Tough Love: "Your Anorexia Is Not Welcome At Our New House"

Sue Blackmore told her daughter Emily Troscianko, "your anorexia is not welcome at our new house." What to make of this kind of parenting?

Blackmore and Troscianko were profiled in the Daily Mail earlier this week, and now Blackmore has a first-person piece in The Guardian. She explains that when she and her partner were about to move to a new home, her daughter had already suffered from anorexia for 10 years — and Blackmore had had enough. Her unplanned comment — "I think what I'm trying to say, Emily, is that your anorexia is not welcome at our new house" — turned out to be one of a series of factors that helped Troscianko get better (in a Psychology Today post of her own, Troscianko also mentions "my physical weakness, the OCD symptoms, the fear of brain and bone damage, my friends' fears, my eternal hunger, at last losing all its thrill"). But things could have gone the other way — Blackmore notes that "Emily's father and brother suggested I should throw Emily out of the house, but I couldn't bring myself to do that – and anyway, everything I had read suggested that it wouldn't help and that she'd just go on starving herself somewhere else instead." And when Blackmore says her comment was motivated by "selfishness and straightforward honesty," it's easy to accuse her of a surfeit of the former.

After all, she writes,

I also heard evidence showing that families with an anorexic member usually become dysfunctional after their child becomes anorexic, not before, which greatly eased my incipient guilt. Above all, I thought, "If these parents are doing all this and it makes no odds, then I am not so bad for just carrying on with my own life, my own research, my own job." So that's (mostly) what I did.

Why didn't she drop everything, we might ask, in order to find a way to help her daughter? And when she says, "somehow, all the warmth and energy of everyone else seemed to be sucked out of us while [Emily] was around," she doesn't sound very sympathetic. Then there's this:

I realised how very much I did not want that wraith and that misery to come with us on this big move, how unfair it would be for Adam, who had endured and helped with so much pain over all those 10 long years, and how inappropriate it seemed for a young woman of 28 to be thinking of her parent's home as her own, rather than as a place to visit for holidays and weekends.

It's easy to judge Blackmore for not wanting to harbor her sick child in her home, and for not wanting to be around her child's sickness, period. At the same time, as Blackmore points out, this child had been an adult for a long time. And, Blackmore writes, when her daughter began to recover, "perhaps Emily, too, had had enough of it all; or perhaps – as in so many addictions – she had seen the writing on the wall." Eating disorders aren't generally accepted as addictions — though Carrie of ED Bites notes some interesting similarities. It's important to remember that family-based treatments for anorexia and bulimia have been proven effective, at least for adolescents. But an adult eating disorder sufferer, like an addict, may have to want to get better — and maybe Blackmore was just allowing her daughter to make that decision. She sounds a bit callous, but then again, martyrdom isn't especially effective medicine, and maybe she was wise to save her sanity for the day when her daughter could really use her help.

Emily, Her Anorexia And Me [Guardian]
Emily's Mother Told Her She Wasn't Welcome At Home While She Was Anorexic - So Did Tough Love Work? [Daily Mail]
An Article On My Anorexia In Today's Daily Mail [Psychology Today]