parents with ocd need help navigating parenthood

All In the Family: Parents with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Growing up is tough these days. But navigating the winding pathways through childhood and adolescence with a parent who has a mental disorder can be devastating psychologically. At the same time, children often report developing strengths and spiritual reserves to help them cope. The experience of children who have parents with OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is not unlike those raised by an individual with alcohol or drug addiction or of a child who has lost a parent.

Parents with OCD face unique challenges, leaving their children to experience their own seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Fortunately, with the help of programs such as those at our OCD treatment center, it is possible for parents to heal and support their children in a healthier way. To begin healing from OCD, please reach out to The Ranch TN today by calling 1.844.876.7680.

What Is OCD?

OCD is an anxiety disorder in which the sufferer struggles with intrusive and repetitive thoughts (obsessions) and the need to perform certain actions (compulsions). They do this as a way of managing anxiety. For an adult to be diagnosed with OCD, their obsessions and compulsions must be time-consuming, cause real distress, impair their functioning, or interfere with daily routines. In addition, the sufferer must realize that the obsessions or compulsions are abnormal.

The media typically portrays people with OCD as excessive hand-washers or germaphobes. However, obsessions or compulsions can take many forms. OCD symptoms can involve counting steps or breaths, tapping surfaces, or any number of rituals or behaviors. However, what is consistent across OCD cases is that the purpose of the behaviors is to reduce anxiety. If the behavior is resisted, terrible anxiety results.

How Do Parents with OCD Affect Children?

Children who grow up in families affected by mental illness, physical illness, or the death of a parent experience a set of similar emotional and psychological consequences regardless. Kids who have parents with OCD are no exception. They may experience challenges such as:

  • The child may feel guilty or responsible for the parent’s OCD.
  • They may view the parent’s OCD as abandonment because the parent who is ill is less available to the child. In addition, the other parent is often focused on the ill partner and therefore also less available to the child. Experts often refer to this scenario as a double abandonment.
  • The child may feel ashamed of being abandoned or ashamed of the ill parent.
  • The child may feel angry or even rageful at being abandoned and thus need to deal with the feelings without awareness of their source.
  • If the symptoms of the parent’s illness are severe enough, trauma may result.

As adults, many of these children find great support and solace by connecting with others who have experienced similar childhoods. This self-help group offers support, education, and extensive reference material both online and in group formats around the world. These groups can help reduce isolation, rage, shame, and guilt. It can also help people move forward in their lives despite the challenges they faced during childhood.

How Dealing with Parents with OCD Is Different than Other Mental Health Concerns

For many children, the differences and the specific circumstances regarding growing up in a household impacted by OCD may require specific support. While general feelings of abandonment and anger are normal, children who have grown up around parents with OCD may find:

  • As OCD is an anxiety disorder, they may feel the need to soothe the parent and allay a parent’s fears. That action may be part of the child’s role in the family.
  • The child may find themself avoiding activities that seem to trigger the parent’s obsessions, compulsions, or rituals. This may just be easier, causing the child to enable the parent.
  • For parents with elaborate rituals, some children may help out with the ritual. For example, they may check that the stove is turned off or assist in high-stress times of the day. This may mean that they are getting everyone out the door in the morning for work and school. This is a classic log jam time of day for parents with OCD, as rituals can interfere with many different functions.

These OCD-specific challenges that children of parents with OCD face center around the role reversal that appears in all instances of parental illness or impairment. The child has to be a caretaker to the parent, either by running interference, handling situations, taking over certain tasks or by soothing and allaying the fears of the parent. Acknowledging this role reversal and understanding it as both a loss and abandonment as well as a strength can be helpful to adults dealing with the legacy of their childhood.

How Does Having a Parent with OCD Affect a Child in the Long-Term?

Children of parents with OCD may develop a range of mental and physical health issues as a result of their childhood experiences. These may include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Attachment disorders

Whether or not children of parents with OCD go on to develop these conditions as adults, it is clear that growing up with a parent with OCD can have a significant impact on a child’s mental and emotional well-being.

Seek Support at The Ranch TN

Whether you are a parent with OCD who wants to support a better life for your child or you’re an adult child who is still experiencing the effects of your parent’s mental illness, The Ranch TN can offer the support you need. Our comprehensive addiction and mental health treatment programs are rooted in evidence-based practices and designed to address the underlying concerns that led to the issue. To learn more about the treatment options available, call The Ranch TN today at 1.844.876.7680.

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