Proud2Bme | Real Experience, Real Advice: A Dad Shares His Tips for Parents

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Real Experience, Real Advice: A Dad Shares His Tips for Parents

Mike Polan’s daughter began her battle with anorexia when she was just ten years old. Today, at twenty, she is healthy and on the road to full recovery. Mike shared his advice, with one important message at the heart of everything he wants to say to parents: Have hope.

Here are Mike’s tips for parents who are trying to help a child with an eating disorder.

Get support for yourself.

“Although I was going to appointments for my daughter, I never really worked on myself. I look back now and I see that wasn’t such a good thing to do. When you first get into it, it’s such a confusing thing, and it took me a long time to figure out the illness and realize that it IS an illness.”

The process of dealing with a child’s eating disorder can put a strain on your relationship with your spouse, which is why Mike believes that individual support is crucial: “My wife and I went to a family therapist and we really didn’t think we were getting much out of it. I really think it’s important for parents to get their own individual help through therapy because you can’t really lean on your spouse because the reality is that they’re probably struggling with it also. It gets to a point where they don’t really listen that well so then you just clam up, which can make things even worse.”

Talk about your feelings, dads.

“In my generation, you were taught as a guy to just suck it up and deal with it. Feelings weren’t really taken into account. That was not the ‘manly’ thing to do. My dad’s take on this eating disorder would be, ‘You eat when you get hungry.’ And that was kind of my take on it when it first started until it all snowballed and went to hell. Things can’t be looked at in that old school way. We have to change.”

Don’t have unrealistic expectations about recovery.

“This is probably a guy thing too, but my feeling when my daughter first went to treatment was that she would be ‘fixed’ when she got out—like going to the doctor. Not having dealt with any therapy before in my life, I really did think it was like, ‘Oh, you get a pill and you’re all better.’ Like an ear infection or something. The first residential treatment center she went to, she was there for ten days. We put up ‘Welcome Home!’ signs and we thought everything was going to be great. And then it was just a matter of time before things fell back to where they were. And this happened time and time again. Each time she came home and it happened again, I would just sink deeper and deeper into thinking that it wasn’t going to get better. And because I wasn’t seeking help for myself, it was overwhelming.”

"It’s a marathon it’s not a sprint. Once your loved one leaves a facility, they need follow-up care. There needs to be a transition. They might think they’re ready to re-enter the world. But really they’re not. We realized that it was going to take time. They need to have a treatment team of a doctor, nutritionist and therapist as well as both parents. Can’t all be on one parent’s shoulder. It’s too much of a burden.”

Get involved.

“Dads can be a tiny part of the problem, but we can be a really big part of the solution if we get involved and really show an interest. When I was going through this, I just figured that she would work through it and everything would be okay. There were years when I just took her to appointments and took her home instead of actively getting involved and talking about it. We would do things together but I definitely never brought up the situation. When she was down in the dumps, I just let her be by herself instead of approaching her and asking, ‘Hey, do you want to talk about this? What can we do to help you?’ These are all things I learned six, seven years into it. We never really sat down, put it on the table and talked about it. I’ve learned over the years how to choose the right time to ask questions and be in tune to how my daughter is feeling at. You may ask a question one day and it will be okay. Other days you’ll get your head bitten off.”

Don’t play the blame game.

“A combination of factors caused this eating disorder, not just one thing. You beat yourself up over it, ‘what could I have done differently?’ We spent a tremendous amount of time with our kids and we couldn’t really understand why this was happening. I put my life on hold to raise our kids and then something like this happens. It just didn’t see fair. And I felt that way for a long time: ‘Why us?’ The answer? Well, who knows?

Be an advocate for healthy messages about food, weight, and body image at school.

“There’s a lot of ignorance on the part of the coaches and teachers. I’ve heard from a number of girls who have been upset by things their coach said. The coaches don’t understand unless they’ve been through it themselves. I’m a coach and a teacher and I think it’s important for coaches to stress the importance of physical activity and fueling the body. We have a pre-season meeting with our athletic director and I think just like we have to take first aid and CPR, educators should have to review the Parents and Coaches Toolkits on how to recognize someone who’s struggling and what we can do to help. I see girls on the cross-country team at my daughters school who do not look healthy and as long as they’re succeeding and getting the good times, the coaches aren’t going to do anything. Even sometimes with these sports doctors, unless the kid has something broken, they’re going to put them on the team and let them play. Parents and teachers need to take an active role in educating themselves.”

Don’t give up.

“I want to spread the word of hope because that’s something I didn’t have for a long time. I would sit at these family groups and it was nothing but bad stuff going on and we finally found a facility where all the people who work there are actually recovered themselves and they knew exactly what was going on. Hearing these stories is important. Parents need a positive message.”


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