'Just Relax': Raising Children When You Have OCD

by Amanda Reseburg
Originally Published: 
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I have always had a wide variety of odd peccadilloes that have created various measures of anxiety for me. Growing up, I remember feeling compelled to rewrite assignments until the handwriting reached my desired level of perfection. I would ruminate over seemingly mundane issues. Dinner time was absolute torture as the simplest of eating sounds made me downright stabby.

At 19, it was all given a name: obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Since diagnosis, I’ve tried a myriad of therapies with varying results. A regular dose of anti-anxiety medication seems to do the trick, not to mention that after 30 or so years I’ve gotten the hang of knowing my triggers.

What’s funny (or not so funny) about OCD are people’s preconceived notions about what it really means. I’m sure, at one time or another, you’ve said, “I’m so OCD,” about something. What you mean to convey is that you may be particular about something. That’s not OCD. It doesn’t mean that a person is overly tidy. It doesn’t mean that I’m Monica Gellar on steroids. The disorder is comedic fodder for movies and TV shows. It’s “cute.” It’s become synonymous with clean freak.

And that’s not what it is at all.

What it means is things that typically would not be a big deal to the average Joe can possibly cause a great deal of anxiety for me, to the point where I believe catastrophic consequences may go down if the “thing” isn’t stopped. It can be highly disruptive to completely debilitating, depending on the person.

What changed my particular game of OCD was having children. As my kids aged, I started to realize I would fixate on things that were par for the course with kids: messy hair in the morning, talking with their mouths full of food, slurping their chocolate milk or coming home with their school papers shoved willy-nilly into their binders.

As hard as I try to remember that my issue shouldn’t become their issue, sometimes it’s monumentally difficult. I find myself saying “chew with your mouth closed” way too often at the dinner table. Each time I do, I hear myself and I think, quit being such a nag, but it’s as if I have no control over my reaction. It has to be stopped. I can drive a point into the ground like no other. As much as I know this could be particularly damaging, it’s as if I’m operating on autopilot. My only thought? Get the “thing” to stop.

We went to Disney this past fall, a trip that was rife with potential triggers: crowds, close quarters, daily itineraries, and potentially (in my head) dangerous situations. I like to think that given the circumstances I handled it all pretty well. However, the night of Disney’s big Halloween party was so overwhelming I ended up bowing out of a carousel ride with my kids. I hate that I did that. But the anxiety was so high that the only thing I could fixate on was the carousal, the gears, the speed at which it was going, and my mind turned that into “the Disney carousel is going to kill you.”

See, not so cute.

Children create such a wide variety of messes and potentially triggering situations, through no fault of their own, that I’ve had to work diligently at being “chill mom.” This is no easy task, and I find I fail more than I succeed. People not entirely in the know tell me to “relax,” as if it’s just that easy. You know, relax—let the kids eat their popsicles and get goo all over them. Let them ride the Carousel of Death. Be chill mom.

When I try to explain to anyone that as much as I’d love to relax, that my body is fighting it all the way, it never really goes over very well.

I get it. It’s hard to wrap your head around how popsicle goo or a slurp of a cup of water could be the end of the world. The more I try to rationalize it, the crazier I sound.

It’s my hope that despite my various neuroses, my kids know that I think they are perfect in every way. That my slips in nitpicking are my issue, not theirs. That Mommy gets up every day, and she tries. That I’m acutely aware of my OCD, where it comes from, and that every day it is my job to make sure none of that spills over in a damaging manner to their nice, protected kid-world.

I hope one day they’ll look back on their childhoods and think that even if mommy was a little high-strung sometimes, she still allowed us do things that scared her, to get dirty, and navigate our world as kids. She loved us fiercely, even if she was a bit preoccupied with our dinner sounds.

OCD doesn’t define me as a mother, and that’s all I can hope for.

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