Sometimes Mums and Dads can cope differently when a child is unwell. This is okay.
Often Dads can report feeling “out the loop” or even that they “make it worse”. It’s understandable that you may feel these things, but you are important in your loved one’s recovery.
Often men can respond to eating disorder conflict with avoidance or withdrawal where a female may respond with more of a caring/help seeking role. (14)(15) This may be to do with the difference between male and female cognitive skills.
It’s important to be involved in the care of your loved one. Try to be involved in meal support.
You should be involved in meal times, this way, the eating disorder will know that everyone is united against it and your loved one will be supported by two people; a united front.
Meal times can be very hard though, and if you are only spending time with your loved one around meals, it can be hard to remember who they are at times.
You can try and stay connected to your loved one out with the eating disorder by doing something practical but fun such as after meal distraction.
What Dads want to tell other Dads
Karen McMahon has been a specialist clinician in eating disorders and is now a lecturer in mental health. She has a specialist interest in Fathers and their role in the treatment of eating disorder and has completed research around this subject.
This is what Dads have told her to tell to other Dads:
- “Read a leaflet that explains the physical, emotional and psychological effects of eating disorders.” (You can read about this here and find out what it’s like from a person with an eating disorder here.)
- “Oh that leaflet – I would never have known if I wasn’t handed a leaflet when I went in to the clinic and I think that is the kind of thing you need to give parents right away”
- “If I had been given this (Eva Musby’s book) when my daughter first became ill it would have changed everything for us. I bought every book going but this one saved our lives.”
“I would say I learned the best strategies for coping from Eva’s book…Thinking about the fear of bungee jumping as similar to the fear of eating for your son or daughter really helps you to understand a bit of what they are going through. Learning to be self compassionate and to not be so hard on yourself is a necessary skill when supporting a young person with an eating disorder. Dads who have been involved in supporting young people have said this book helps them to think about and develop these skills”
- “Sometimes you will be so tired and fed up thinking about the eating disorder that you will want to read something unrelated or just watch TV and that is totally okay. You need time to recharge your batteries. It is a marathon not a sprint.“
- “There were times when you will just want or need little sound bites of information. A YouTube video can be helpful because you can watch that on your phone on a break at work or on the commute. It helps you to understand a bit of what is going on but doesn’t take the concentration of reading.”
- “Try to get your head around the idea that eating disorders are not logical illnesses. If your daughter or son could eat they would. It’s about how they feel about themselves and Dads need to be part of supporting them to find ways to gradually change and challenge those negative thoughts and feelings.“I switched in to Mr Fix it mode. I was going to solve this. Some of my attempts simply revealed how little I knew about this complex and multi-factorial illness… but gradually as the months went by, I developed insights, into what was going on in my daughters mind, and I was able to help appropriately.”
- “The fact that you are there matters. In the midst of the illness your son or daughter may say really hurtful things to you but that is the eating disorder. Deep down they are counting on you and you being there really does make a difference. Stay involved at home and in treatment”
- “Sense of humour -Hold on to this as well it will see you through some tricky times. You might feel like going off and crying (and yes that is okay for a Dad to do in a private moment) but laughter will also help you through the really low times.”
- “Hold on to the hope!!! Your son or daughter is counting on you to believe that they can beat the eating disorder. When you hold on to hope they draw strength from you that helps them to become stronger than the illness.“