Relationships with Parents: Differences In the Eye of the Beholder

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
July/August 2003 Volume 14, Number 4
©2003 Gürze Books

According to two recent presentations at the Academy for Eating Disorders annual meeting, eating disorders patients and their families may have quite different perceptions of their family’s relationship.

As Dr. Ida Dancyger and colleagues at North Shore Hospital, Manhasset, NY, reported, the results of their study showed that daughters with eating disorders view their families as far more dysfunctional than do their parents. When 236 female subjects from 11 to 63 years of age were evaluated according to individual eating disorder (anorexia-nervosa, restricting type, anorexia nervosa, binge-purge type, bulimia nervosa, and eating disorders not otherwise specified), there was a significant difference between the patient’s and the parents’ perceptions of how well the family was functioning. Patients rated their families as less healthy and more chaotic. Both parents generally agreed upon the level of family functioning.

The researchers note that the study strongly supports the importance of including the patient’s family members in the initial evaluation, regardless of the patient’s age.

Daughters with anorexia nervosa

In a second AED poster presentation, a team of psychologists from the University of Minnesota and Michigan State University found that mothers and daughters with anorexia nervosa view their relationship differently and particularly disagree about the degree of involvement mothers have with them.

Dr. Janet Solomon and colleagues studied the perceived relationships between parents and their daughters with AN, from both the parents’ and the child’s perspectives. Thirty-one women with AN (ages 17 and 20), 31 control subjects with no eating pathology, and parents of both groups were evaluated as part of the Minnesota Twin Study.

Parent-child relationships were examined with the Parental Environmental Questionnaire (PEQ), a set of questions that examine conflicts, parental involvement, regard for the parent, and regard for the child.

Few differences in perceptions by parents and daughter were noted, and those that were present existed among AN families as well as control families. However, mothers of patients and mothers of control subjects reported significantly more involvement with their daughters than the daughters reported. Mothers also reported significantly higher regard for their daughter than their daughters reported for them. In contrast, no significant differences between fathers’ and daughters’ perceptions of family conflicts, parental involvement or mutual regard were reported on the PEQ scales.

The results suggest that mothers and daughters see their relationship very differently, particularly in the areas of involvement and regard for the child.

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