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Question
Posted by: J | 2012/02/27

Should I tell my children?

My ex-wife (divorced 9 years ago), was admitted to the Denmar Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria. I have custody of out two children (boy aged 17 and girl aged 15). The first night of her stay in hospital, I went and visit her. My question is - should I tell the children about this? Should I take them to visit her? They have been to a psychiatrist around the time of the divorce and a few times after that –  so they are not unfamiliar with it. I am just scared that it will have a negative impact on them if I tell them and take them to visit. Any advice?

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Our expert says:
Expert ImageCyberShrink

I doubt that it would have a negative impact on them to learn the truth or to visit their mom ( if she feels up to it and her shrink advises it - maybe now or later ) - aren't they more likely to be upset if they later discover, as they will, that she was ill, and in hospital, and that you didn't tell them ?
Excellent comments from all readers so far.
If she was admitted to an ordinary ward with appendicitis, would you hesitate to tell them, or to take them to visit ?

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Our users say:
Posted by: Gail | 2012/02/28

The fact that your ex is in a mental hospital should not prevent you from letting your children know and asking them whether they wish to visit her or not. Mental illness is as physiological as diabetes but manifests in behavioural ways only some of which are better to keep your children away from. I believe very firmly that mental illness is a family issue and not just the patient''s problem. I would assume that your marriage probably ended as a result of her illness and possibly the effects this had on your intimate relationship caused by meds. If your ex is bipolar or schizophrenic and has dangerous manic episodes then it is understandable that your children be cared for by the other parent however it is equally important that your children be advised that this could be genetically inherited at any point in their life especially if they are women. They should be aware that alcohol and substance abuse can trigger it off and once they develop aberrant behaviour it will not just go away unless they are treated by a panel of medics who can teach them about meds, goals, signs, etc. They should know about their mother''s condition and empower themselves with knowledge and not see her as havign a self inflicted problem or being demonic or as someone who is being milked for cash by unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies. I spent time in a well known mental institution many years ago and it saved me, my marriage and enabled me to lead a productive life.

Reply to Gail
Posted by: Pearl | 2012/02/28

I was in psychiatric hospital for 2 weeks, psychiatriac treatment is for people who sometimes not every day does not know how to manage stress or cope with a difficult situation. I stronlgy believ that you shoulg inform your kids about their mom''s state of health. There is nothing wrong with psychiatric hospitals. The problem is with us human beings.

Reply to Pearl
Posted by: Liza | 2012/02/28

If you don''t tell them, you''re propagating the kind of stigma that mentally ill people are challenged with at every turn. If she were in a regular hospital as opposed to Denmar, would you tell them and take them to visit? If the kids find out about this later, they''ll quite logically think that it''s shameful to need that kind of help - definitely not the impression you want to create if you don''t want their relationship with their mother to be harmed. In my opinion, it will do more harm to not tell them than to tell them. If your kids develop the same kind of problem, they''ll be too ashamed to get help - which is tragic...

Liza

Reply to Liza
Posted by: cybershrink | 2012/02/28

I doubt that it would have a negative impact on them to learn the truth or to visit their mom ( if she feels up to it and her shrink advises it - maybe now or later ) - aren't they more likely to be upset if they later discover, as they will, that she was ill, and in hospital, and that you didn't tell them ?
Excellent comments from all readers so far.
If she was admitted to an ordinary ward with appendicitis, would you hesitate to tell them, or to take them to visit ?

Reply to cybershrink
Posted by: Maria | 2012/02/27

What you do depends on a number of factors - why is she there, is it an ongoing issue or an isolated problem, is it likely to affect the kids, what is their relationship with her like and does she want them to visit? At 15 and 17 they''re old enough to understand and deal with a wide variety of scenarios, and how they cope will depend on how you approach it, and the history with their mom. If they are in frequent contact with her then I think it''s only right for them to know that she is in hospital.

Reply to Maria
Posted by: J | 2012/02/27

Sorry, I forgot to mention - her behaviour and everything else is totally normal. It is not like she is behaving in a way that will upset the children.

Reply to J

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