Having an adult child with OCD can be challenging. But there are ways to manage symptoms and strengthen your relationship.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition that affects the entire family.
This condition can begin in childhood or adolescence. The International OCD Foundation estimates that around one-third of adults with OCD develop their symptoms during childhood.
Parents of adults with OCD may have been dealing with these symptoms since childhood. When their children become adults, tension, frustration, and even fear can arise during family visits or if they still live at home.
Your adult child might have specific rituals they insist you participate in. They might also ask you for reassurance and become overwhelmed when you don’t give it to them.
It can be overwhelming to watch your adult child manage the symptoms of OCD, but there are ways to cope.
People of all ages can be diagnosed with OCD, from younger children to older adults.
According to a 2021 study, most people start experiencing OCD symptoms during:
- childhood, between the ages of 8 and 12
- early adulthood, around the age of 20
While people outside of these age groups can develop OCD, it’s less likely to first develop after young adulthood.
Additionally, many people don’t get an accurate diagnosis until they’re well into adulthood, according to a 2015 study. The study notes that symptoms of OCD can often be overlooked or misdiagnosed.
A life event in adulthood could make the symptoms suddenly feel overwhelming, leading to the impression that OCD first appeared in later adulthood.
Whether your child has dealt with OCD symptoms for decades or seems to have suddenly developed them during adulthood, having an adult child with OCD can be overwhelming and frustrating.
The media portrays adults with OCD as “neat-freaks” or “germaphobes,” but this is a limited and inaccurate depiction of what OCD actually is.
OCD has two groups of symptoms: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive and disturbing thoughts, images, or urges. Adults with OCD can have obsessions about anything from their sexual orientation to contamination.
Compulsions are how people with OCD react to obsessions. Compulsions are intended to decrease the intense distress and anxiety that obsessions cause. Some examples of compulsions include tapping, counting, or repetitive behaviors.
OCD symptoms can start showing up in every area of a person’s life if left untreated. As the parent of someone with OCD, being able to recognize what OCD looks like in adults can help you know when it’s affecting your adult child’s behaviors.
Adult OCD symptoms at home could include:
- having conflict with family or roommates because they try to force others to go along with compulsive behaviors, like agreeing to clean the house in a certain ritualistic way
- isolating themselves from others
- repeatedly seeking reassurance
- avoiding events or places because they trigger obsessions
- having a difficult time dealing with any changes in routines
OCD could also affect your adult child at work. This might include:
- frequently being late because they’re spending too much time doing compulsions
- missing work to compulsively avoid triggers
- checking and rechecking work so often that they miss deadlines
- worrying that colleagues will find out about their condition
- needing desk space to be organized in a specific way
OCD is a lifelong mental health condition. It can be treated, and its symptoms can be managed, but there’s no cure for it. Without treatment, OCD symptoms can stay the same or worsen over time.
If you’re a parent of an adult with OCD, there may be periods of time when your child’s symptoms get better and other periods when symptoms seem worse. Try not to get discouraged.
Many adults with OCD are able to manage their symptoms well. OCD is treatable, and with the right treatment, adults with OCD can live happy, fulfilling, and successful lives.
Being the parent of an adult with OCD can be difficult to navigate. OCD affects the person living with the condition and those around them.
People who live with adults with OCD often describe the experience as frustrating, demanding, and exhausting.
Understanding more about the condition can help you cope with the symptoms and strengthen your relationship with your adult child.
Support their treatment plan
OCD doesn’t go away on its own and often requires treatment. But you can learn how to help your adult child manage their symptoms.
Your love alone is not enough to “cure” your adult child of OCD. Consider encouraging them to seek help from a mental health professional.
If you have your child’s permission, you can talk with their healthcare or mental health professional to find out how you can be supportive. Knowing your child’s treatment plan and making sure they follow it can be a way to help and support them.
Don’t participate in or accommodate their symptoms
Adults with OCD often want others to participate in or accommodate their compulsions, according to a
For example, they may ask you to clean the house a certain way before their visit. They may also ask for your support in avoiding certain triggers, like touching doorknobs for them or not watching the news.
It’s natural to want to accommodate your child’s requests. But part of their treatment may be learning to challenge those compulsions. So, accommodating their compulsions may do more harm than good.
Instead of accommodating their compulsions, you can offer support in other ways. This could include finding healthy distractions together, like going for a drive.
But try not to use distractions as a form of avoidance. For example, going on a drive instead of going to work because they’re late due to compulsions or contamination fears.
If you’re unsure of the difference, consider speaking with a mental health professional. They can help guide you.
Learn about OCD
Consider learning as much as you can about OCD and how it affects adults. This will be especially helpful if OCD is a new experience for your family.
There may be things that your adult child does that you never knew could be attributed to their OCD.
Understanding how OCD affects them can help you have more empathy for them. Knowing more about OCD can help you understand that your child’s symptoms are out of their control.
When you see OCD symptoms flaring up, try to invite your adult child to engage their coping skills rather than argue with them. But try to put the decision of using these skills in their hands.
You might say, “I know this worry is tough right now. Would that skill you told me about help here?”
Try not to instruct them on how to cope or use statements such as “you should” or “you always.” For example, try not to make statements like, “You always do this. Why aren’t you just letting the fear pass or just ignoring it?”
Remember to take care of yourself. It can be difficult to help and support your child if you’re tired and worn down.
Remember that your child is an adult who’s responsible for their own life. You can offer support but not at the detriment of your own physical and mental health.
Having a child with OCD can be challenging, but the condition is treatable.
Knowing more about OCD and its symptoms is crucial to helping your child manage their symptoms. Try to be supportive while also taking care of your mental health.
Some parents find it helpful to seek therapy for themselves. If you think it may help you, consider reaching out to a mental health professional or finding a support group.
The International OCD Foundation’s family section is a great place to start.
You can also check out Psych Central’s OCD resource directory.