigger, contribute to, or encourage them. Our loved ones are born with a predisposition that that we can't cause even if we tried. The predisposition is relatively rare and the environmental factors associated with triggering them are nearly ubiquitous and have little effect on the population compared to those who fall ill.
But that's just the cause part. We CAN fail to recognize the signs and act. We DO contribute to overall mental health and to the course of illness if present. We CAN prevent the illness from guiding our actions.
Some parents fail their kids. Some of us get sucked into guilt and responsibility and become enablers as a result. Other parents simply refuse to cause distress for their kid, or endure the temporary hate and ugliness of what needs to be done. Too often we believe nonsense others sell us that appeals to our weaknesses or vanity or just plain fear. Parents discover there isn't money, enough professional help, government funding, nearby clinics, support from friends and family, and insurance coverage and just settle or quit.
I'm the first person to defend parents as a group and to give all parents the benefit of the doubt. But you know what? I'm also the first to hold us responsible for what we do in response, too. Not that we can always stop the course of the illness -- sometimes we truly can not -- or control all the circumstances. But too often parents just decide they know enough, have done enough, and feel unequal to the necessary tasks. We keep thinking there's another answer, another response that's easier. We keep asking the same questions but don't want to hear the answers, leave it to others to tell us what to do, and fail to see our own complicity in the dynamic keeping the person ill.
The point is, it's not ABOUT us or our comfort. Fear, weakness, lack of information, helplessness, exhaustion: these are OUR problems to solve. The way the illness distorts their thinking and robs them of insight and makes them say or do hurtful things: that's reasonable and expected. It is our job, no matter how hard, to do it anyway. WE became parents. Our kids got a bad hand of cards. But eating disorders are treatable illnesses. It sucks. It isn't about us. It's about what they need from us.
As harsh as I feel as I say this, there is no greater cruelty than regret.