Over the last month, I have reflected on my own experiences with eating disorders. In the years I struggled, one of my most painful times coincides with my return home from my first semester of college. My mother, alarmed by the changed, much thinner daughter that barely made it across the threshold of the front door for the Christmas break visit, had no tools.
It was obvious something had gone severely awry with her daughter. But she didn’t know where to start.
Within a few hours of my collapsing onto her bed, she started asking questions. Even though I felt overwhelmed by her assessment of my lack-of-eating habits, I see now she was scrambling. She was problem solving in the present.
What do I do? Do we go to the doctor? Does my daughter need treatment?
And though dealing with the present can be overwhelming, digging back in to the trenches of the past can be debilitating. I know, now, she must have also been asking: Where did I go wrong? What happened to my daughter? Whoever told her she wasn’t enough unless she was the skinniest in the room?
These are the first 5 of 10 Things I wish every mother had in her arsenal of tools to combat the onslaught of the Demon-speak that lies to our daughters about their body image.
1. Chunk the scales.
Yes, that means, unless you have been advised by your physician that a scale is medically necessary to assist you in recovering from some ailment or other health challenge, get rid of the scale in your house. Measuring weight, just for the sake of, only reiterates to you and your daughter, that the value number that appears on the scale reflects something about your value. That is a lie from the pit of hell.*
2. Compare your daughter to your daughter.
Yes, that means, you avoid beginning conversations about what other people in class are doing, looking like, winning, or promoting. Your children are constantly assessing their peer groups, and they already struggle with believing that their identity in Christ is enough. Comparing your daughter to Judy will only communicate to her that she isn’t enough. That is a lie from the pit of hell.
3. Allow your daughter to be clingy.
Yes, that means that she will have days, weeks, and maybe even months where she needs you more. She needs your attention, your encouragement, your “atta-girl.” It can be exhausting to pour that into her. Expecting our daughters to be self-sufficient at too young of an age is detrimental, especially as they compare themselves to other girls, women, or even you, Mom, and they need to know you are safe and available. There is a temptation to believe that a girl’s ever increasing independence from her parents will secure her future success. That is a lie from the pit of hell.
4. Close your mouth and listen.
Yes, that means you are not offering advice unless she asks for it. If she is struggling with obesity, you are not berating her as she asks for the second serving of ice cream. If her bent is toward losing weight or even leaning in toward anorexia or bulimia, you choose to withhold from yelling at her, insisting that it’s ridiculous that she thinks she is fat . The best thing you can do is ask her how she is feeling about her body and her weight as it is undergoing such change during these early-late adolescent years. And then let her talk. And then you, listen. We often want to fix our daughters by offering them incessant advice, thinking we always know what is best for them. That is a lie from the pit of hell.
5. Call your doctor and ask for her expertise in this season of life.
Yes, that means that you pick up the phone and call the person you have entrusted with the health of your child and ask them what they think. After all, they went to school for ten years, have been practicing for probably longer, and they know some stuff about healthy habits, food intake, and exercise. They also have access to resources that will help mom-daughter navigate this time of life. There is a popular myth out there that moms shouldn’t need help with raising their children, especially when it comes to thinking through healthy lifestyle choices for their daughters. That is a lie from the pit of hell.
Next week, 6-10 will follow, as well as some conversations from some of my closest friends and blog followers. Until then…
*Thank you, Leslie Johnson, my mentor and friend, for speaking these words to me boldly and unabashedly. They are changing my heart.