Coming into Focus: Parents’ Experiences of Discovering their Child has Anorexia Nervosa

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After witnessing from both up close and afar how different families can respond to learning that their child is sick, and most likely has an eating disorder, I became deeply curious about the nuances in these parents’ reactions. I wondered about why some parents take fast action in helping their children, while others seem complacent or hesitant to recognize or admit that anything troublesome is happening. These curiosities propelled me into this research, where I sought to better understand how parents discover that their child has anorexia nervosa. My aim for this philosophical hermeneutic inquiry was to speak to parents who had discovered that their child was or had been experiencing anorexia nervosa. I interviewed 12 parents, making up nine families with a child with anorexia nervosa and asked about their discovery experiences. Findings from interviews and analysis revealed that discovering one’s child has/had anorexia nervosa was incredibly complex. Parents’ experiences illustrated that they were fractured by the discovery and by the illness, questioning their competencies and actions as parents. It was evident that the discovery was a continuous, ambiguous process, and at times information was both revealed and concealed from parents. Finally, interviews exposed the unspeakable nature of anorexia nervosa, and ways parents coped with the devastating impacts that anorexia nervosa had on their child, their family, and themselves. I conclude with implications for both research and clinical practice, where I make a case for greater supports being made available for parents during these chaotic and ambiguous times. Every parent that I interviewed shared that they felt left in the dark, without basic information regarding their child’s current status and possible prognosis. Parents felt unsure of how their lives had and were about to change, understandably, feeling enormous pressures and confusion as to how to support and care for their child with anorexia nervosa. While the child with anorexia nervosa is the fundamental focus, parents are worthy and in fact desperate for special attention as well.
discovery, disclosure, anorexia nervosa, eating disorders, hermeneutics, parents
Williams, E. P. (2019). Coming into Focus: Parents’ Experiences of Discovering their Child has Anorexia Nervosa (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from