Parenting With OCD: My Daily Dose of Exposure Therapy

By Amber Leventry


I have this awful problem where I pick up my kids’ toys. Not only do I pick them up, but I put them where they belong. I make sure toys are settled within their individual sets containing 905 pieces, books are on shelves, and LEGOs are with other LEGOs and not scattered around the house in the 45 toy bins we seem to have. I put puzzles back together. I make sure fake food is in the kitchen area. I tuck the toy farm animals back into the toy barn each night. If Doc McStuffins were my primary care physician she would tell me I have a bad case of Why-Fucking-Bother-itis.

I bother because I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. This does not pair well with my daughter’s need to hoard and collect, nor do my character flaws play well with my twin sons’ desires to throw, dump, and kick anything and everything. You don’t need a diagnosis for this to drive you crazy do you?

Block and dinasaur mess on floor

And when I asked my boys to clean up the dinosaurs, which were dumped all over the floor and not being played with, I got this.

Dinasaurs Under Pillow

My two year old boys don’t understand the concept of sweeping things under the rug yet, but they certainly know how to avoid doing what I ask while trying to hide something. This is a little bit like having OCD. I sometimes try to hide my rituals, anxiety, and need for perfection but to those looking close enough, I am not fooling anyone. And if I am, I probably am not doing what you asked in the way you expected me to do it. I avoid doing the bare minimum with the intention of satisfying a compulsion and avoiding stress.

I have always been open about having OCD. Therapy, Zoloft, and the mind-numbing exhaustion of having three kids keep it in check. Check, check, check. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. And I am okay with it.

I am not okay with it interfering with my ability to be the parent I want to be. My kids sometimes wait a little longer when I take too long to complete a task in a manner that is thorough enough to be OCD approved, and they certainly know and see my obsession with weeding our yard. From a very young age, all three of my children learned the phrase bad weeds and will repeat it as they see me bend over to pull crabgrass out of our lawn.

But they do not know the very real struggle of my obsessive thoughts or the way I cringe every time they enter the house after being in the yard or sandbox, grass and dirt trailing them. They do not know the anxiety that fills my chest when they do art projects and sensory play.

Kids Painting Collage

Eva, Ben, Ryan playing with cloud dough

They can’t visualize my head exploding when they dump out their wooden birthday cake or pizza toy sets. Thanks a lot, Melissa and Doug. Why must there be so many toppings? And don’t get me started on the magnetic dress-up dolls.

My kids don’t know these things because I continue to give them the full range of what all kids should have: messy, dirty, play time. And for the most part, I keep my mouth shut as they mix play dough of different colors together, shred paper, or shove toys into bags, boxes, and bins. My messy boys are best cleaned with a fire hose and my daughter is a prime candidate for a hoarding intervention, but I try to hide the fact that I’d rather give myself a Brazilian wax than come across scenes like this.

Paper Shredding CollageOr this.

Eva behind hoarding stuffAnd this.

Eva's hoarding bag

Having kids has been like putting myself through daily exposure therapy. The messes drive me nuts. And I will never be fully okay with my daughter jamming random items from 18 different places into one bag. But it’s her stuff, right? If she really wants to store an old thermometer with her princess shoes inside of an old ripped, paper bag, that’s her prerogative. Or so I tell myself.

I have OCD. Though on some days I think I just have a basic human need for order and less shit on the ground. Whatever the diagnosis, the reminder that I will have the chance to clean and restore order when they are asleep helps. Humor helps too. The bottom line is that I don’t want to put my anxiety onto my children. It’s not their fault that their mama’s idea of fun is cleaning the bathroom. It is my responsibility to let them be kids. I hate that my brain usually sees chaos or mess before their happiness, but I really do love to see my kids sweaty, dirty, and free.

If my kids end up in therapy, I want them to have other reasons than the memory of me hovering over them demanding that they play with their toys in symmetrical patterns. But it’s hard. Really, really hard.


One on the left needs to move over a bit. Just a little to the right, sweetie. Thank you.

The post Parenting With OCD: My Daily Dose of Exposure Therapy appeared first on The Next Family.

Amber Leventry

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