To Tell The Truth, Or Not?

Do you tell your children the truth? Should you? Do you keep secrets for fear of traumatizing your children?

Growing up Jewish, my kids never believed in Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny. They did however believe in the Tooth Fairy; it was the only fictitious character I had to share with my little ones. When they came to me asking if the Tooth Fairy was real, I asked them what they thought.

My kids are 4.5 years apart. The first to inquire about the tooth fairy was my daughter, Michaela. Years later, it was my son, Max’s turn. Both thought long and hard about whether the tooth fairy was indeed real. Knowing that Santa and the Easter Bunny were not real, they deduced that the Tooth Fairy was not real as well. I agreed. I find it hard not to tell the truth.

Telling your children the truth about a fabricated individual is a personal decision. Should you come right out and tell your kids the truth? Or do you wait for them to come to you, and ask? And when they do ask, do you follow up with the truth? Our children are little for only a short time, and I can see why many moms and dads want their little ones to have some magic in their lives.

Now, suppose someone in your family gets diagnosed with a potentially life threatening illness. This illness is not going away. This illness will require treatments that will make the parent look and feel sick. This illness will effect the way your household is run. Your children will notice these changes. Unlike a magical, mythical character who brings happiness to your children, the character that we are talking about is a wicked, beast called cancer.

Many times a parent may not be quite sure how to handle this. Should you bring the disease up to your child, or should you wait to see if your child will bring it up to you? Do you ignore everything in hopes your child will not notice, or if they do, hope they do not come to you for answers?

When a parent takes ill, it can be quite scary for all involved. What I find more scary though, is the not knowing, and I know my family feels the same.

My children were with me when I received the news I had breast cancer. Michaela was 15 at the time, and Max 11. Too young to have a mom with a potentially life threatening illness, but old enough, I felt, to know the truth.

I received many get well cards after my first diagnosis. They brightened my day, and gave me the strength to continue my chemotherapy treatment. One card stuck out though. It was from my dental hygienist. I wondered how she found out about my illness.

When it was time to get my teeth cleaned, I thanked my hygienist for the lovely card, but needed to know how she found out. She said that she and a patient of hers were discussing how so many people are being diagnosed with cancer. The patient said that her daughter had a friend whose mom was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. That friend was Michaela Rosen!

People talk, and that is quite fine, but information can get distorted. I would never want my kids to hear anything concerning my health from someone other than me, or my husband, especially if the information is incorrect.

My children told me they would be upset with my husband and I if we did not tell them about my diagnosis, and everything that goes with it. My daughter tells me she has friends whose parents have cancer. There are a few whose parents have told them about their diagnosis, but nothing else. These kids are scared because they do not know to what degree of seriousness the disease is, what kind of treatment the parent is going through, and if the parent is going to survive.

When I mentored newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, I had many who had children. Some told their children about their diagnosis, some not, at least not right away. Most, after speaking with me, decided to tell their child(ren) something about their illness. The child’s age should be considered to determine how much information should be shared.

I cannot tell you what you should tell your child(ren), but I want you to take their feelings in consideration. As parents we want to protect them from from things we think will hurt and upset them. Keep in mind that most children are resilient.

If only sharing information of an illness was as easy as exposing Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

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11 thoughts on “To Tell The Truth, Or Not?

  1. Its a tough issue, depending on the ages of the children involved, but I always believe if you can, the truth is the best way to go. Thanks for your courage and inspiration!

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  2. Hi Susan,
    This is such an important topic. I believe in sharing age-appropriate information with children about serious illness too. But I don’t believe you have to divulge every detail either. Take your cue from each child. And as for Santa and the Easter Bunny, well my kids had loads of fun believing in them for a while. The Tooth Fairy always seemed like more of a stretch to me for some reason… Thanks for the post!

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  3. Thank you, Nancy. Having a degree in Early Childhood Education, and teaching children from ages 3 to 11 has helped me greatly in raising my own children. I believe a parent knows best in how much information their child needs to know. Again, it is a personal choice on how much of this information you would like to share with your child(ren).

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  4. When my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer, we weren’t sure how much to tell my daughter, who was 10 at the time and very, very close to her. We consulted a child therapist to help us. She made a point of not telling a child “everything will be OK”, as it might not be. We ended up telling her that grammy was sick with cancer and that as a family, we would help each other deal with what happened. It turns out she knew something was wrong, as everyone in the family were acting differently, stopped talking if she came in the room. In her case, not knowing was scarier than knowing what was really happening.

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    • Lisa, so very sorry to hear about your mom. I thank you for sharing your story. It’s exactly the point I am trying to make. I neglected to point out that many hospitals have social workers that work with families on how best to approach this subject matter.

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  5. Hi Susan,

    This is an excellent post. I’m also Jewish, so my six-year-old daughter only believes in the tooth fairy. At some point, when she’s older, I will tell her about my cancer diagnosis and treatment (at this point, I do not have cancer). It is an important part of my past, and I don’t want her to find out about it through my blog or other Internet sources.

    Thank you for a thought-provoking post.

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  6. Hi Beth,

    Happy to hear at this point, no cancer! You will know when the time is right to share your story with your daughter, and I know she will be glad that you did. I wish you continued good health.

    Susan

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  7. I agree that one should tell there children something and much of it is age specific. That being said, I don’t believe sharing with my kids that mom’s therapy is not working and we had to switch or how much or little radiation mom is having is appropriate either…. it creates worry and stress that may be unnecessary, especially if mom is able to still be mom. We (my spouse and I) carry enough of the stress, why spread it to two children who need to use their energy to be young, to be happy and to be enthusiastic about their future. That being said, my kids DO know that mom will be tired sometimes and that mom has a wig, etc. But we save them from the nitty, gritty details, until we will be faced with something life changing that requires them to need to know more. Until that time, we keep them mostly informed, but not to the point of wrecking their present.

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