Parenting with OCD: Genetics, Concerns, and Hope

Dec 07, 2023

 “What if my kid gets OCD?” “Can I still be a good parent even if I have OCD?” These are questions I have both asked myself and heard from countless others! When we know how intimately OCD can impact our quality of life it can be hard to imagine a future with children who aren’t directly or indirectly experiencing the effects of that! Let’s explore it.

First: the science.

Overall, the inheritance pattern of OCD is still pretty unclear. What we do see is an increased risk of developing OCD if you have a first-degree relative who has it (compared to the rest of the population). However we are still discovering how much of this is due to environmental risks. In other words, there is no certain way to know whether your child will inherit OCDwhether you have it or not. There is not a “yes" or “no" answer here and I know that uncertainty can feel really painful when we are experiencing OCD!

What if my kid DOES get my OCD too?

Because OCD often isn’t something we would wish on our worst enemy it can pose a lot of doubt for an individual about the risks of passing it on. While, again, there is no way to know or prevent it entirely - let’s play a thought experiment and imagine they do develop OCD. Their experience WON’T BE the same as your experience. Here’s what I mean by that: Science just keeps on getting better. Due in large part to the world of advocacy, general misinformation about OCD is greatly improving. Understanding and access to care improves every day with more and more books, social media pages, therapist training, and podcasts spreading accurate information about this disorder. With more public awareness, earlier intervention is so much more likely.

Parallel to this are the fields of psychology and psychiatry shifting more than ever with new studies providing so much more insight into our minds. This means increased research into medication and modalities like Exposure and Response Prevention becoming more integrated as mainstream forms of treatment. Who knows what we will discover in 20 years time!

Not to mention the fact that this child would have a parent who knows the signs, symptoms, and resources for the disorder. That’s pretty much as good as it gets! What sort of difference might it have made for you to have that? That level of understanding, lack of shame, and access to information goes a long way.

But what if I can’t protect my kid from everything?

You can’t. There WILL be days you mess up and say something the wrong way or inadvertently impact them. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. You don’t get to see the futureyou get to do the best you can. So much of parenting is about taking risks. You have to know that the world is a risky place that you could never fully shield from and that you are an imperfect human navigating it. This means accepting there are things you get to impact and things you get to accept.

Jessie McLaughlin, a mother and interior designer with OCD, has posed her approach as such: "Things are not black and white which is one of the reasons I’ve been in a lot of therapy. And I would never deign to give somebody parenting advice because I think, again, parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Every kid is different, every parent is different, every backstory is different, every town is different... I have kind of taken on a harm reduction model in parenting and it’s like I know I’m gonna do harm because I’m a human, they’re humans. So how can I do the least amount of harm? Which maybe sounds fatalistic but you know I think the best thing I can do as a parent..."

Some of the things we can impact:

● Our own tools to navigate our OCD and the factors that make us susceptible to it.

● How we choose to teach our children. Some of the things we get to accept:

● Not knowing the consequences of every decision we make.

● Not being able to prevent all danger or risk. People with OCD can be fantastic parents When we experience OCD we have to learn to become INTIMATELY acquainted with uncertainty. Is there anything better to teach a child?

 

Exposure and Response Prevention, the gold standard treatment for OCD, shows us how to face our distress and not avoid hard things. Is there anything better to teach a child? ERP also teaches us that thoughts are just thoughts and that we control our actions, not our emotions. Is there anything better to teach a child? People who have experienced a disorder like OCD tend to be highly empathetic, compassionate, and understanding. You cannot, you simply CANNOT forget that amid all the risk is also value. Amid the scraped knees and sleepless nights there are first steps and tiny baby shoes and the beauty of having brought a person into the world. How do we know it’s worth it? Because humans keep doing it. Because you exist! See my blog article titled Helpings kids through ERP for more on children with OCD.

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