I really wanted to call this submission, “I’m the perfect mother. So why are my kids so screwed up?”, but I don’t want to offend my kids. They are perfect. Too perfect. Both of my kids suffer the mental, and physical, effects of OCD.
Last year, my son entered his freshman year at a prestigious college on a full four-year scholarship. He’s incredibly talented and smart. He’s perfect. Too perfect. He struggled with what he thought was depression and adjustment issues, but was ultimately diagnosed with OCD. Surprisingly, this diagnosis was a relief – he finally had a name for why he was feeling so depressed, so anxious and so out of control. Perfectionism has a price. Despite him being in another city, in another state, I spent countless days trying to find the right resources to heal him. I did not stop until I found the perfect treatment team. We certainly went through our share of counselors who dismissed his anxieties as “first year adjustment”. Had I not been diligent, the consequences could have been dire. He was truly struggling – emotionally, mentally, socially, academically – and as a parent, this was the hardest thing to watch. But he used his academic acuity to learn everything he could about OCD, its affects, its treatment, and the countless others who deal with it. On his own, he learned meditation and yoga, aggressively researched and implemented a healthy eating plan, and began working out. He took control and I like to think he healed himself, and learned some very important life lessons along the way.
My teenage daughter has perfectionist issues too. I swear I was not one of those parents who pushes their kids to be perfect. I was not a tiger mom. Or a helicopter parent. I set early expectations that my kids would be successful and diligent about their schoolwork, but they became very self-disciplined and independently-driven early on.
My daughter was recently diagnosed with an eating disorder. I had suspected it, but it’s hard to see when it’s your own child. I saw that she had been losing weight, looking withdrawn, but it was when a doctor who had known her for years said, “I’m shocked. She looks sick.” I was almost embarrassed to take her to her pediatrician. Somehow, I feel like he would judge me…like I’m a failure as a mother.
While my son’s OCD is driven by obsession to be perfect, her OCD is driven by a compulsion over food. She fiercely studies ingredients, measures every strawberry, every bite of sweet potato. She will only eat food she prepares herself. She eats her vegetables and salads dry. She used to love going out to dinner, but will no longer go. As with my son, I spent countless hours taking her to doctors and seeking out the perfect treatment team. It took so much of our time, but we found it – the perfect treatment team – a nutritionist and counselors she connects with, and more importantly, trusts. She too ahs accepted responsibility and is working hard to heal herself.
What scares me most about my experience, is that I really had to fight and search to find the right treatment for my kids. Many parents don’t have the time or resources to go this extra mile to find treatment that feels comfortable, is meaningful and makes progress.