OCD and Siblings

siblings and mom

Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects not only sufferers, but their whole family as well. Being privy to the havoc the disorder often causes can be especially disrupting, confusing, and upsetting to children. While parents are likely expending every ounce of energy they have trying to help their child with OCD, I think we need to remember that siblings suffer also.

In my family’s case, Dan’s OCD was not evident until he started college far from home, so his sisters weren’t around him. That’s not to say their lives weren’t affected. While our older daughter was living on her own at the time, our younger daughter was still at home. With our limited knowledge, my husband and I explained Dan’s illness to them as best we could, and kept them up-to-date on what was happening with him.

In retrospect, we should have done more. At the time, only our immediate family knew about Dan’s OCD,  so our daughters really couldn’t talk with anyone else about the situation. My husband and I should have talked with them more about their feelings. Were they jealous that Dan was getting so much attention? After all, I spent three weeks fifteen hundred miles from home helping him get through his freshman year of college. Did they feel confused (I think that’s pretty much a given; we all were), scared, or neglected? What were their fears and concerns? Did they think they might develop OCD also?

Why didn’t we pay more attention to our other children? While there’s no good excuse, the reality is we were totally immersed in caring for Dan. Figuring out what was wrong, how he should be treated, who we should trust. And that was the tip of the iceberg. And the girls seemed okay. One was a teenager and the other was in her early twenties, so they had their own busy lives they continued on with. We were lucky there weren’t any major sibling issues. I think this is mostly due to our children’s ages and the fact that Dan was away from home when things got really bad.

But what about younger children who are living day-to-day with a sibling who has OCD? How are they affected? Are they teased about their brother or sister at school? Do they feel uncomfortable in their own home? Do they think their sibling’s OCD is somehow their fault? Do they feel frustrated because they want to help their sibling and don’t know how? Are they jealous? If a sibling is part of a child’s OCD (for example, the child with OCD might think his brother or sister is contaminated), how is that being dealt with? These are just some of the many complicated issues that might arise. Therapy, and perhaps a support group, can be helpful for siblings.

There is no question OCD is a family affair. I feel for parents who not only need to help their child with OCD, but care for their other children as well. It’s hard, and we all do the best we can. And maybe that’s enough, as I do believe our children sense our love and good intentions.

When our lives calmed down my older daughter told me she thought it was “really great” that we supported Dan as much as we did. That’s when I realized actions often speak louder than words. Witnessing Dan’s crisis from the sidelines, she was comforted by the realization that her parents would always be there, not only for her brother, but for her and her sister as well.

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10 Responses to OCD and Siblings

  1. Tina Barbour says:

    Janet, that says it all there, that your older daughter admired what you and your husband did for Dan. Your daughters must have seen that the care you gave Dan would also be given to them if they every went through a similar crisis.

    I’m afraid that my family was not like that. By the time my OCD and depression started manifesting itself, my oldest brother was out of the house (he’s 11 years older) and unavailable. And my other parents saw my other brother’s physical issues as much more important than my “disobedience,” weird quirks and ridiculous questions and statements. I got a lot of negative attention. I’m sorry I sound bitter, but I guess I do still carry a lot of bitterness. Somehow I ended up being the problem child, even though in my behavior, school work, etc. I was a model child.

    • Tina Barbour says:

      to clarify: in the second paragraph, I didn’t mean to write “my other parents.” I had only one set of parents!

      • Oh Tina, I can’t even begin to imagine what that was like for you as a child, suffering from OCD and not knowing what was wrong with you, and then being looked at as a problem…..maybe that is one of the reasons why you are so empathetic and compassionate yourself…..thanks for sharing.

  2. What you say is so true, Janet. And it is one thing that is the hardest in finding support for- The therapist’s tell us we can stop accommodating and deal with her meltdowns in order to help her improve, but how do you do this with two other children in the house. Our youngest is 4 and has been living with his sister’s OCD his entire life- he was a year old when it became obvious that she had ocd and it was severe. And her older brother who is 15- they have a very strained relationship and have since her OCD began. He is very tied to contamination, although right now the entire family is “contaminated” For all 5 of us to be in one room together and get along is a very rare moment these days. This has been so difficult for me- and for all of us. I had to watch videos of when my oldest two were very young to remember that it was not always this way. I knew it was not always this way, but watching those videos of my kids at age 5 and age 1- holding hands and dancing together, I realized how extreme things have become and how very sad I am and nostalgic for time past. Someone needs to develop a family program. And support groups are so so hard to find! Thank you for your posts. You bring so many important things to light and do so in such an easy to read manner.

    • Thanks, Gina. Your comment gives us all an inkling of how difficult home life is when OCD is involved. I totally agree, a family program, and more resources for all family members, is desperately needed. I know things are so hard for you now, but you and your husband are such caring, supportive parents, I truly feel there are better days ahead for your daughter and your whole family. I’m sending positive thoughts your way……

    • 71º & Sunny says:

      Gina, I’m so very sorry for your family’s suffering. I really admire you, as I’m sure you are faced with incredible parenting challenges every single day. Your children are so blessed to have you in their lives. I hope you don’t mind, but I just prayed for you. Hugs.

      • Thank you to both of you. I am open to all forms of prayer/ healing thought etc. I need to go write my blog now- to help other parents with young children with OCD. Thank you both for your support. It means more than you can imagine.

    • And thanks for your support as well!

  3. 71º & Sunny says:

    I do not have siblings, and I also only have one child, so I can’t really personally relate to this. BUT, I do know that whenever someone in a family is hurting, the whole family is hurting. Often in different ways, but still, everyone is affected.

    I think it’s awesome that your daughter recognized that your dedication to your son’s recovery also meant that you would be dedicated to any of your children in a time of crisis.

    • Thanks, Sunny! Sorry for the late reply. I thought I had responded to your comment, but I guess I was wrong. I agree with you, when one person is hurting in a family, everyone hurts. I guess that’s what part of being a family is…..

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