In all these anorexia documentaries, it seems to be the fathers who don’t deal with it very well, and whose relationships with their daughters seem to deteriorate. They’re the ones who seem to be saying “Look, why don’t you just eat some bloody Weetabix, for Christ’s sake, and stop spoiling everybody’s morning.” When I was at my twitchiest and maddest, my parents were visiting and I was eyeing a slice of pizza (or something) longingly, so I said “Dad, why don’t you finish the pizza?” He replied “No, no, you have it”, obviously completely forgetting the elephant in the room. Mind you, I don’t have to live with him looming over me, fuming. As I’ve said before, it’s much easier to be quietly anorexic if you don’t live with your parents. Poor teenagers!
My daughter is now 12. Puberty and anorexia have played havoc with our relationship, too. More unusually, though, while the puberty is hers, the anorexia is mine. We’re both totally unreasonable and volatile. We snarl at each other and take offence. I’m totally unreasonable about food and people not ‘jumping to it’; she’s totally unreasonable about EVERYTHING ELSE. Unsurprisingly, when the other one is ‘being difficult’, we both take a self-righteous pride in being reasonable and calm.
The unnatural or unwholesome part of this scenario, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is that a 12-year-old shouldn’t have to be the reasonable one. It’s her privilege to kick off – she’s the child – she didn’t ask to be born the way she is! I’m the adult; it is my duty simply to love and support her no matter how often she tells me she hates me and I’m horrible because I asked her to pick up her onesy.
I’m not that bad. It’s just that, as Jo says, food is too important to me. It matters to me if the lasagne I’ve made gets inadvertently tipped onto somebody’s lap. It matters if there are peas all over the floor; it upsets me if my food is rejected because it’s got vegetables in it. I feed my family immensely well, but I’m incredibly controlling: I create weekly menus on scraps of paper and become flustered and agitated if anyone proposes changing the plan or I lose the scrap of paper. Food is pretty bloody tiresome for everybody else, so much so that Jo now can’t face any conversation to do with it.
My answer to that is – well, if I have to make all the decisions around food on my own, it’s unfair to complain because “the tomatoes are too floury”, as Jo does. What sort of example does that give the kids? You should just eat what’s put in front of you.
But, giving an example to the kids – there’s the rub. Ironically, what makes mealtimes particularly fraught is my fear that Margaret is quietly absorbing dangerous lessons from me. At the moment, she eats well. She is growing and active and constantly hungry, but I worry that she will learn to use not eating to express her angst. This makes me scrutinise her eating too closely. How she eats is manifestly too important to me. It is probably only a matter of time before she decides to weaponise eating and use it against me.