In my family, the eldest girl in the family gets a specific middle name to pass to her eldest girl. The name went from my mom to me to my daughter. She’ll pass it to her oldest daughter. With any luck, it’s only the heritage of that name that’ll be passed directly because, thus far, OCD has been passed with it.
My daughter being diagnosed with OCD was an emotional time. First, I had to “out” myself. I’d been hiding my OCD since childhood because I felt like it was a dark side of me. I didn’t have the outward symptoms of it that I’d known my mom had–though she didn’t recognize it as such. Pure-O manifests itself quite differently. The second thing, I had to deal with was guilt. You have no idea the guilt I felt for passing on something–which is ridiculous, but common in adults that pass on a genetic treat like this. The final emotional aspect was a strange sense of rightness. If my daughter had to have OCD, then I was glad I had it first. It was not going to be as tough for her as it was for me. It was the first time that I was at peace with having OCD.
As a child of someone with OCD, there’s a definite impact on how you’re raised. My mother has a few of the more typical symptoms of OCD. Our house had to always be clean. Certain rooms had to be extra, extra clean. Everything had a place. My mom’s OCD is more tolerable for her and she tried to relax for her kids. My room was never spotless. She desperately tried to adapt in countless ways to be able to handle it. I remember for many years I had a junk bin in the closet where she’d put all my stuff to put away so it was out of sight. My dad is retired military so he’s never minded my mom’s neatnik tendencies. I think that’s partly why she never recognized them as negative. She does have the anxious and obsessive thoughts so I remember many late, late nights where we were both awake due to stress and our brains keeping us up, rehashing everything.
As a parent with OCD, things could have gone really poorly for my kids. My OCD is severe and Pure-O can cross to zealot behavior really quickly. Combine my obsessive paranoia about things going wrong with my agoraphobia and I might never have let my kids outside the house. My religious thoughts had a strong tendency to not be healthy when I’m not medicated. I can’t do things halfway and in a fairly intense and restrictive religion that might have been bad. I needed to control every aspect of everything and that crossed over to things like health and religion. I didn’t want germs or contamination touching any of us. I’ve talked with people with parents who had OCD who made their lives a living hell because their control was so constrictive. That could have been me and my children. Two things prevented it.
First, I married someone who has a very dominant personality and who knew he’d have to intercede. He has the ability to see through my excuses and recognize when it’s my OCD determining things. He’s also not afraid to say, “That’s not healthy or normal,” when I’ve tried to impose my paranoia on my kids. He also takes over to make sure our kids aren’t negatively impacted too much. For example, I was certain that if my kids went onto the upper deck of the ferry that they’d fall overboard and die. If I’d had my way, they’d never have felt the wind on their faces as they stood on the deck. When my OCD was at its worst, I stayed in the car and he took the kids around. He’s had to be this person in their lives quite a bit…the person who drags them to crowded, loud places. Sometimes, when I’m medicated, I could join them and I’d tell myself over and over that the ferry system made it as safe as they could because they didn’t want lawsuits.
My husband also has to intervene between my daughter and I. I can see now why my mother and I clashed over the cleaning thing. When control freak meets control freak and they’re not the same…it’s not always pretty. My daughter’s OCD appears to be mild but it’s highly specific to perfecting things. She was the child who never colored outside the lines. Ever. She still struggles with her homework in that way. There are perfect answers. So, her father referees when homework becomes a cage match between us.
The second thing that prevented me from being a paranoid mess of a parent was the recognition of my condition and its severity. If I hadn’t known I had OCD, I wouldn’t be able to mentally step back and say, “That’s my OCD…that’s not reality.” Over the years, there’s been a lot of times where I had to shrug off things. I focused my intense need for control in as appropriate avenues as I could. For a while, my kids were on a gluten-free, dairy-free diet as part of an autism intervention. I cooked EVERYTHING. I obsessed about ingredients and cross-contamination to the nth degree. I also focused on getting them intervention for their autism. When their needs reduced, my husband had to do another intervention and point out that I’d become an automaton. I’d reveled in my ability to control all the things for a little too long.
There are still many times where I have to take a deep breath and acknowledge that I’m doing something not because I’m a responsible parent but because I’m a parent with OCD. Sometimes, I let it slide…and pick my battles. Like, for example, my kids have never owned “play clothes.” The idea of them wearing stained (and therefore contaminated) clothes is abhorrent, but it’s a battle that can be lost as, thankfully, my kids have never been particularly messy or enjoyed playing in messy things. I have no idea if that’s something that came naturally or that was the result of my behavior but they never made mud pies or enjoyed finger-painting. That feels very chicken or egg dilemma in its origin, but it’s been something I can let go.
Parenting or being parented when OCD is involved is different, no two ways about it. There are positive aspects in that my focus has been beneficial at times–as it was when the kids needed an advocate in their corner. Also, my awareness of danger has saved my kids and other people’s kids from harm many, many times. One of my sisters really absorbed my mom’s clean tendencies without taking on the obsessive edge and she’s passed that on to her children. Her children have learned to do chores and developed better self-help skills than most college students. Like most of the characteristics of OCD, it’s not inherently or completely negative unless it steals away time and energy. Until you’re imposing your need for control unconditionally on your kids, it’s more just a twitchy, quirky way of parenting.
Do you have experience with OCD parenting or have a comment? Do you like how I turned the clip art above into something slightly sinister? “No, you WILL wash your hands!” C’mon, there was a manic gleam in her eyes, admit it. She has the crazy eyes. *
*Crazy eyes is the technical, medical term. **
**Okay, that’s a lie.
For more on how genetics factor into OCD and what it might look like in childhood, go to this post.
**If you or someone you love has obsessive-compulsive disorder, a medical professional would be able to give you more specific help and advice, and nothing I’ve said can replace seeking help or should be construed as advice. Be safe and be well and seek help if you need it. This post is based on my own experiences and my interaction with others diagnosed with OCD.**