mother receiving phone call from kid's school


They Thought He Had an Eating Disorder — Turns Out, I Gave My Son a Different Problem

Sep 30, 2019

When I got a call from the school about my son, it wasn't for anything I ever could have anticipated. 

He was going to the washroom frequently – too frequently.

Traveller’s tummy, I wondered? The school official had another theory: eating disorder. My immediate thought was, “My son doesn’t have an eating disorder.” Which was quickly followed by the realization that this is probably how every parent responds to that suggestion. Fortunately, in our case, he really doesn’t have an eating disorder, or traveller’s tummy either. No, the diagnosis is quite different: he listens too well.

Read more from Janice Quirt: What Single and Divorced Parents Want You to Know

It started, I thought, innocently enough. I’ve always had a mild horror of school buses (perhaps that final scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in which the principal is forced to ride a crowded school bus home scarred me for life). So my request when the kids would come home from school was simply to wash their hands really well before having a snack, reasoning that there were bound to be a few germs shared on the crowded confines of the yellow monster (a.k.a. the school bus). What I didn’t realize was that my son had accepted and complied with this request too well.

If the school bus was a breeding ground for germs, my scientifically minded son figured that his classroom was, too. And the kindergarten classroom in which he volunteered. And the whole school property, for that matter.

So, he began washing his hands at school and probably more than would actually be required.

He listens, he takes things to heart and then he commits to action — perhaps too strongly.

In discussing this with him, I realized that I had amplified this simple task of hygiene into something that was starting to resemble a compulsion or phobia, and I wasn’t keen for us to continue down that path. So we talked about dialling it back to washing hands after bathroom visits and before eating. We discussed reducing the bathroom trips, and things have calmed down there.

But it shed some light into the difference between my son and I: he commits to initiatives whole-heartedly, while I take a more flexible approach. I’ve come to realize that if we discuss avoiding products made with palm oil that is not sustainably harvested, he won’t eat that certain brand of cookies ever again, whereas I might commit to decreasing intake. We’ve talked, as a family, about limiting our red meat intake and certainly have done so. However, for me this means that I might only enjoy a hamburger once in a blue moon, while he pretty much never touches one. He listens, he takes things to heart and then he commits to action — perhaps too strongly.

You Might Also Like: How Parents Can Help Their Children Succeed at School  

His commitment to environmentalism, healthy eating and animal rights is actually pretty inspiring to me. He has more mental fortitude than I do. I am proud of his ability to stick by his intentions. And yet we’ve also had good chats about what to do when a good thing becomes too much of a good thing, like washing his hands too often, or over-exercising or being overly restrictive with his diet.

We’ve discussed “everything in moderation,” and that message seems to be sinking in. Because I want him to be able to enjoy life without worrying about germs. I don’t want him anxious about avoiding any possible harm from what he eats, drinks or buys. I want to support his ideals and yet not scare him.

I want to encourage them to explore consequences without getting hurt.

And so I’ve been very careful with how I communicate with my kids without freaking them out. There are lots of unfortunate occurrences in the world, from getting sick to doing harm to the environment. I don’t want them to become anxious, I just want them to be well-informed about risk and how to mitigate it.

It’s become a bit of a dance — how much to say, what to withhold. How to discuss and not nag. I want to encourage them to explore consequences without getting hurt.

It’s ironic, because while my kids listen too well, they’re still prone to the common kid disorder of not listening at all, or in one ear and out the other.

You Might Also Like: I Took a Seminar to Stop Yelling at My Kids

Between their inconsistency with listening (sometimes excessively well, sometimes not at all) and my tentative exploring of what to say (how much detail to provide, when to just shut up), it’s been a learning process.

So, what I've learned is this: often less is more; everything in moderation; and forewarned is forearmed — within reason.

And more and more often, I’ll just zip it.

Article Author Janice Quirt
Janice Quirt

Read more from Janice here.

Janice Quirt is a yoga teacher and freelance writer who lives in the beautiful hills of the Headwaters in Orangeville, Ontario, with her blended family of seven. With kids spanning a decade in age, there are always some shenanigans on the go, and she loves being in the middle of it all. Janice loves sharing nature, eco-living and new experiences with her family and friends, as well as a fine cup of coffee and a good book.

Add New Comment

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.