I love my parents. They have supported me, listened to me, and given me advice countless times. Hopefully you have a similarly positive relationship with your parents. And being a parent, I am beginning to understand what parents mean when they say that parenting doesn’t necessarily get easier or harder—the challenges just change and morph.
My parents also say that you never stop being a parent, even if your kids are twenty or forty or fifty two. Yes, your relationship changes and what you do to help your kids changes as well. But once a parent, always a parent… and once a child of a parent, always a child of a parent.
Bringing OCD into the parent-child relationship is its own challenge. I write this post from the view point of a child (and a child who is lucky enough to have very supportive parents). However, I can appreciate that not everyone has parents who understand or support them. After all, OCD is a strange thing to deal with, and if you have no previous experience with it, it can be hard to relate to and comprehend.
So parents out there, do not be offended at anything in this post. It’s just an honest work up of how OCD can affect the parent-child relationship.
The Blame Game
I think (and hope) that all parents want the best for their children. They want their children to be honest, kind, smart, successful, well adjusted, and happy. And, whether or not it’s right or wrong, parents often feel responsible to give their children the best shot at these things. Guilt, remorse, and wondering “what if…” plague parents whose children miss the boat on some of those goals.
“Maybe it’s my fault my child didn’t do well in school.”
“What if I missed the signs and could’ve helped him avoid depression?”
“Did I do something wrong when I raised her so that she developed OCD?”
Of course, sure, some things in the pursuit of education, success, street smarts, and happiness are wrapped up with parent responsibility. Parents should try to provide an environment where their children can succeed and have a good shot at future happiness. They should encourage positive behavior and model good relationship and interpersonal skills. But when it comes to mental health, parents aren’t always 100% to blame.
Sure, you could say they gave you your genetics and in that case…. well. And while nurture probably can affect the severity and other aspects of a mental illness, “nature” is something else entirely. There is evidence that OCD is a brain disorder, and it’s not like my mom or dad did anything as parents (besides have me) that made me more or less likely to develop it. Sure, OCD can be cultivated through habits or modeling of parents, let’s say, but I wouldn’t want my parents to blame themselves for my OCD.
And then there’s the actual dealing with the OCD
I can’t speak for young children or teenagers who have OCD while still living in the family home, but I do know that it’s difficult to have that initial discussion with your parents: “Mom and Dad, I think I have OCD.”
First, it’s difficult because you likely don’t know what exactly is happening or how to describe the feelings and emotions you are trying to process. Second, mental illness can create walls of defensiveness: you trying to protect your raw emotions and what you are going through (while simultaneously seeking help) all while your parents are trying to push through and “solve your problem” so that you can get “better.”
That, really, can be one of the hardest parts about the parent-child relationship when it comes to OCD. Many times, your parents just want you to get better. They want you to snap out of it, to choose to not worry anymore, to be positive, focus on improving, etc. Parents are often really good coaches and cheerleaders but not always great therapists and psychologists.
And don’t blame them for that. OCD is hard to understand for someone who isn’t trained to treat it. The ways of besting OCD similarly aren’t always up front or obvious to the untrained or casual observer. It’s hard to tell your parents that, though, when you initially are letting them know about your obsessive compulsive disorder. They want to help. They want you to be fixed. But they can’t always accomplish those things. They can’t give you a bandage and make it all better.
So then what?
Like I said, parents are good pep talk givers. Utilize that. I think a good OCD parent-child relationship would involve the parents supporting their child in seeking professional help, being nonjudgmental, and listening to them (without offering what they hope will be “immediate solutions”). It isn’t helpful when parents second guess the advice of the psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist, and similarly not great is hearing your parents say “just snap out of it!” or (as mentioned earlier) “what did I do wrong to make you OCD?” We don’t need a guilt trip either!
Another aside is that once you have OCD, you begin to notice traits of OCD in your parents (if there are any, which is often likely). Your parents won’t always like to hear your analysis of their supposed obsessive compulsive disorder, hoarding habits, perfectionism, etc., so hold off accusing them of also being OCD (until the right moment, haha). It’s not helpful to blame each other and try to point a finger at who or what brought you to the state you are in. It’s better to work together to improve that state and keep your relationship strong in the process.