When Choice Isn’t A Choice

Long before I knew the term “disordered eating,” I knew its environment. My stunningly beautiful mother maintained her perfectly-proportioned, svelte figure with Carnation Instant Breakfast, cigarettes for hunger control during the day and an enormous, home-cooked, delicious meat, potatoes, salad and vegetable dinner every night. Sweets and sugar were forbidden, but sour cream was encouraged—low-fat, of course. I was skinny, my sister was husky and food and weight were frequent topics of discussion. As an adult, I recognized this wasn’t healthy.

Purposeful Parenting

Because I lacked modeling to be the type of parent I wanted to be, I looked around for examples and read many books. One of the very conscious choices I made in parenting was to foster a positive relationship with food and promote a positive body image. You know those ubiquitous “How to Prevent Your Child from Getting an Eating Disorder” pieces? I did it all.

For Good Measure

As a feminist, raising my children also entailed instruction in media literacy and exposure to critical thinking about sex roles and societal expectations. Marge Piercy’s Barbie Doll is one of my must-reads and I shared it with all my children.

But What Was It Really Like?

My youngest child is 19; childhood is behind them. They agree that they had golden childhoods and that their parents, while not perfect, did a good job of hitting the sweet spot of authoritarian (versus permissive or authoritative) parenting. It’s a source of pride for their father and I that all four kids will likely graduate from college. The oldest two are responsible, tax-paying citizens with incredible partners, and best of all, our kids are people who are cool by anyone’s standards, not just ours; they are happy, living life on their own terms.

Getting to the Point

The parenting finish line was in sight! In late 2011, I had begun teaching full-time. Kinsey, our youngest daughter, was our only child still living at home. She was an independent, self-sufficient and internally motivated high school senior. My husband was working in Salt Lake City, but with the country just coming out of the economic downturn and after a lay-off; we were grateful for him to have a job and for Kinsey’s stable life through that final year of high school.

And Then It Happened

Around the beginning of her senior year of high school, Kinsey  (16) decided to engage in a “healthy lifestyle makeover.” Nobody knew she was a genetically-loaded gun until a reasonable diet pulled the trigger. By the beginning of 2012, our happy, healthy, bubbly, strong, funny, smart daughter was gone. In her place was a terrifying shell housing the mental illness, anorexia.

I know now they say everyone knows someone: do you?

Published on: July 22, 2014
About the Author
Photo of Jennifer Denise Ouellette

Jennifer Denise Ouellette is the author of the blog Juggling Life, which is also her two-word autobiography. She is the mother of four, an Allied Health Program Director for a vocational school, and an activist who uses social media to draw attention to the needs of those with eating disorders and their families.

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