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Seeing My Past Eating Disorder through the Eyes of My Daughter

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Guest blogger Maggie Baumann, MA: No mom is perfect; we all make mistakes raising our children -- some small, others big. The aftermath of having a mother with an eating disorder can take years to become clear in children. I learned that the hard way.

Maggie Baumann
In my first momlogic blog, "Pregorexia: Starving for Two," I shared my brutal, honest experience of being a mom who not only had an eating disorder while pregnant with my second child, but also continued having the eating disorder as my children were growing up. I didn't understand what my food-restricting and over-exercising were doing to my daughter until AFTER she was born. Months after her birth, it finally clicked in that I had done something terribly wrong when my second daughter began having seizures and the doctor attributed it to malnutrition in the womb.

The guilt I felt at that time only fed my anorexia more; I punished myself for what I had done to my own baby, who I loved with all my heart. And now my baby wasn't inside of me, so the punishment was all towards myself. I thought, "She is safe now." So my anorexia didn't go away; it stayed with me through my kids' toddler years and on into elementary school. I maintained my anorexia until I became so sick that I was admitted into treatment at Remuda Ranch in 1998.

At the time, my kids were 10 and 11 -- a long time for them to be exposed to my strange ways with food and exercise. Kids are no dummies; they can pick up on things you try to hide. I am in recovery now, but I still have this bad feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realize that I have not cooked a meal for my children (or my husband) since the kids were in second and third grade. That was fifteen years ago! Why is it such a block for me to nourish my children (who are now in college) with the simple, loving act of making them a healthy meal?

I can feed myself healthy food now, but cooking for others is not on my top 10 list. It should be number one because I love my kids, but I have yet to accomplish this simple motherly task, even in recovery. Looking back at the unhealthy actions I exposed my children to is devastating. Thankfully, my husband took charge of food in our home when my kids were in second and third grade. He exposed them to all the normal foods most kids eat -- even fast food. Yet though they had a healthy mentor in my husband, my kids were still affected by little things I'd do that, at the time, I didn't know would hurt them.

We attended church weekly on Sunday mornings. That was normal. But what wasn't normal was that my husband would drive himself and the kids in the car, and I would run to church, then stand in the back during the service, all sweaty. Hmm ... that doesn't sound too healthy. I did not (and never have) owned a scale, yet my kids remember the number of pounds that my professional "support team" wanted me to weigh. I remember thinking back then that I should not talk about my body or weight in front of the kids, and for the most part I didn't. But as I said, they were no dummies. They picked up on the things I was struggling with, such as eating my food and trying to reach my "magic number."

Fast-forward thirteen years to now. How are my children, now 23 and 24 years old? Thanks to the grace of God, they are healthy and have no signs of eating disorders or any issues with food. I thought my children had escaped this horrible disorder's destruction ... until we participated in a family therapy session eleven months ago. Not until then did I really understand the effects my anorexia had had on their lives when they were growing up.

My youngest daughter courageously spoke out on how it had affected her when she was growing up. As she spoke her words of anger to me through her tears of love, I listened through my own tears and let her have the floor. She deserved to share her feelings and anger at me. It was "just" anger, and I was not going to defend myself because I had no defense. This is what I learned from my youngest daughter (things I cringe at, because it was never my intent to harm her self-esteem): She said my anorexia made her frustrated, anxious and sad, and that she couldn't understand why I would take such destructive actions against myself. She said, "I was so worried about my mom, yet this was so unhealthy for me to be around. It made me feel like I was fat, because if my mom wasn't happy about her own body, how could I be?"

As a result, she revealed to me in that family therapy session that she was resentful and wanted to push me away, yet felt guilty for feeling that way. She said my disease had made her more self-conscious about her own body image and had damaged her self-confidence. All this information came out of my daughter in a matter of thirty minutes. It was information she had never shared with me; I'd had no idea of the damage and destruction that had been visited upon my children when I was sick. Even now, the anger is very real for my youngest daughter. I think she spent so much time trying to "protect" me that finally she was able to let go of that enabling behavior and express her inner feelings of anger.

I remember during this session just breathing and telling myself, "Sit, listen and breathe. My daughter has the right to express this anger that has been inside of her for so long." She deserved to say how she had been affected -- and I had never known the depth of the negative impact I'd had on her. I am thankful that I did not pass my eating disorder on to my children, as studies have shown that is a major risk for the children of mothers with eating disorders

No mother outwardly wants to sabotage her children's self-esteem and confidence, but it happens when mothers like me have struggled with addictions such as eating disorders. We are blinded as to how our actions affect others. I just thank God that we had this family session, so my youngest daughter could finally express her anger. We are slowly working through this. I have given her the freedom and space to work through her anger. I applaud her for having the strength to share these thoughts with me, and I am going to be patient as she moves through the anger process. I want her to feel her feelings without guilt from me, because that is where the healing will come.

I believe that, with time and good communication, we will resolve this rift in our relationship, because one thing we do know about each other is that we share an unconditional love -- even when someone's angry. I encourage moms in similar situations to listen to their children and the feelings they express, because they are real, even if you thought you had never harmed your children in any way. As I tell my clients, everyone has his or her own perception of reality, and no two family members who experience the same thing will see the event in the same way.

I never saw my eating disorder through the eyes of my daughter until recently, and it has forced me to accept the lasting negative consequences my disorder had on my whole family. If you are struggling with an eating disorder or have a child who is, visit these links for support and treatment resources: EDReferral.com and NationalEatingDisorders.org.


next: Are Holiday Teacher Gifts Bribery?
4 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kendra (Voice in Recovery) December 15, 2010, 11:55 AM

Absolutely honest and I know how hard that can be. Family therapy is so important and I am so glad someone is talking about this. Addressing EDs are a family issue, and others are affected. Opening the dialogue can be healing to all.

Anonymous December 15, 2010, 12:38 PM

Of course the actions of a mother have an effect on the children. It’s not just mothers who are addicts who can claim that, it’s all mothers. Whatever you do that is good, bad, or neither one at all will be reflected in your children and how they grow.

Joanna Poppink, MFT December 16, 2010, 12:18 AM

Dear Maggie,

Thank you so much for posting this powerful post. You cover the years and give a long term perspective for many suffering with eating disorders who only see the short term view.

It takes courage and determination to bear the pain that goes along with recovery work. In my opinion, that equips us to bear the even greater pain of discovering the hurt we have caused others through our illness.

I hope, with the revelations that come from your family therapy, you and your children can find new routes to one another and continue healing. I also hope that what you say here will serve as a wake up call to mothers who think their eating disorder is private and doesn’t affect anyone else.

Thank you again, Maggie.

Joanna Poppink, MFT
Los Angeles psychotherapist
www.eatingdisorderrecovery.com
author: Healing Your Hungry Heart, 08/ll Conari Press

Nikita December 20, 2010, 2:55 PM

You are disgusting! Where is Child services when you need them? If a drug addicted (also considered a “disorder) parent can have their children taken away for their “disease” then you should’ve too. And why on Earth would your husband even condone the 2 of you having children? Seizures after birth? I dont care how long ago this was - this is gross and you should not have your children by any means. Part of being a parent is protecting and caring for your child IN UTRERO as well as outside of it! And the fact you wont give up your selfish addiction to cook for your children is pathetic.


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