Over the years, I have connected with many people whose lives have been affected by OCD. Because I’m a parent whose son has obsessive-compulsive disorder, some of the most heartbreaking stories to me come from parents who have done everything in their power to help their adult children, to no avail. Either these children insist they don’t have a problem, they resist appropriate treatment, or there are other issues that are hindering them from moving forward.

And they live at home.

As parents, we spend our lives doing everything we can to ensure our children are well cared for – that they are safe, healthy and happy. We share their hopes and dreams for the future and afford them every opportunity to reach these goals. They, indeed we, are on a path.

And then OCD comes to town, and all our lives are turned upside down.

But still, we try to do what we have always done. What we have always known how to do – keep our children safe and warm.

Except with OCD in the mix now, it’s not so easy. Following our intuition only makes things worse, and before we know it we are enabling our loved one. In no time at all OCD is the head of the household.

So what should we do?

While every family has its unique set of issues, and seeking professional help is always wise, there are some basic premises to be followed when adult children with OCD live at home.

First and foremost, each member of the household has the right to feel safe at home, to be treated with respect and kindness, and to be heard. While those with OCD are no more likely to be violent than people without the disorder, they might be rigid in their daily routines and become angry if these are modified in any manner. Many parents and siblings of those with OCD feel as if they are always “walking on eggshells.” Nobody should have to live this way.

When our children are young, we take them to health-care professionals as we see fit, and then we follow the doctor’s orders. We can’t do that with our adult children (unless they are deemed unfit to make their own medical decisions, which is a topic for another day). They are not minors anymore and are legally responsible for making their own health-care choices (even though parents might very well be paying the bills). So they may or may not choose to get help. It’s their call.

But parents do have some control. If your adult son or daughter is living with you, it should be made clear that he or she must follow your rules. These requirements can be listed clearly on a contract, which all family members can sign. Some common conditions might include:

  • Attend regular therapy appointments and actively engage in treatment, including medication if appropriate
  • Treat all household members with kindness and respect
  • Accept that family members will not accommodate or enable you
  • Contribute to the upkeep of the home (keep room clean, help with chores, etc)
  • Keep communication open – perhaps with regularly scheduled family meetings

Then of course comes the really tough part. You have to mean what you say. If your son or daughter refuses to agree to your rules, you have to be willing to follow through and ask them to leave your home. Depending on the situation, some parents will help their adult child find an apartment and agree to help with rent for an allotted time while their son or daughter looks for a job. If your child is in no position to work, you can gently remind them that that is one of the reasons why they need help.

Of course the hope is that it will never come to the point where you have to ask your child to leave. But if it does happen, it might just be the necessary impetus for them to get the help they so desperately need.