Parents Caring for a Son with Anorexia: Stress, Coping, and the Marital Relationship

Erin Elizabeth Ott, Fordham University


Parents of a son with anorexia nervosa (AN) are an under-investigated population that may face challenges distinct to caring for a child with a gender-atypical disorder. The spousal unit can play an integral role in child’s AN care; however, research on parents’ strengths as a couple is absent in the AN literature. To date, no studies focus exclusively on how the marital relationship may be strengthened and strained when caring for a son with AN. In this qualitative study, 12 parents, representative of eight sons, were interviewed using a semi-structured interview protocol about their psychosocial and marital experiences caring for a son age 9–19 who has a diagnosis of AN. Consensual qualitative research methods were applied to analyze the interview transcripts. Mothers and fathers reported marked emotional distress, particularly surrounding their son’s life-threatening illness and barriers to gender-sensitive care. Parental alliance was highlighted as fundamental to a collaborative caregiving approach, and parents reported that managing challenges together strengthened their marital bond. Both emotion-focused and problem-focused coping strategies were employed, with support seeking and taking an action-oriented approach most commonly endorsed. Based on their lived experiences, parents recommended that other couples caring for a child with AN maintain unity in their caregiving approach and marriage and seek emotional and practical support from other parent caregivers. Clinical implications and future research areas are identified, including mobilization of parents’ strengths as a couple and treatment providers’ roles in provision of gender-sensitive treatment tailored to boys with AN and their parent caregivers.

Subject Area

Counseling Psychology|Gender studies|Psychology|Individual & family studies

Recommended Citation

Ott, Erin Elizabeth, "Parents Caring for a Son with Anorexia: Stress, Coping, and the Marital Relationship" (2020). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI28025769.