By Katy Aisenberg, Ph.D.
“Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness” — Galway Kinnell
After years and tears spent treating girls with eating disorders, I found myself pregnant — in my 40s — with a daughter.
Penelope is now 10, and suddenly, everything I’d preached and chiseled and chipped and interpreted in my office is getting put to the test. How was I going to try to prevent my own child from having an eating disorder? How would I prevail against a culture of young girls in short shorts, strappy tops and frankly lewd fashion, where my 4th grader must choose between “boyfriend jeans” and “skinny jeans”? As I had told my patients: “Many girls entertain diets — not everyone gets an eating disorder.”
Still, I reviewed the early dangers for developing such a disorder — flipping through my own brain for knowledge.
We had some family history of mood disorders but nothing that seemed so severe it couldn’t be tempered by attentive parenting.
2. Home obsession with foods
I made absolutely sure that nothing in my house was low-fat, low-calorie and insisted that dessert was part of the meal if you ate your ‘growing foods” a useful phrase I learned from her pre-school teacher.
3. Range of affect (or, enough feelings)
Yup, no problem there. My house was never one where feelings were suppressed. In fact, I might have spent too much time inquiring what my child thought or felt. I was politely interrupted. “Mom,” she said, “I’m watching the cars outside” or “Making a friendship bracelet” or “Telling myself a story.”
4. Too much affect
Yes, I wanted to tone this down. She neded to learn resilience — that horrible feelings, the dementors of loneliness, sadness and intense anger can be survived. She needed to endure them and learn to soothe herself. I reminded myself of this as I clenched my nails into my hand while she hurled about in her crib.
5. Too much talk about appearance
I failed on this. I could not even try to stop my outpouring of sheer joy at her natural beauty. I was, as C.S. Lewis said, “surprised by joy” in this department. I craved her attention like a jilted suitor. But it amuses both of us — and possibly helped her — that I would joke about my “separation issues.” I believe I gave her the freedom to express those same feelings and a good many more.
6. A sense of purpose
We are currently working on this. The most effective cure for the most recalcitrant eating disorders is — surprisingly — community service. Continue reading