Caring for a son with anorexia: The psychosocial impact on mothers

Jessica Lennon Whitney, Fordham University


Parent caregivers of a child with an eating disorder experience psychological distress. Research on boys with eating disorders is in the nascent stages and little is known about the experience of caring for a son with an eating disorder. In this study, 10 mothers were interviewed, using a semi-structured interview protocol, about their social and psychological experiences caring for a son age 9-18 who had been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa (AN) and treated inpatient within the past 2 years. Consensual qualitative research methods were applied to analyze the interview transcripts. Mothers reported experiencing marked emotional distress and relying on emotion-focused coping strategies throughout the diagnosis and treatment process. The son’s illness impacted the mothers’ relationships with family members. The marital relationship was strained, family and sibling dynamics were impacted, and there was increased conflict and anger in the mother-ill son relationship. The diagnosis of a son’s AN challenged gender norms for some mothers, who perceived friends and colleagues as unsupportive of their caregiving experience, given the gender atypical nature of the illness. Mothers reported difficulty navigating medical and mental health treatment, reporting inconsistent support from providers in general and a lack of support from pediatricians and front-line providers. Clinical implications and future research areas are identified, including parent caregiver experiences and treatment professionals’ roles in early identification and management of eating disorders.

Subject Area

Mental health|Behavioral psychology|Social psychology|Individual & family studies|Cognitive psychology|Gender studies

Recommended Citation

Whitney, Jessica Lennon, "Caring for a son with anorexia: The psychosocial impact on mothers" (2015). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3713964.