Parents whose children suffer from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder are often devastated and heartbroken. Their formerly happy, loving, well-adjusted son or daughter is now barely functioning, caught up in a world dictated by obsessions and compulsions. To make matters worse, mothers and fathers often feel powerless to make things better. It is understandable that we parents might feel distraught, frightened, and overwhelmed — not to mention alone.

That is exactly how I felt when my son Dan was dealing with severe OCD. Some days I’d sit with him for hours just to get him to eat a morsel of food. Other times I’d have to step over him because he’d lie on the floor all day. He isolated himself from his friends, and his life became nothing more than an existence. Sadness overcame me. Add stress, exhaustion, and fear to the equation, and you’ve got an unhappy household.

So when a close family friend who is a clinical psychologist gave me the advice to “lighten up and try to relax a little,” my response was, “Are you kidding me? My son, my family, my world are falling apart and you want me to lighten up?” His answer? “Yes.”

Obviously he knew our family was going through a difficult time, but he also knew that Dan and our other children picked up on my and my husband’s attitudes. How we felt affected how they felt.

Since I truly was heartbroken, I started by faking it. It was hard, but I pretended to be in a good mood and even made a joke or two as I stepped over Dan. My husband worked on changing his outlook also. We tried to live our lives as normally as we could.

Lo and behold, it didn’t take long for the overall atmosphere in our home to really lighten up. Seeing their parents smile and joke a bit gave our children, including Dan, the impression that things just might end up okay. If mom and dad can go out and meet friends for dinner, then how bad could things be?

Soon my husband and I weren’t pretending anymore. Our perspective changed also. If Dan could laugh at our jokes (which he was often able to do, even in his debilitated state), then maybe the situation really wasn’t all doom and gloom.

I don’t want to give the impression that our home went from being in a state of upheaval to the happiest house on the block. That didn’t happen; after all, we were still dealing with a crisis. But there was a subtle change. We had hope. Hope that our family would get through the tough times and maybe even emerge stronger than ever.

If your household includes a person with severe OCD, you might want to give our friend’s advice a try, as difficult as it might be. While we need to acknowledge our loved one’s suffering, we also need to continue on with our lives as best we can. Otherwise we are just letting OCD win.