If you experience an illness, whether minor or major, it can be a challenge to discuss it with your children. Should you protect them from the realities of it? Should you tell them at all? How do you tell them? It might be a genetic condition that affects them in the future. How do you explain this to them? And at what age?
There are a thousand questions, which can be complicated further by your family circumstances. Ultimately, a family is a unit, whether you are a single parent or not. In order to operate as a unit it is important to trust one another, to have good communication and be able to rely on one another when you are weak.
Understand How Your Condition Will Affect You All Before Discussing It
You may find out you have a disease or condition and need some time to digest and process the implications of it before discussing it with your children. That is fine. You should try to get your thoughts in order and find out what it will mean for you and your children before discussing it with them.
Be prepared to answer tough questions. We have all experienced how brutally honest children can be. It is a good idea to draft a list of the toughest questions you could be asked and to prepare answers in advance so you are emotionally prepared to give solid answers.
If you have a potentially fatal condition, you might be introducing the concept of mortality to your children for the first time. You should be prepared for the conversation not to end there. They will take time to understand what they have been told, which might take days, weeks or months. It is important to offer them the necessary emotional support to cope with the news. That might mean advising their teachers, close family friends or even providing a counsellor.
As with most things in life, honesty is the best policy. If you have young children and you have not told them about your condition but they start to ask questions, you should respond honestly. If you do not they may find out some other way, such as over hearing conversations related to your health and become confused and upset.
You do not have to divulge all the details of your condition, whether it be HIV, a type of cancer, ME or paranoid schizophrenia.
Emphasise the Importance of Family Communication
In order to cope with the condition, you will need the support and understanding of your family. It is important to understand that you are not alone and to explain to the kids you need their support. Sayings such as ‘no man is an island’ and ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ underline the point. We are all interconnected, and not just with immediate relatives.
Providing the space to let your children discuss how they are coping with the demands of the condition and to explain to them how you are coping, or what you need from them is essential for a strong family. If subjects are taboo, or you get upset and don’t explain to them why you are behaving in a particular way you can alienate your children when you need them most.