“I Didn’t Understand”

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The phone rings in the late morning as I’m sitting at the computer.  It’s my mother-in-law on the other end of the line.

“Oh honey.” she says to me “My heart goes out to you.  I didn’t understand.  Now I know what you go through.  How do you do it?  And how can we help?”

She has recently spent two days with Blake and she’s been dying to talk with me about the experience.  She pours her thoughts and emotions through the phone line as she describes how confusing this experience was for her.  She’s known for nearly seven years that her grandson has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and she has even read articles I’ve written about our experience.  However, it is not until now that she and my father-in-law have had Blake in their home without his big brother for a few days that she’s beginning to connect knowledge and experience.

“We had pizza planned for dinner because we know that it’s his favorite,” she says, “but then he asked us where we were getting it and that restaurant wasn’t okay with him.”

The restaurant he approved was clear across the valley from them and my father-in-law made the trip over and back to bring pizza that Blake would eat.

“We just weren’t sure what to do,” she continues.  “We wanted him to eat.  We wanted him to be happy, but we weren’t sure if we should have done it or not.”

I can hear the struggle in her voice. She never expected being a grandparent would put her in the position of wondering whether it was okay to make trip to a special pizza restaurant.  And then there was the praying.

My mother-in-law was raised in a religious home.  Saying evening prayers together was a special part of family togetherness.  It tickles her when her grandchildren want to do that with her.  This time, she didn’t have to ask.  Blake was all ready to go with prayers, but these confused her as well.  She didn’t know what to do about his stopping and re-starting again.  She didn’t recognize the strange rituals that went along with them.

“I don’t recognize this religion,” she tells me.  “I wanted to feel good and close to him when we did this, but it didn’t feel that way.”

I know she’s struggling.  How can something that’s has wonderful memories and feelings for her become something she wants to avoid doing with him?  How can feeding her grandchild his favorite food become something she has to question?  As she probes for how to deal with this, I am aware of how grateful I am to have her and my father-in-law in our lives – aware of how grateful I am for all of our extended family for that matter.  They seek to understand this situation, to understand OCD, and to support us.

We are among the lucky in terms of family support.  Many times, parents who have children with OCD face lack of understanding, criticism from family members and outright denial that there is a problem.  One of my own patient’s mothers was just told that she coddles her daughter too much.  She hears that she spoils and babies her child and that the only problems are the ones she is creating.  Another family was berated by the child’s grandparent for turning this into a big deal and getting treatment for the child.

I spend enough time in my professional work addressing and working to undo the things parents have been told by family members to appreciate what my mother-in-law is offering.  She’s been touched by her up-close-and-personal encounter during this visit and she is reaching out to join with us even more strongly than before. For that, I feel a surge of love and want to reach through the phone and hug her tightly.  Though he may not yet realize it, Blake has a loving team around him ready to provide support.

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2 thoughts on ““I Didn’t Understand”

  1. This is a very important post, and though our entire family was also supportive of Dan, the same wasn’t true for all the health care providers we came in contact with. Subtle references and innuendos revealed that they felt “we” were part of the problem, when the truth was they didn’t even know us. I believe this is not unusual, and can be devastating to family members who are also suffering and doing everything in their power to help their child.

    • Oh, Janet, good point! I remember when we first reached out for treatment, I was so sure that I was going to get the blame – or my husband and I. I was so relieved not to have that happen. I try to be sensitive to this in the families I see, since I believe they are so courageous to reach out in the first place. Makes me sad that you encountered providers who did that. So glad you stayed the course – it took resolve and guts!

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