We all know that we can’t take care of our daughter’s needs if we do so at our own expense. But how can we possibly take care of ourselves when all of our time and energy is devoted to taking care of her?
When you are in the trenches with the anorexia that has taken over your daughter’s life, the idea of self-care is laughable, insulting, annoying, and even ridiculous. I know. I’ve been there. When life stops until she eats, it really does stop your life. Or, it at least stops life as you know it.
The last thing a mom is thinking about is herself when one of her kids is in crisis. She understandably thinks that since anorexia is a life-threatening illness, it is impossible for her to practice any kind of self-care until after her daughter is okay.
That sounds perfectly reasonable to me. It even sounds like it’s true. But, it isn’t actually a fact that it is impossible for you to take care of yourself while your daughter is sick. You just thinks it’s a fact because you believe it.
Moms and dads need to be rested enough, healthy enough, and calm enough to be able to care for their daughter. So the real fact is that self-care is necessary now more than ever, even when it seems like an impossibility.
It’s time to change the thought that self-care is impossible right now.
If it feels impossible to take time for yourself, you won’t be able to immediately change your thought to something like: I practice self-care every single day no matter what. That is going to be too much of a leap. If you don’t believe the new thought, it will not create a feeling that will lead to you practicing more self-care.
Instead, try on a new thought that is neutral, but gets away from the impossibility of self-care. For example, I am figuring out how to care for myself while I’m caring for my daughter; or, I am learning how to fit self-care into my daily routine. Shifting your thought from impossible to possible will create a different emotion that will make caring for yourself something that is doable.
Before anorexia, self-care was a concept that I knew about, but I wasn’t very consistent at applying. Now that my daughter has anorexia, I understand a lot more how important putting my oxygen mask on first is, but it feels absolutely unrealistic when I am consumed with making sure she eats 3 meals and 3 snacks a day, etc.
At the same time, I realize that I’m on the front lines, and if I don’t take care of myself, I won’t be able to take care of her. So, how do I prioritize myself when it seems like every second of my life is taken up by making sure that she’s okay?
I have learned to shift my thoughts about what self-care means, and it has enabled me to create ways to care for myself that are realistic, and that improve my ability to care for my daughter.
Self-care is neither a luxury nor an indulgence. The kind of self-care I am referring to isn’t taking bubble baths, getting pedicures, or going to the spa with your friends. It is taking responsibility for my own well being.
Realistic ways to make self-care an integral part of your day:
Every morning, give yourself a few minutes to do something for yourself that creates joy or peace. This doesn’t have to be a time consuming or elaborate ritual, it just has to be one that you don’t skip.
What works for you? It could be a cup of tea or coffee in the quiet time before the rest of the household wakes up. It could be listening to music, meditating, writing in your journal, reading, praying, anything that you can do for yourself that taps into your internal joy.
One of the most caring things you can do for yourself when you are dealing with the demands of anorexia, is to limit the number of obligations that you have. Learning to constrain not only your obligations outside the home, but to also constrain your expectations of yourself, will give you more room to focus on caring for your daughter.
Do an inventory of what brings you joy and what doesn’t. I noticed that what had been really important to me and what I wanted to spend my time on, changed the day I realized my daughter was sick.
Give yourself permission to decide what to step back from. For example, if you are very involved in the community with volunteering, you socialize frequently, or you take on extra work assignments, it is okay to temporarily scale back on these things.
Learn to say “no.” Plan to decline new opportunities and responsibilities for the time being.
At a later time, when your daughter is further into her recovery, you can do another inventory of what brings you joy and what doesn’t, and you can decide whether you would benefit from returning to your previous commitments.
3. Give yourself a break.
Adjust your expectations of yourself. Your house may not be as clean as it usually is, and your emails might not be answered as quickly as usual. You may not be as available to your friends as you used to be, and you may have no desire to exercise, wear lipstick, or go to church.
Go easy on yourself. This is temporary, and you can make your daughter your focus right now without expecting yourself to do everything that you’ve always done in the way that you’ve always done it.
4. Get help when you need it.
If you are the primary carer for your daughter, can your spouse or other adult family member step in when you need some rest or you need some time to manage your emotions?
Can you get friends and family to help you run errands or drive your other kids to and from school and activities?
Can you get help with the laundry, the dishes, and/or the general housecleaning?
Can other family members temporarily take on more responsibility around the house?
You can also turn to medical and psychological professionals for help if you need support while managing your daughter’s illness. Taking medication, talking to a counselor, or hiring a coach can help you take care of yourself so that you are in good shape to help your daughter.
5. Make a list of what you are grateful for, and look at it frequently.
Gratitude is unlikely to be on your mind when you have a child with anorexia, but reminding yourself of what you have to be grateful for in the midst of the anorexia storm, is a worthwhile exercise. Practicing gratitude is an effective way to keep your perspective.
6. Keep a success journal to keep track of the progress your daughter is making, and all that you have accomplished.
Every smile, every bite, every little thing moves her one step closer to recovery.
7. Find ways to reward yourself for a job well done.
How can you recognize yourself for the hard work you have done and are doing?
I’d love to help you figure out how to take care of yourself so that you can care for your anorexic daughter. Contact me at email@example.com to schedule a free 20-minute mini coaching session.