Any parent will tell you that the sense of responsibility to your child never goes away. I am repeatedly assured that no matter how old my children are I will not stop worrying about them or wanting to help them. A colleague described how she took out an additional mortgage to pay for her daughter’s expensive wedding, because, that’s what you do, isn’t it? I replied that I thought what you did was hold the ladder and help them with their suitcases into the car as they elope to Gretna Green, but she didn’t seem to agree.
When your child has been ill with an eating disorder, there is a sense of sudden loss of responsibility. Someone else feeds them, or doesn’t, and deals with the fallout on tough days. Your role is reduced to that of a visitor, someone to take in clean clothes, or favourite cereal bars for snack time or someone who plays games with them in the evening. It is both liberating and disempowering. When L first came out, I panicked, wondering if I would remember how to feed my child at the right time, if she would eat for me in the same way as in the clinic. It is like being at home with a new baby.
In the same way as we learn to let our children grow and develop independence, I will need in time to let L go and learn independence as a recovering anorexic. She will need to learn to eat without prompting, to have a meal at different times and with different people. Last week I was struck by how rigid her behaviour had become. And just a week later, she is away in a caravan with her friend and has eaten chocolate and different meals and seems to be having a great time. She is to be collected tonight, but I am not going. Her father is going, with J, and bringing her back here, where C will ensure she has an evening snack.
Where will I be? In Cheltenham with K, listening to JK Rowling talk about her new book and then queuing for what may be days, to have our copy signed. I am looking forward to a literary evening with K and to seeing her meet her absolute heroine. I will not have to worry about food, or snacks, or anxiety attacks. Tomorrow, L will be at home and we will get back onto the meal-snack-meal-snack-meal-snack-snack merry go round. But tonight I am off duty, spending much needed time with K.