I tend to write about obsessive-compulsive disorder from a parent’s viewpoint because, well, I’m a parent whose son has OCD. My friend Abigail over at unreasonably rational sees things from the reverse perspective, and we recently chatted about how young adult (and even “older” adult) children with OCD can help their parents understand what is going on with them. Our conclusion? It’s not easy.
Every parent-child relationship is unique, with its own set of issues. Even in the best of relationships, parents will likely “mess up” and say or do the wrong things at times. I still cringe every time I think of the first thing I said to Dan when he told me he had OCD: “Are you sure, Dan? You never even wash your hands.” Pretty unbelievable, huh?
This comment, I’m sure, only solidified what Dan already suspected. His mother needed help. It was important that I become educated about OCD. So he handed me a book to read (not my favorite so I won’t endorse it here) which gave me an inkling of what he was experiencing. It was a smart move on his part, and one I’d recommend to adult children who want to help their parents understand their OCD. Educate them any way you can. Give them a book, point them to a website, have a conversation.
I know, that last one is tough. I suggest talking with parents during a calm, uneventful time, preferably when everyone is in a good mood. You might begin by telling them how much you appreciate their support and love (assuming you are getting that from them), and then bring up the issues you feel need addressing. Maybe they have preconceived notions about OCD that just aren’t true. Maybe they are saying things, or acting in ways that are hurtful to you. I know I always appreciated it when Dan “set me straight” or voiced his opinions. He was able to help me see things from his viewpoint, which is not always easy for parents to do. I wish he had spoken up even more.
I don’t believe I’m alone in saying that one of the strongest emotions felt by parents when they find out their child has mental health problems is guilt. Somehow it is our fault. Whether this is true or not isn’t even important; we believe it. I think guilt has the potential to work both ways. In some cases, it might make the issues harder to talk about, as parents would rather sweep it all under the rug and just pretend everything is fine. In other situations, feelings of blame might spur a desire to really understand what you think you’ve done to your child, so you can hopefully remedy it.
Of course, sometimes a conversation with parents, for so many different reasons, is just not going to happen. Maybe it’s too hard for you to talk about your OCD. Or maybe you are not on speaking terms, are dealing with a strained relationship, or just don’t see eye to eye. In these cases, maybe it’s best to just agree to disagree. The only behaviors any of us can change are our own, and those with OCD need a lot of strength to work toward recovery. I believe expending energy trying to change others rarely, if ever, works.
All of us, especially those who are suffering, just want to be heard, understood, and accepted by those we love the most. If you are not getting what you need from your parents, hopefully other family members, friends, and loved ones can fill the void. Support from those who care about you will surely help as you move forward in your fight against obsessive-compulsive disorder.