In this post I’d like to focus primarily on moms who have OCD, and the difficulties they might face. I won’t be focusing on postpartum OCD, but rather on moms who have already been diagnosed with the disorder and have been living with it for a while.
Some of the most common types of obsessions in OCD involve various aspects of contamination such as fear of dirt, germs, or illness. Hmm. Dirt, germs, and illness are an inevitable part of childhood. How can a mom with OCD possibly take her four-year-old child into a public restroom?
Surprisingly, most can, and do. Over the years I have connected with moms who have OCD who do what they need to do, despite their fears. By caring for their children, they are actually engaging in the gold-standard psychological treatment for OCD – exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. And because ERP therapy works, these moms find that the more they bring their children into those restrooms, or allow them to play at the playground without trailing behind them with sanitizing wipes, or agree to let them spend time at a friend’s house, the less their OCD rears its ugly head. In short, they habituate, or get used to, being in these situations and accepting the uncertainty of what might happen.
In addition, caring for a child (or perhaps multiple children, and even a family pet?) is time-consuming and never-ending, so moms are often so busy that they don’t have time to worry about all the things OCD thinks they should worry about. If your baby has a dirty diaper, the dog is barking to go out, your toddler just found the finger paints, and you need to get to the grocery store, you don’t have time to fret over your fear of contamination. You just change the diaper, tend to the dog, quickly wipe your toddler’s hands, and get out the door. OCD might be protesting in the background, but you have no time for its silly demands. Again, great ERP therapy!
Of course, it doesn’t work this way for all moms, and for some, OCD is in control. Unfortunately, if obsessive-compulsive disorder remains untreated, it affects children’s well-being. Their world becomes limited, they pick up on their mom’s anxiety, and they might even mimic certain unhealthy behaviors.
Moms who are struggling with OCD need to put their children’s needs before OCD’s demands. A good therapist can help them learn how to spend quality time with their children, without ruminating over all the things that might go wrong in a given moment. Modeling healthy behavior and how to deal with life’s challenges might be the best gift we ever give to our children.
Finally, all of the above also goes for dads with OCD, especially if they’re the primary caretaker at home. Every child deserves the love, support, and caring only parents can provide. Parents not held hostage by OCD.
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I’m a mom with OCD. My son is 15 now and it’s definitely true about the ERP. In the beginning it was very difficult to navigate public restrooms and other places like McDonalds play areas (yucky). But over time all of the exposure did lessen my anxiety. I got to a point where I could let go of most of it. It’s always there in the background, of course. I also take Sertraline and have for years because it stops me from washing my hands until they are raw. I do take a bit of an issue with the statement “Moms who are struggling with OCD need to put their children’s needs before OCD’s demands”. Mom’s already feel ashamed about having OCD in the first place. And we know that OCD is not a choice and does not respond to rational thought. So to suggest that a mom is not putting her child first because she is experiencing OCD could feel shaming to a mother who is already feeling ashamed. And feeling ashamed is often what prevents us from seeking help. I do appreciate your article and the intent behind it. I just wanted to put in my 2 cents as someone who has lived it. Take care.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience and for letting me know that what I wrote didn’t quite sit right with you. I really do appreciate all types of feedback, as it helps me see things from a different perspective and hopefully helps me to be more sensitive in the future. What I meant by that sentence is that mom’s with OCD owe it to themselves and their children to get the right help, but I certainly understand what you are saying, and I’m sorry if I offended you or anyone else. Of course that was not my intent. Hope to hear from you again!
Thank you and no offense taken. I understand what you were trying to say better now. And I agree completely.
Thanks for your response!
Mom with OCD here, I’ve struggled for almost 30 years. Having children added another serious challenge. I avoided shopping, public parks, traveling and even carried a chemical toilet for most of their young lives because I didn’t want them using a public toilet. Most if my problems we’re related to contamination OCD in the early years…now I get intrusive thoughts and Compulsions more than anything.
Thanks for sharing and I’m sorry to hear you’ve been suffering with OCD for so long. You don’t say anything about getting treatment…..have you ever tried ERP therapy with a therapist who specializes in treating OCD? There is so much hope for your recovery if you can get the right help. I wish you all the best.
Great post Janet. Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy is indeed the best way of dealing with OCD and can be particularly helpful for moms. Apart from OCD, this revolutionary technique has provided effective results in treatments for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD and some other anxiety disorders as well.
Thank you for your comment, Iris, and for your help in spreading the word about the benefits of ERP Therapy.