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Telling Children

Mar 25, 2002

Hi again. I am in a quandry about whether or not I should tell my children about my HIV status. They are 9 and 12 and both are exceptionally intelligent as well as exceptionally sensitive emotionally. We are a very close knit unit and we have excellent open communication about everything...except this, which I have kept from them for quite some time now. My concerns are 1)that they cannot handle the emotional fallout that will come with knowing their Mom has a potentially fatal illness, 2)that their love for me will in some way change - which would devastate me and (the selfish reason) 3)that they will not be able to keep it confidential...I live in a very small redneck town and being HIV+ would destroy my business and many personal relationships, not to mention the teasing and torment that would undoubtedly come from other children at school. On the other hand, I feel like a fraud for keeping this from them. Our family policy is that you can ask any question and Mom will give you a straight answer and the matter how embarrassing the question may be. Drugs, sex, relationships: I don't put anything off limits to them because I think education should definitely begin at home (if parents don't teach them, someone else will). My personal philosophy has been that I cannot keep them from being curious about sex or from having sex...but I can educate them well about moral conduct amd making intelligent and informed choices. Can you help? PC

Response from Mr. Shernoff

I am always of the opinion that honesty with children is the best policy. This helps them develop more emotional strengths. Being bright children most likely they already know something is gling on with you. Of course this will affect them, how could it not? There will obviously come a time when you have to tell them, and the longer you wait the more difficult it will be to disclose this information to them. If you continue to put off telling them, when you eventually do, you might find that they are angry and hurt that you kept something as important as this from them for so long. SO I urge you to tell them soon.

The issues you raise about living in a small town that is red neck might be real and might not be. I have heard these kinds of rationalizations befroe form people as the reason why they are not telling beloved family members of being HIV positive. I am not suggesting that you make a general announcement, but small towns have also been known to rally in support of a beloved citizen or family.

Is there noone you can confide in your town? If you have a strong relationship with your minister, I urge you to begin there and feel him out. If he is a kind and caring person by using his position of leadership he can help set a moral and practical high tone for the town if the news of your health condition becomes disseminated.

Where are you receiving your medical care? Obviously there is enough confidentiality in this setting that you have not felt compromised so far. There is probably a mental health professional affiliated with your primary medical care office, or one to whom they can refer you as a family to work on this crucial issue as a family and to get support.

It wil not be easy but just think about the benefits of not having to hide something so central to your life form the people you love most.

Best of luck in this.

Michael Shernoff, MSW

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