Make us your home page

Parents who withhold bad news mean well

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

You were last to know bad news, but don't hold a grudge

Anonymous: I am a senior at a university hundreds of miles from my parents' home. While I was home over the summer, I found out my mom has been battling cancer for the past two years. My dad did not tell me sooner because he didn't want it to interfere with my studies. Now her cancer is more aggressive and she spent most of this summer in the hospital while I was home — the only reason they bothered telling me. Now I'm afraid their decision to leave me out has robbed me of valuable time with Mom that I will miss later. I'm so angry I don't know what to do.

Carolyn: Ugh, that impulse to "protect" people by withholding bad news is so common — and, in my opinion, so hurtful and misguided.

Because it's so common — and because treating major illnesses now commonly involves many disciplines, like nutrition and social work — it won't be hard to find people you can talk to who understand this protective impulse and the havoc it wreaks.

If your university has a medical school, you can start there, or even contact your mom's caregivers to get ideas. You can also try the local hospice provider. If that's too daunting, stop by your school's counseling center.

In the meantime, please keep reminding yourself that your parents tried to do what they thought was right. Even when something goes very wrong, I've found that seeing decent people through the lens of "Life is difficult, and we're all just doing our best" can be comforting and calming.

Whatever it takes to mitigate the anger, try it — exercise, meditation, talk therapy, zither music, anything. You've lost enough time with your mom, and you don't want to lose more to anger, however justified it is.

Keeping constant tabs on sweetie gives illusion of control

Richmond: Why do so many people require knowing where their S.O. is, who they are with, what they are doing, at every moment of the day? The most I feel I need to tell is when I leave/get home from classes, and only because it is often after dark. Other than that, if my S.O. is happy and not doing something that will likely get me angry or get himself hurt, chances are I don't care what he's doing. He's the same with me. My friends and sibling are in shock that I don't need pseudo-GPS tracking on him to keep my mind at ease.

Carolyn: The "why" is for the sense of control. Note that I said "sense of": Making someone text you is our century's answer to the chastity belt, and I'm guessing it's about as effective. And of course there's also the I-must-be-at-the-center-of-all-things attitude that technology enables. Pointless posturing made public. Ppppft.

But, ahem, there's some posturing in your flagrant display of security, yeah? The need to feel in control and the need to be seen as soooo mature are in the same neighborhood, though yours is a slightly more upscale property.

Just concentrate on what works for you, live and let live, and let these quirks and dramas do their work of sorting out social alliances. Without such distinctions, it would be hard to spot people you respect, who share your values and who are the stuff of lasting friendships.

Parents who withhold bad news mean well 10/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, October 26, 2009 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours