One day, I was part of a Twitter chat in the OCD community that centered on having — or not having — children. So many people seemed to think it would be selfish of them to have children because they have OCD, either because they could pass it on to these children or because the disorder itself would make them an inferior parent.
I did not know that I had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder until after the birth of my second child. That said, had I known, I still would’ve chosen to have children.
Here’s why that isn’t selfish of me:
1.) Risk factors do not mean that something WILL happen.
Yes, my children are at an increased risk of having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder because I have it. I will constantly check in and keep an eye on whether they start developing symptoms, just like I will with every other condition they have in their family history. I will be proactive about getting them to see doctors and will get them screened annually.
That said, just because my children are at an increased risk for developing OCD does not mean that they will. My husband has a parent with OCD and he doesn’t have it. Similarly, people with no risk factors (like me!) can develop it anyway. Planning my life around what MIGHT happen seems like a terrible way to live.
2.) Mental Illness doesn’t automatically make you a bad parent. (*But you’ll need to work a little harder.)
Are there aspects of my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that could affect my children’s lives? Absolutely. That is why I am diligent about my treatment, taking my medications, and attending my appointments. I know that I have to put in extra work to not be the anxious mother that cannot handle life.
I know that my OCD makes me want to helicopter parent, so I force myself to let my children do things for themselves and (safely) explore their world without me.
I know that I will have anxiety whenever they stretch their wings, so I work with a very talented therapist to tackle these fears. I am determined to make sure that my neuroses do not become their limitations.
3.) There are parts of my disorder that make me a better parent.
I won’t sit here and tell you that having OCD is a blessing. (FORGET that noise. It downright sucks sometimes.) That said, there are some things that I am good at because I’m (clinically) obsessed with them. My house is one of the best childproofed houses on the planet and every parenting decision I make is carefully researched. Why? Because I am literally obsessed with my children.
Moreover, having struggled makes me better able to help my children with their struggles–whatever they may be. I have learned what it’s like to feel helpless, hopeless, and just plain scared. I believe that makes me a more compassionate and loving person. I believe that I can love them in a way that will help them be brave, simply because I have lived in fear. I believe my children will see that courage is pushing though fears by the way I live my life.
4.) My life is worthwhile, and theirs is too–mental illness or no mental illness.
I can’t believe I even had to make this point, but I did. There is no life that is not worth living, even if there is suffering in it. Even on my darkest day, my life has been beautiful and completely worth living. There has not been a day on this earth that has not been a gift to me, and I believe my children will have beautiful, sometimes messy, but completely blessed lives. OCD or no OCD.
If you or someone you know is a mom struggling with emotional complications during pregnancy or after giving birth, you are not alone. Our hope is that this upcoming mental health series brings you encouragement and support. We are enthusiastic and confident in our endorsement of Moms Mental Health Initiative and would love for you to explore their site to get connected to resources to help.