Being a parent with OCD can be challenging, but it’s possible to manage your symptoms and enjoy this experience.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can affect many aspects of your life, from your relationships to your career. If you’re a parent, OCD might sometimes make parenting more challenging.
OCD is a formal mental health condition. It involves symptoms like obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are recurring and distressing intrusive thoughts or images. Compulsions are rituals you engage in to make obsessions go away or to reduce the distress intrusive thoughts cause.
People with OCD experience different “themes.” Some have obsessions and compulsions that revolve around cleanliness (contamination OCD), fear that they’ll hurt themselves or others (harm OCD), or anxiety around religion (scrupulosity OCD), just to name a few.
Different themes might affect your parenting skills differently.
For example, a parent with contamination OCD might experience extreme anxiety that their child will be exposed to germs and fall ill. A parent with harm OCD might experience intrusive thoughts about hurting their baby.
OCD symptoms can be managed, though. OCD treatment is often effective and can reduce the impact your symptoms may have on your parenthood experience.
Your OCD symptoms might become more intense during pregnancy, perhaps because of hormonal changes.
You could also experience peripartum OCD, which is when OCD develops during pregnancy or after birth.
Postpartum OCD isn’t limited to the parent who gives birth.
Fathers and other caregivers whose partners have given birth can also experience postpartum OCD.
The symptoms of postpartum OCD may include obsessive fears of:
- harming your baby (unintentionally or intentionally)
- accidentally dropping or forgetting your baby somewhere
- your baby dying of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or another condition
- your baby becoming ill
Compulsions associated with postpartum OCD may include:
- repeatedly checking that the baby is still breathing
- repeatedly asking doctors and loved ones to reassure you that the baby is OK
- neglecting to shower or sleep as you worry your baby may be hurt while you’re away from them
- avoiding behavior you deem potentially harmful (like bathing, driving with, or even holding the baby)
Many people with postpartum OCD feel afraid to tell others about their fears because they worry they’ll be stigmatized and labeled as “crazy.” They may also fear others prevent them from seeing their baby. These concerns are valid and common.
However, reaching out is the first step to feeling better and managing symptoms.
Consider finding a therapist who treats postpartum OCD, or try to look for postpartum support groups.
The symptoms of OCD can be overwhelming for anyone. When you’re a parent, you might find that your OCD symptoms make you anxious about your role and the safety of your baby.
This can look different for different people. For example:
- A parent with harm OCD might fear that they’ll hurt their child. To protect their child, the parent might avoid spending alone time with them.
- A parent with contamination OCD might avoid playing with their child outside. They might unintentionally teach their child to fear mess and germs.
- A parent with counting OCD might have a compulsion to check their windows and doors five times before leaving the house, making it hard to get their children to school on time.
People with OCD might engage in avoidant behaviors. This can include avoiding necessary aspects of parenting, like:
- changing diapers
- making food
- interacting with health professionals and teachers
- playing with children
- allowing their children to interact with others
- letting children play with specific toys
- permitting their children to sleep throughout the night
Some parents with OCD may be cognizant that their obsessions and compulsions may affect their children. This anxiety — the fear that you might hurt your children in any way — may exacerbate your stress and intensify your symptoms.
Some people with OCD wonder if their children will develop OCD, too. Will they inherit the “OCD gene”? Will they notice your behavior and start mimicking it? The answer is complex, as the causes of OCD aren’t entirely clear.
It’s possible that genes play a role in the development of OCD. So could temperament. But, there are other factors that could contribute to the disorder, such as environmental stressors. In fact, it’s likely that a combination of different factors is at the root of OCD.
Many people with OCD have children who never develop the condition.
1. Consider therapy
Professional mental health help is a great first step if you’re a parent with OCD.
Talk therapy is one of the most effective OCD treatments.
OCD is usually treated with exposure and response prevention (ERP), which is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Talk therapy can help you manage your OCD symptoms better while working through challenges that come up for you as a parent.
Support groups and other OCD support resources can also be helpful.
The International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) has a list of in-person OCD support groups and online OCD support groups.
You can also ask your therapist, psychiatrist, or health professional if they know of any local support groups.
2. Try to ask for help
It’s natural that you may not always be comfortable talking frankly about your symptoms and asking for support. Parents who have OCD might fear being judged by others or putting their custody in jeopardy.
But, asking for help is often necessary and can make a difference. Support can help you feel more connected, more capable, and less stressed.
Asking for help can look like:
- talking with a friend or partner about your thoughts and compulsions
- venting constructively to a loved one
- asking a loved one to babysit your children so that you get some alone time or go to therapy
- asking a loved one to help you with a chore or errand that is difficult for you
- seeking the support of a mental health professional
The point of asking for help isn’t to avoid your triggers, but to help you feel more capable of managing your symptoms.
3. Maintaining positive habits can help
Stress and a lack of sleep can often exacerbate OCD symptoms. To give yourself the best possible chance at managing symptoms, you may want to take care of your foundational needs.
This can include:
- getting optimal sleep
- not skipping meals
- keeping hydrated
- managing stress and practicing relaxation techniques
- developing coping skills
Try to also engage in enjoyable activities that help you stay calm. This can include:
- physical activity
- creative hobbies
Parenting with OCD can be challenging but it’s possible to enjoy the experience and provide a safe and healthy environment for your children.
OCD treatment — especially talk therapy — can help you manage your symptoms so you feel more confident in your role while reducing your distress.