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How to tell a 10 yr old his Mom has AIDS

Oct 22, 1997

I am an HIV positive woman and I have a 10 year old who is negative. I have never told him that I am sick. I say I'm visiting an old aunt when I visit the doctor. I am very careful to keep it from him. But I have been thinking about setting up some sort of adoption arrangement if I die. I guess I'll have to tell him if I do. But I feel like I will fall apart. He's so carefree and so innocent. He helps me stay strong. Any suggestions for how to go about telling him and not having both him and I fall apart?

Response from Mr. Shernoff

This is a terribly complex and emotionally charged issue. I would urge you if you are not already seeing a skilled family therapist to begin consulting with one in order to develop strategies for disclosing you health condition to your son. I am firm believer that secrets are not healthy within a family, and that in your desire to protect your son, you are really protecting yourself. By all means you have to make contingency plans for who will care for him, not just in the eventuality of your death, but in case you are hospitalized. These are crucial in order to be a responsible parent and to insure that your wishes will be followed if you do become seriously ill or worse. There are some good books out now, and even a video about how parents can tell their children they have HIV or AIDS. The video is entitled "Don't Shut Me Out." It is available for $20 by sending a check to The Center for Special Studies, B-24, New York Hospital, 525 East 68th St. NYC 10021. I think the advantages of your no longer having to shield your son from the reality of your health condition will vastly outweigh the initial discomfort that will certainly occur. It will be a painful conversation, but ultimately will make you two closer. Be careful not to overwhelm him with more information than he needs or can understand.

Michael Shernoff, MSW

Can I do it all by myself?
Is not knowing of mom's AIDS stopping son's healing process?

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