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Parents in denial

Posted Aug 26 2008 4:04pm

I hear a lot about parents "in denial" about the seriousness of a child's eating disorder.

And I do see parents who appear to be denying how ill their child is. I meet parents seeming to enable the illness by settling for low weights or resisting high calorie meal plans. I talk with parents who don't want to drive any further, pay any more, sit through any more disheartening meals, attend any more sessions, or just want it to be over.

But I don't call it denial. I call it fear exacerbated by incoherence in the treatment world.

It is too easy to call a parent "in denial" when they don't know which - of all the contradictory, ineffective, unquantifiable options available - treatment direction to pursue.

It is too convenient to say a parent is "in denial" when they do what a seemingly competent and well-meaning professional says to do and when it doesn't work the next professional upbraids them for listening to the first idea.

It is inhumane to observe a parent in distress and fear and worry - this is their child, after all - and assume the parent is choosing the "easier" of the options.

And it is impossible to know, looking at a family new to an eating disorder diagnosis, what that family was like before the illness or what miracles they can perform if offered tools and support and the benefit of the doubt .

The inertia of normal, healthy parenting isn't swept away in a day, a week, or a month of living in the new world we enter when our child is gravely ill. It takes time, training, and compassion.

Let's learn from the tragic history of blaming the parents of autistic children, schizophrenic offspring, asthmatics, and tuberculosis patients. It's an illness, and parents are the best asset a child has.

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