I have two children. They are both fairly young, which makes my perspective on OCD parent-child relationships perhaps a bit narrow. However, the fact remains that I am a person with OCD trying to deal with and raise children who hopefully won’t have similar issues to my own.
Now, I’m the first to admit that sometimes children exacerbate the OCD.
Sometimes they purposefully step in dog poop because they know it will get a rise out of you. Sometimes they run around the house naked with underwear on their head. Sometimes they throw up all over your freshly cleaned car or turn on the oven without you knowing it or unlock the front door without permission. And sometimes they do something that is a normal kid thing to do but happens to be one of your triggers.
It’s bound to happen.
This, for me, is when things get difficult. It’s hard for me to keep calm when the children are in the backseat taking off and licking the soles of their shoes for no reason. It’s hard for me to not freak out when they continually have urine stains and skidmarks in their underwear, despite my pleas for them to wipe properly. And a child getting sick, something that is not always their fault (though we could blame their lack of hand washing and rather faulty hygiene skills), makes having OCD even harder. Whether you have contamination, emetophobia, or any other form of OCD, dealing with children makes it that much more difficult.
Children in the midst of an OCD freak out
When you are struggling with compulsions or suddenly have to deal with a triggered obsession, you often become unable to cope with your responsibilities. It feels as if being a mother or father is not an option anymore. You emotionally can’t handle it. Hopefully, you have a spouse or other help when times get rough, because believe me, sometimes the anger, frustration, apathy, or depression makes parenting nearly impossible.
There are times when the OCD meltdowns are debilitating. You might find yourself crying over the breakfast cereal. Then, since your children don’t understand what to do, they start having their own breakdowns. Sometimes you simply have to tell yourself to survive and to keep your children alive because that’s all that matters. Survival. One step in front of the other. Minute to minute progress.
But am I emotionally scarring my children?
And then there are the worries. The worries that maybe you won’t be there for your children when they need you. Maybe you will fail as a parent, or as the parent you want to be. The worries that your children will model your behavior and exhibit their own symptoms of OCD. Because that seems all too likely, right? If I can’t handle life and do compulsions–if I check light switches, freak out about poop, wash my hands thirty times a day, make my kids use hand sanitizer every time they get into the car–won’t that rub off on them? Compulsions easily become habits, not just for us but for our children too, especially if they are dragged into our OCD (which, let’s face, they often are out of necessity and proximity).
To me, this is one of the greatest reasons to seek and get help. OCD is likely not something that we would choose to have, and we have the ability to model better behavior for our children! We have the ability to regain control and fight back against the obsessions and compulsions. We can regain our relationships with our children and stop seeing them as obstacles to a perfect situation, a clean house, or a safe haven.
Becoming friends again
Have you noticed your relationship with your kids fading away? I have. I’ve noticed the hesitation to hug or hold hands with my children. I’ve seen my frustration with their behavior or “dirtiness.” I’ve heard my anger and exclamations for them to stop or start doing something that would in turn ease my OCD. And it doesn’t have to be like that.
We don’t have to impose our mental health problems on our children. Of course, our relationship with our OCD and our relationship with our children will overlap. It’s part of us, and so are they. But the goal can be that we don’t harm that parent-child relationship in favor of appeasing the OCD. It’s not easy, but it’s important. For their future mental health as well as our own.