— West Coast Family
West Coast Family: So, your daughter is suffering from a setback in her long struggle with a famously treatment-resistant, potentially fatal illness — and your main concern about her relapse is that it puts you on the spot.
That’s … just … damn.
And risking a pile-on, I wonder why you thought “single” was so germane to the matter at hand that it warranted equal billing with her age and her place in your family.
Your daughter’s decision to share this with you, especially before a possible visit, was brave, important to her health, and a chance for you to help. Or at least not hurt or dismiss her. That’s it.
I hope (maybe against credulity) what I’ve picked up here is not an utter lack of compassion, but instead a case of compassion fatigue. The latter would be understandable: Recovery from an eating disorder can be a long, heartbreaking, jagged road of progress and setbacks. With any long struggle, loved ones can grow fatigued to the point where their support starts to slip. It would not be good for your daughter at all to read this on you, so it’s your responsibility to deal with any numbness or frustration on your own time to ensure you don’t add an ounce to her burden, of course — but, the feeling itself would be understandable.
If instead you’ve always treated her illness as “this behavior” she inconsiderately conducts in your home, then I am going to beg you, beg, on bad knees on hardwood, that you talk to a therapist as soon as you can find one versed in these issues and accepting new patients. Because your daughter’s life might depend on your understanding the role your family’s dynamics and relationships and, if I’m reading it correctly, self-centered detachment play in her illness.
If the end of my sentence made you flinch with defensiveness, then seek that therapeutic assist all the sooner. Please. Begging. And if I’ve misread you, then, my sincere apologies. But professional guidance would still be appropriate: Whether you’re compassionate, compassion-fatigued or outright compassion-challenged, there’s no argument against getting appropriately informed.
Again, disordered eating is a complicated problem; this is not an occasion to wing it or wish it away. The National Eating Disorders Association has a volunteer-staffed Helpline, (800) 931-2237 (nationaleatingdisorders.org), where you can turn the gratuitous helplessness of “hard to know what to say” into something warm, caring and therapeutically sound. You can discuss strategies beforehand for a Christmas visit, too, to free your mind just to love her and welcome her home. You can find virtual friends-and-family support. You can do this much for your kid.
Hi, Carolyn: My daughter “Cindy” and her BFF “Natalie” have known one another since birth because her mom and I are best friends. They are both in high school. Recently my daughter was squealing in joy and I asked her what was going on. She casually told me Natalie finally got asked out by this girl she’d had a crush on. She said this like it’s not a big deal, which it isn’t.
My dilemma is that I don’t think Natalie’s parents know. I don’t think they would ever have an issue with it. They are very accepting. But her mom is my best friend and I feel weird not telling her. At the same time, I don’t want to out Natalie and lose my daughter’s trust. Am I okay to keep this secret?
— Best Friend
Best Friend: Yes. More important, you are not okay not to keep this secret.
I do see your dilemma. The mutual transparency of best-friendship is one of the underrated joys in life. But you don't out people. It's that simple.
Even when it’s not that simple, there’s still a direct way to break a tell-or-don’t-tell tie: Ask yourself who owns the information you’re holding and, if it’s not you, whether there’s an emergency that warrants an override. To anyone who challenges you later for decisions not to tell, you can explain, “It wasn’t mine to share.”
In this case, your non-emergency information has a rightful owner, and it’s Natalie.
You have one maternal play, if you want to use it: to ask your daughter if Natalie’s parents know, because you don’t want to speak out of turn. That’s just good hygiene with any potentially sensitive news, even among adults.