Mom should offer forgiveness, and save some for herself


Hadley Hooper illustration for The Washington Post (Hadley Hooper)
August 27, 2014

Question: I honestly feel that I mothered my daughter as best I could, but she doesn’t agree with me at all.

The last time I saw her she told me that I had been a terrible mother and that she was too angry to see me anymore. That was a year ago, and I haven’t heard from her since then. No Mother’s Day card, nothing.

I was divorced from her father when she was little, but most of the misery came when she developed anorexia in high school. My daughter got so ill that she almost died, and then she had to go to an eating disorders center for a while. I thought she was well when she came home, but in time she became horribly bulimic. She binged and she purged, she plowed through all of our food, she made horrible messes in the kitchen, and she finally did so much damage to herself that she developed osteoporosis. I didn’t handle this behavior very well, and now she won’t forgive me. She even told me to my face that I was an awful mother.

This is how it stands for us now, and any communicating I did in the past has been wasted. My daughter says that she doesn’t want me in her life anymore. I am devastated and terribly hurt; my worry and my anxiety never go away. What should I do?

Answer: It’s hard to know who carries a heavier load — you or your daughter. When the load got too heavy for her, she had to share the blame. How else could she deal with her pain?

As much as your daughter has hurt you, try to forgive her for it. She’s doing the best she can.

You have to forgive yourself, too. You may not have handled her eating disorder perfectly, but you stood by and stood fast, which is sometimes all a parent can do. You watched your daughter’s hair grow thin and brittle, saw her skin get dry and yellow, smelled her breath turn sour, and you dealt with her depression, her lethargy, her temper and her mood swings. And you did that knowing — because you had to know — that the death rate for eating disorders is higher than other mental illnesses.

For years psychiatrists have said that people — especially teenage girls — succumb to eating disorders because they are trying to control some small part of their lives, but they no longer think that parents can cause their children’s anorexia or bulimia. This should make you feel better if you ever thought that you were to blame for your daughter’s eating disorder.

You may never know the cause of your daughter’s anorexia or her bulimia, but you do know that she is in recovery and that you still have to stand by and stand fast in hopes that she will forgive herself so she can, in time, forgive you. If she does, you and she would be wise to see a psychotherapist together, because a good therapist can help you untangle your damaged relationship more quickly, more safely and more easily than you could do it alone. If your daughter won’t see you or a therapist, however, then go alone so you can release the pain that is burdening you so much.

You can help yourself even more if you also help others, whether it’s reading stories to toddlers at your local children’s hospital, serving Meals on Wheels to the elderly or explaining the multiplication tables to a youngster who has no one to help him at home. The more you give, the less bereft you’ll feel.

Send questions about parenting to advice@margueritekelly.com.

Also at washingtonpost.com Read a transcript of a recent live Q&A hosted by Kelly at washingtonpost.com/advice , where you can also find past Family Almanac columns.

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