Janet Singer's son Dan suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) so severe he could not even eat. What followed was a journey from seven therapists to
Because my son Dan has obsessive-compulsive disorder, my articles often focus on a parent’s perspective – what are the best ways we can help our children? But what if you are the child, and your parent is the one struggling with the disorder?
Of course, the issues children and their families face will differ depending on the ages and personalities of the children, as well as each particular situation. But no matter how old they are, I think children need to be educated as to what OCD is and how it affects their parent. Good therapists can help provide age appropriate information, whether the “child” is four years old or forty.
Anyone who has ever lived with someone who suffers from OCD knows it is a family affair. Children naturally want to please their parents, and will likely accommodate their parent with OCD to make them feel better. “Yes, Mom, you definitely turned off the stove,” an eight-year-old son might say, over and over. This child is doing what any of us would do in this situation, unless we were educated about OCD. He is reassuring someone he loves. Perhaps another scenario might involve a young daughter helping her dad check all the doors in the house to make sure they are locked. In this case, the child actually participates in the compulsive behavior. In yet another example, a teenager might just avoid getting her driver’s license, because her mother is terrified she will get in an accident.
As outsiders looking in, it’s not hard to see that these various possibilities might have detrimental effects on children. Children mimic their parents. While this does not necessarily mean they will go on to develop OCD, it wouldn’t be surprising if they, at the very least, developed into anxious adults. I don’t have OCD, but I’d like to think if I did, witnessing the effects the disorder might have on my children would be a huge impetus to get treatment. Also, a parent with OCD has the opportunity to be an amazing role model to his or her children. We all have our struggles, and our children will as well. What better way to teach our children how to deal with these struggles, than to face them head-on ourselves!
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The lessons here are valuable, to name a few:
It’s okay to admit you have OCD (or any illness, problem, hardship, or pain); talking about our issues, not keeping them secret, is the way to go. Children are intuitive and will likely know there are issues even if you aren’t discussing them.
There are people who can help you (and your family) cope and get better.
Treatment is seldom easy, but it is worth the fight to regain your health and well-being.
You will always have the support and love of your family.
Of course, there are times when a parent does not choose treatment, and in these cases, I think a lot of care and attention must be given to the children in the family. A good lesson in this case is that while we can’t control the behavior of others, even those we love, we can choose how we respond to them. We need to be able to live our own lives. Support groups might be particularly helpful in these situations.
If OCD is controlling your life, and you have children, then it is affecting them as well. I hope you’ll make the choice to stand up and fight your OCD, for you, for your children, and for your entire family.
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