Parenting is hard. Without training, you’re suddenly a chef, cleaner, maid, teacher, chauffeur, nanny, mentor, event planner, bank, friend, nurse, therapist and/or coach. That’s a lot of responsibility, and with responsibility comes the little voice in your head that says you could be screwing things up. Worry and fear are two emotions commonly experienced by parents.
If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it’s normal to wonder if your parenting style could cause your child to have OCD as well. Similarly, if your child already has OCD, it’s normal to wonder if your parenting style had anything to do with it. Maybe neither of you have OCD, but you’re worried your parenting style might contribute to the development of it. This is all normal and is part of you trying to do your job as a parent.
To put it simply, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that OCD is caused by parenting style. The way you talk to your children doesn’t cause OCD. The way you discipline them doesn’t cause OCD. The bad advice you give your child doesn’t cause OCD. The amount of time you spend time with your children doesn’t cause OCD. It doesn’t matter if you’re a stay-at-home parent, a workaholic, a divorcee, or single parent, OCD is a neurobiological disorder and none of these things influence the development of OCD. While there is some research suggesting that OCD may have a genetic component, you are not at all to blame for your child’s OCD.
Despite this, OCD in parents can be disrupting for kids in a similar way it might be disrupting for the parent. By nature, OCD interferes with the individual’s daily life because the obsessions and/or compulsions are time-consuming and distressing. Since OCD is based in anxiety, it can also make a person much more irritable, where they can react in a dysregulated manner (e.g., yell or cry). If that person is also a parent, it makes sense that OCD may also interrupt their child’s life because children rely on time, attention, and nurture for their development.
OCD is challenging enough in its own right. Becoming a parent is challenging on its own as well. Particularly when worrying about your child can also become an obsession called “parenting OCD”, which involves repetitive, intrusive thoughts about their child/ren’s safety and health. This can make both OCD and parenting a hell of a lot harder.
OCD in parents can make it very challenging for them to meet the child’s needs. Sometimes, children can also get sucked into their parent’s compulsions or rituals, where they may perform a task for the parent (e.g., checking the locks), join the parent (e.g., washing their hands in a certain way) or start to copy the parent (e.g., touching wood for good luck). Black and colleagues (2003) also found that children with a parent with OCD are more likely to have social, emotional, and behavioural disorders (e.g., depression, general anxiety, OCD, and separation anxiety) than children without a parent with OCD. But this doesn’t mean it has to be this way.
Some people with OCD assume they could never be a good parent. This is simply not true. You can absolutely be a good parent for your children, OCD or not. It does take time and effort but reducing OCD-related symptoms benefits both you and your child. You are both worth the work. OCD can be successfully managed with gold standard treatments, such as Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), and that the OCD Clinic has helped countless people struggling with OCD to reclaim control over their lives and become the kind of parent’s they want to be. It’s time to start focusing on what you can do, rather than what you might’ve done wrong.
Blog post written by Sally Youdale, Clinical Psychology Registrar at The OCD Clinic. If you have questions about psychological therapy please contact our intake team: firstname.lastname@example.org