Would you tell your children if you were sick?

SPOILER ALERT: The plot line of a popular family TV show raises a sticky parenting question during Breast Cancer Awareness month.

By Ariel Brewster
Would you tell your children if you were sick?

Photo: Courtesy of NBC

Any Parenthood fans out there?

I confess I’m hooked on that show, as cheesy as it is. It’s heartwarming and smart, and makes me wish my husband and I lived closer to our extended families. The members of the Braverman clan are always hanging out together and talking over each other with playful ribbing. It’s happy chaos, blended with some admittedly soap-opera-like story lines. If you’re not caught up on season three, then stop reading now — huge SPOILER ALERT!

But... This week’s episode was a real tearjerker. First, there’s a Little League game at which the newest Braverman, a recently adopted nine-year-old boy, scores a home run that wins the game. (The whole family’s in the bleachers cheering for him; swells of emotion ensue.) Then Kristina, a busy mom of three, struggles to tell her children and extended family that her yearly mammogram revealed a teeny cancerous tumour, and she needs a lumpectomy. She debates whether or not she should even tell her university-aged daughter, who’s far from home. (Kristina doesn’t want to distract her from her schoolwork and all the fun she’s having in her first months away from home.) And Kristina’s not sure whether her middle-schooler, who has Asperger's, will even be able to process the emotional complexity of her news.

The scene where she finally tells all the Bravermans about her breast cancer diagnosis is wrenching — the writers and the actors demonstrate that it’s sometimes much, much harder to tell others about an illness, and to watch their reactions, than it is to process a diagnosis yourself.

Then today I saw this interesting Q&A with Kara Passante, a 29-year-old mother who chose not to tell her children about a breast cancer diagnosis, and I had to click.

I think it completely depends on the age and maturity of your children, and whether they’re naturally anxious, worrywart kids or not. Will they even understand? Is it too scary a topic for kids? Passante’s daughters were really young (seven months and two-and-a-half), and she was able to answer her toddler’s queries honestly without saddling her with the whole truth and all the details. But I wonder if it would be unfair to conceal a serious illness from an older child.

Dealing honestly, and gracefully, with health crises or life’s other curveballs — whether it’s cancer, job loss, or some other difficulty — could be a valuable lesson for kids to learn. What’s the tipping point between a full disclosure policy and sheltering your children from anything bad or scary?

What would you do?

This article was originally published on Oct 11, 2012

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