We Have to Want It Less Than They Do

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This week I attended a daylong community OCD event. The venue was completely full, there were terrific speakers, and there were lots of opportunities to connect. At the end of the day, there was a gathering to re-cap and ask questions. One parent stood up to ask a question that grabbed my heart and my attention.

The parent asked about a topic that is near to many of us who have young adult (or almost-adult) children struggling with OCD (or other mental health issues). That is, the parent wanted to know how to motivate one’s older teen or young adult to get serious and use the treatment being offered to them. I immediately felt a kinship to this parent. I wanted to reach across the crowded room and say, “Yes, I want to know that, too. You are not alone.” Yet my heart already knew the answer that was about to come.

A therapist at the front of the room took the question and tenderly noted, “I notice that many times parents want desperately for their child to get better. Yet that seems to keep the child or young adult from wanting it for themselves. They have to want to get better more than their parents want them to get better.”

And there it was. A simple truth. We parents can want what we want for our children. We can lead them to treatment. We can urge, press, plead, make deals…but we can’t be doing more work than they are. We cannot be more invested than they are. We have to want their recovery LESS than they do.

My heart feels heavy for just a bit as I hear what I already know. And my heart aches for the parent on the other side of the room. How do we do this? How do we care less when they don’t seem to care much at all (at least on the surface)? I think the answer is that we have to find a meaningful life for ourselves in spite of their mental health struggles. I think that we have to back off on the pressure and put faith in their ability to decide when enough is enough. And we have to have the courage to not pick up the pieces and make the consequences of their struggle easier – they have to be doing much of the hard work.

This is simple, in theory, but difficult in practice. As parents, we are programmed to respond to our child when we see them suffering. We are oriented toward providing comfort and to removing obstacles. With OCD, anyway, doing our job as parent may be presenting them with the difficult path toward healing, and waiting nearby allowing them the struggle of coming to the decision that there is a better life to be lived.


8 thoughts on “We Have to Want It Less Than They Do

  1. What a great post, Angie, filled with so much good advice. I especially like your recommendation that parents need to live meaningful lives themselves……..this is what is best for everyone in the family. And as you say, easier said than done, but so important!

  2. Karyn

    This is so true, but so hard to accept, isn’t it? My son, 14, is in intensive day treatment right now. I don’t know how many times I’ve expressed in exasperation to him that I can’t want it for him. How do we get through that irrational OCD brain to the rational brain and help our kids to see that life really is worth it and can be so much more for them?! It’s a tough, tough road.

  3. Stephanie

    Dealing with this right now. 14 year old son is supposed to be doing at least an hour of exposure therapy at home every day, but really isn’t motivated to do it. I know it’s hard and I’m trying to do my best to encourage / set up rewards and consequences… but I get exasperated knowing I really can’t do it for him.

  4. Aris Jackies

    Thank you for sharing. My son is in the hospital now. I had to let go of trying to heal him. You’re right he has to want it too.

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