As children mature, assumer ore independence and take on added responsibilities, the role of parents continually shifts. In general, the younger their ages, the more parents are involved in decisions regarding their children’s lives.
But an important aspect of growing up is learning to make ones’ own choices. Stepping back and allowing children to assess their options and make their own choices may be difficult, but doing so is essential to their healthy development.
In families where an eating disorder is present, however, parents commonly have difficulty with this issue. One family, for example, may worry that their child isn’t ready or able to make the “right” choices for herself, so instead of encouraging her to take on this challenge, they continue to make decisions for her. Another might expect their child to be capable of making decisions that are far beyond what’s appropriate for her age or abilities, and therefore choose to remain distant and comparatively uninvolved. Yet another family may show signs of both of these attitudes, if, for instance, the parents have conflicting ideas about child rearing. Regardless of the situation, the end result is invariably the same: confusion on their part of the loved one, and trouble or failure when she tries to consider options and then choose what she believes to be best for her.
It was hard for my mom to trust me. She worried and worried. But after a while she could see that I didn’t always make “perfect” choices, but I mostly did ok.
My folks acted like they thought I was 25 when I was 11. They had me set my own curfew, buy my own groceries, choose most things for myself. Then they wondered why I didn’t make the “right” choices. Hello, I was 11—I didn’t know what I was doing.*
To learn more about the role of family dynamics in eating disorders development or maintenance, or to chat live with a Master’s-level therapist about concerning relationships, thoughts, or behaviors, visit www.sedop.org.
*Excerpt from Why She Feels Fat by Tony Paulson, PhD and Johanna Marie McShane, PhD