I’ve had this conversation with a lot of mothers in my career. “I feel like I’m the only one helping my kid fight through their eating disorder. I’m so frustrated! It feels like I’m always the bad guy. And [her/his] father just doesn’t participate. I know he loves [her/him], but he just doesn’t share how he feels!”
Pretty damning comments, and they are about as common as a cold in winter. Probably more so. There is good material out there for fathers on how to help their children grow and thrive. My friend Joe Kelly, author of Dads and Daughters, is really the expert in this and has programs specifically designed to coach dads through the process of helping their child recover from an eating disorder. But getting a father to “man up” and ask for help is one tough sell.
But let me share a few things you as a father can bring to the table:
- You are more than a financial provider; you provide the most necessary comfort of love, protection, tenderness, and healthy boundaries. Kids flourish with all these in place, even if they try to buck the last one.
- You can demonstrate courage. Courage comes from the Latin word “cor” which means “heart.” A courageous person speaks with their whole heart. When you share your thoughts and feelings, as scary and unusual as that is, you are demonstrating the most important skill your child will ever learn.
- You can be a hero. Fathers, you are fighting your child’s eating disorder, a voice in their head that tells them they are worthless, useless, ugly, terrible, and doomed. That voice says to hurt themselves, to starve, binge, purge, exercise every moment of every day, and to punish themselves if they fail to meet those eating disorder dictates. They need someone who will take away the opportunity to do these things because so often they can’t themselves. You must fight for them, and not blame them for an eating disorder that they feel out of control over. And you must not give up until the battle is won. When they recover, you will be their hero.
- You can offer perspective about what’s important in life. All too often, men worry about being right, having power, being in control, never disappointing people, and being successful. But you’ve failed too, right? Talk about failure and coming back again for more. Talk about the meaningful people in your life, what made them special, and remind them it had nothing to do with their looks and everything to do with their gifts, talents, kindnesses, and more. Let your child know that you love and appreciate all those things in them as well in your words and in your deeds.
Dads, you are often an under-utilized tool in recovery, but all too often you take yourself out of the tool box. Don’t be that dad. Get involved, be a part of their treatment, and be present. Get involved and start talking.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C - Founder, Executive Director, Psychotherapist at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 443-602-6515 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.