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Disclosure Dilemna

answered 12:49 PM EST, Sun November 24, 2013
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I am visiting my grandson next week and when I see him (he is 5) he will ask w here is my daddy?
Daddy is on 2nd gambling binge. His first binge ended in a suicide attempt and he spent 2 weeks in mental ward.
He came home and 3 days later he took off again.
The mom (ex-wife) has only told him his daddy is on a business trip.
I am opting to tell my grandson the truth. As a recovering sex and love addict I think he will read through all the lies and lose trust for adults.

Rob Danzman Says...

Dear Grandparent,

First of all, your grandson is fortunate to have someone in his life that care about him enough to ask tough questions like this. Basically, you're asking whether to tell him the truth about his father. 

In situations like this, I'm struck by our immediate response which is to create an outcome with only two answers. In this case, the two answer are summed up best this way - 1) Tell grandson his father is a gambling addict or 2) Lie to grandson and say he is on a business trip. 

One of the things I've learned over the years is that most questions, no matter how basic or complicated, often have multiple (...more than 2) answers. If we were to bring you into our office and do a real brainstorming session about all the possible responses, my guess is we'd top-out around 10. Yes, 10. This may seem like it pushes the clear answer out of reach by expanding your choice when in fact, you end up saving yourself heartache and time. 

Here's what I mean. Let's say you tell your grandson his father is an addict. First, let's consider his age - 5. Five year olds are just beginning to understand abstract concepts like death, money (economic systems), and hard-work. Gambling, though, is a really, really complicated abstract concept that he's probably not going to get. What he will hear (more accurately understand) is the value judgement of his father. "Your father is no good and abandoned you," is how he will interpret that response. My guess is, that's not really what you are wanting the take-home message to be. 

Alternatives then? Oh yes. Let's try a different approach where we started by identifying what we hope your grandson will take with him (understand) rather than what you feel is 'the truth.' My bet is you want him to feel loved, supported, and nurtured. Sometimes, even when people want to love us, when they want to support us and when they want to nurture us, they just can't. Your grandson's father definitely understands the concept of being hurt (ie. falling at recess and banging his knee). Sometimes, the reason why we can not love, support and nurture the way we want is because we are hurt in some way that needs to be fixed first. After healing, after getting help and after resting, those that want to love us might actually be able to love us again the way we want/need to be loved. 

Sounds pretty positive and not one bit of lying going on. Kids don't remember details of conversations very well but they do remember the emotional energy they felt during conversations. I'm sure you want your grandson to understand his father's illness without making your son feel abandoned. Lying is definitely not advisable, but neither is telling blunt facts. The truth is a combination of the facts with empathetic packaging in this case. 

My vote - tell the truth in a way that your grandson gains understanding, feels loved, and learns compassion even for those that may not deserve it. 

Best of luck. 

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Page last updated Nov 24, 2013

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