I'm not a mom yet -- we're just planning on trying within the next couple of years. However, I've had a major event happen recently, and it's giving me serious concerns in terms of how I raise my kids.
I've been asking friends and family for advice, of course, but I would really like some unbiased opinions from a wider group of people (specifically, from functional PARENTS). This is a very heavy issue, but I'm not sure where else to pose this question. If anyone has any suggestions as to a better place to pose this question, please let me know (though I would like to avoid "grief" or "loss"-specific sites).
My father died two months ago. The especially difficult aspect of this is that he committed suicide, and did so in a particularly violent (and frankly, horrifying) way. Aside from the obvious emotional implications of this, one of my biggest concerns for the future is when (and how) to tell my children. And I want to have some idea of the healthiest way to approach this BEFORE we begin to try for children.
We definitely want more than one child, and ideally three children, so that makes this issue especially complicated. These are the problems I'm considering:
1) If you tell the oldest child, it's likely the younger children will end up finding out. If you wait until the youngest child is old enough, is that far too long to withhold that information from the older children?
2) What age is old enough for a child to know in the first place? It seems to me that finding out during adolescence would be the worst possible time. On the other hand, I feel like finding out before adolescence punctures a little bit of innocence and optimism that are potentially crucial for healthy development.
3) Should you even bother trying to withhold this information from your kids? I have a HUGE extended family, with a fair share of outspoken members, and it's likely that the nature of my father's death will somehow slip to my kids sooner than I'd like anyway.
4) If I do try to withhold this information from them, do I lie about how their grandfather died? If my future 3-year-old asks how Grandpa died, what do I say?? Do I just say, "He was very sick." What happens when that same kid asks as an 8-year-old, "Sick with what?"
5) Will my children feel betrayed, after finally finding out the truth?
6) I personally feel that the specific way my father committed suicide is particularly gruesome, and not something that I could imagine any child being prepared to handle until their 20's. But, here this ties in all the other issues. Waiting until the kids are in their 20's? What if the youngest is 21 but the oldest is almost 30 by then? And won't they just feel lied to TWICE if they already know he committed suicide? And, yet again, is it worth waiting to tell them if they're at risk for finding out from a relative anyway?
As you can see, this is a complex issue. That's why I would really appreciate some substantive advice from actual parents. Please let me know what you think!
(And again, sorry for the heavy subject matter.)
My mother committed suicide 5 yrs ago, when I was pregnant with my oldest, who is now 5. She shot herself in the head, very to the point and not something I can really fudge a little on.
I don't know when I will tell my children how my mother died. My oldest in the past year has just realized that his daddy has a mom but his mommy doesn't and all I have told him is that my mom died and is in Heaven. He has asked how she died and I told him that she was shot and that guns are very dangerous and then I veered off about what he should do if he ever sees a gun, etc. He did ask who shot her and I avoided the question or said "It just happened" or something along those lines. I'm not ready to tell him about it and I am hoping by the time my kids are older--as in ADULTS, then I will tell them.
I had 2 grandparents die before I was born and I was never really interested in how they died and in fact I never did ask until recently when I was filling out some paperwork for some genetic testing. So I have hope that it won't be a big issue to them.
I really appreciate your response. I wasn't expecting someone to have gone through the same experience. I guess you never realize how common it is until you speak up.
Your example is helpful -- I forget that kids aren't as inquisitive about the past as we imagine they might be.
Also, thanks for being willing to share the way your mother died. It's made me feel a little more free to share that information myself. My father slit his own throat, with a kitchen knife. Also leaves very little room to fudge on. So, in this case, I feel like saying "he was stabbed" or something like that seems a little much for a kid to handle. That's where I feel like I'm going to have to lie.
But, your story has given me a little more clarity. I think shielding my children from this information is hopefully something they will understand when they are older. In the meantime, I think saying "He was very sick" will suffice.
Thanks Cassie! I appreciate the sharing.
my little brother committed suicide this last year. my son is two now, was 21 months at the time. Since he knew my brother we have told him that his uncle has passed away. I am not sure when or how we will tell him what actually happened. I also have a 2 year old nephew, my brothers son, and I'm not sure when his mother will tell him. Because they are so close in age I am sure that when one knows they will tell the other. It is a really tough situation for my nephew as well because his maternal grandfather also committed suicide, before he was born.
If you come up with the answer let me know. I am sorry for both of your losses. Thank you for sharing your stories.
I must first say that I am very sorry for all of your losses. It is a tragedy when this situation occurs.
I do believe it is the right thing to put it down to illness or an accident when the children are young. However, from a practical point of view, they will need to know the full truth later in their lives. They may be asked on life insurance forms: "any history of mental illness in the family?" or similar questions. It will need to be disclosed at that point, or any policy would be deemed invalid.
(That's the way it works in the UK)
Just keep that in mind for the future.
Once again, I am sorry for your losses and hope that it never happens again to any of you.
I am not sure how to approach it. But once you do tell your child(ren), it is a good time to let your children know that no matter how sad, lonely, or helpless they feel, they can always come to you or their dad and tell you. Let them know how much the suicide hurt you and others that love your dad. And that life does get better with help, suicide does not help, it only hurts.
My cousin's step-dad committed suicide (my poor cousin found him) and later her older sister attempted it (she is fine now, fortunately). My siblings and I ranged from 8-16yrs at those times. My mom basically had the talk I just mentioned above with us.
You can always ask your older children to not divulge the details to the younger ones, but they all can know at a younger age that he died. Around age 7 children have a better grasp of non-concrete ideas. Around age 13 is when children really understand the permanency of death. As you do have children you will know their personalities and what they can handle and understand. Just be honest, but age appropriate.
State Certified Early Childhood Special Education Teacher
New Mom as of March 2009!
I have 2 sons, 7 and 4yrs old.
Both my parents shot themselves, my mom when I was 6, dad when I was 10.
I was adopted by my aunt. My older son wants to know why I call her mom, but her husband Craig.
We have never said anything to him so he assumes these are his natural grandparents.
Don't know how/when to explain.