Obsessive-Compulsive Parenting

Jeremy Sharp, PhD child development/parenting, stress & anxiety Leave a Comment

Hello again, everyone. I know I’ve talked many times about the excuses for not posting more, but my last hiatus has been genuine. I mentioned in an earlier post that my wife and were expecting our first child, a boy, in September. Well, he has arrived! Three weeks early, on September 4. The last couple of months have been a whirlwind, to say the least.

While the joys and anxieties of parenting can make for several volumes, I want to stick to the clinical piece here. Experiencing these emotions have given me a particular insight into my clients that I previously didn’t have. Now, I’ve had times in my life when I’ve dealt with what was probably clinical depression, and I struggled with panic attacks for two or three years (they do go away!), but nothing has compared to what I’ve felt over the last couple of months. I’m speaking particularly to the more desperate aspects…the fear that something is wrong with him, the anxiety and helplessness of not knowing how to soothe him, and the eventual transition of helplessness to unfounded anger at him, my wife, and parenting in general.

Perhaps most interesting (and alarming), I’ve also experienced periods of bizarre, intrusive thoughts, not unlike those that come with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. With OCD, the thoughts can range from fairly benign (“I must turn the light on and off three times before leaving a room”) to pretty serious (“I am afraid I will kill someone if I drive my car”). They’re not rational, but they become strangely possible and real somehow. My own intrusive thoughts have revolved around inadvertently harming my son, again ranging from the benign (“What if I drop him?”) to the downright bizarre (“What if he jumps out of my arms and over the stair railing? I’d better hold him extra tight. But wait, what if I hold him so tight that I suffocate him or crush his head?”)…you get the idea.

Dealing with these thoughts has helped greatly in understanding my clients’ experiences with OCD and anxiety, especially the fear that others will think you’re “crazy” if you talk about it. The first time I shared these thoughts with someone else, I thought for sure they’d bolt straight to the phone to call Child Protective Services. As it turned out, this person (a friend of mine with grown children) experienced very similar things. And she knew of others who did too.

Maybe I’m not crazy after all. I suppose the lesson here is that we’re not alone in our emotional experiences. Chances are that if you’ve had a potentially embarrassing or troublesome thought or feeling, someone else has too. Sharing can be powerfully normalizing.

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