What’s a Parent To Do?Posted by Phil Cardenas on Feb 01, 2013
by Janet Singer
Enabling OCD adds fuel to the fire
Being a parent is hard. We all want what’s best for our children, and we want them to be happy. Sometimes these two basic truths collide. Our three-year-old wants a toy she sees in the store. She already has too many toys, and needs to learn she can’t have everything she wants. We know the right thing to do is say, “No.” So we do, and of course a tantrum follows, but soon everything returns to normal. We did what was best for our child, even though it made her unhappy temporarily. Our relationships and interactions with our children evolve as they mature. (“No, you can’t go to the unsupervised party.”) Still we always want what’s best for them, and we want them to be happy.
Accommodation of OCD rituals
But what if we have a child with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? Whether our son or daughter has recently been diagnosed or has been dealing with the disorder for a while, chances are we have seen them suffer from this potentially devastating anxiety disorder. Nobody wants to see their child tormented, and as parents, our instincts tell us to do whatever is necessary to relieve our child’s pain. So we cut them some slack, and accommodate their OCD rituals. We reassure them, we supply them with unlimited hand sanitizer, and we let them eat dinner at midnight. If we didn’t do these things, they would fall apart. So why not keep them happy?
Overcoming obsessive-compulsive disorder
The answer to this question is “Because we want what’s best for them.” Enabling those with OCD only adds fuel to the fire, and while we might help reduce our child’s anxiety temporarily, we are truly strengthening and prolonging the vicious cycle of OCD. We, as parents, need to think about what is best for our children long-term, not in the moment. To me, it is obvious. We must do whatever it takes to help our child overcome obsessive-compulsive disorder.
When we enable our child’s OCD, we are inadvertently validating his or her irrational thoughts. (Mom keeps buying me the hand sanitizer I ask for because I really do need it to get rid of germs.) We are also lowering our expectations of our child. (My son can’t stand up to his OCD; I need to reassure him.) Not only are we giving our child absolutely no incentive to fight his or her disorder, we are allowing OCD to tighten its grip. We are not doing what’s best for our child.
Stop the OCD enabling
So how do we stop this enabling? I know from experience that it’s not easy, but it’s important to be consistent, and also to let your child know you will no longer be accommodating his or her irrational requests. Certainly enlisting the support of your child’s therapist is a good idea, and he or she can help explain things to your child in an age appropriate manner. My son Dan used to ask for reassurance a lot, but instead of saying, “Is this okay?” he would continually apologize for ridiculous things. We discussed that I would no longer respond to his “I’m sorry for…” Either I would ignore him or I would tell him it was his OCD talking and I would not be a part of it. This is just one of the many ways my husband and I stopped enabling our son, and there is no question in my mind this helped him overcome his OCD.
As I said, parenting is hard, and sometimes following our instincts can backfire. When dealing with OCD, I believe the most caring thing we can do for our child who is suffering is to step out of our own comfort zone and stop the enabling. Even though it might be difficult and unpleasant, this is truly an act of love, as we are doing what is best for our child.
For parents and other caregivers involved with OCD sufferers, there is no better resource than Beyond OCD. Here you’ll find reassurance, help in the fight against OCD, resources from peers and mental health professionals, and much more. Even though the basic instinct is to relieve the pain immediately, it’s the long-term recovery everyone is really after.
Janet Singer, an advocate for OCD awareness, is published regularly on various mental health web sites. She explores all topics related to OCD and shares what helped and what hurt in her son Dan’s recovery from this devastating disorder. While there were many lessons learned along the way, Janet feels the most powerful one of all is that there is always hope. She is committed to getting the word out that OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable. You can read more about Dan’s story and follow her personal blog at: http://www.ocdtalk.wordpress.com/. Janet uses a pseudonym to protect her son’s privacy.