Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Who knows

I love parenting my daughter. In the time since she's been home, having HIV has one of the smaller parts of our concerns, as she has learned a whole new language, started school, made friends, and we have bonded as a family. Every parent wants their child to do well, to make friends, to have happy relationships. Just yesterday she came home from school again talking about which girls have decided who they are not friends with, that one of them said they are not going to be her friend anymore (this changes every day--they are 6-7 year old girls!) But when you layer HIV over that, it has a different feeling to it. You think, it is 2008, almost 2009, but there are still people responding to HIV with 1990s knowledge. One of the hardest things is trying to figure out how open to be with others about your family having an HIV+ family member. You never know how others will respond, or who else they might tell, and what lack of information they might have. But you also don't know how they might respond if you develop a relationship with the family and later on you tell them your child, who they have known for months or years, has HIV. Is it better to tell them early on, and let them have time to accept or reject your family, or is it better to not tell them at all, and it possibly being an issue later on? Shortly after adopting my daughter, we met a family who was from her country (having immigrated to the US with their children) who had a daughter the same age. I felt so burdened that if we were going to be close friends with them over time, I should tell them so that if they were going to freak out about it, they would do it before we got too close to them. They were very nice and had realistic questions, and said that it wouldn't affect our children's relationships, and said that they were appreciative to know. But then for quite a while, every time I'd call to get our kids together, they would say they were very busy and maybe we could figure out another time. I felt so burdened every time I'd see them and would think, have I ruined this chance of my daughter having a relationship with this family from my daughter's country? I would feel sad every time I'd see them (they lived close to us) and very awkward talking with them. At one point, I did end up asking (indirectly) if having told them that my daughter had HIV was the reason they couldn't find time to get the kids together to play. They said that of course that was not the reason; they were just very busy and overwhelmed with everything their kids were doing. I think that was largely true, and we did end up after awhile getting the kids together several times, mostly because the kids would see each other at the playground or around the apartment complex and gravitate towards each other. As it turns out, we didn't become close with this family, so part of my reasons for telling them didn't end up to be the case. And the kids considered each other best friends regardless of any remaining awkwardness between their parents. I still think I would prefer to tell someone before we get too close to them as a family, but it is always there in the background. I know that as my daughter gets older, I am giving her tools to deal with people not choosing to be her friend for various reasons, for answering questions about different kinds of families, and to understand her own health and advocate for herself in various situations. It is all just more complicated than I even anticipated and as a parent, with so many things, there are no easy answers.


Jennifer said...

I worry so much about disclosure. I already told someone (my children are not home yet) who I thought was educated and willing to learn more about it, and she is afraid to have her children play with mine. It doesn't matter what facts I tell her or whether I show her videos and web sites about HIV. So, now I am thinking that the less people that know the better until my children are able to make the choice to disclose on their own. But I suppose that may change with experience and time. Thank you for sharing.

Sheri said...

I too became acquainted with a local family last year whose daughters were from my daughter's country (they were also adopted), and they seemed eager to connect until I shared her serostatus. After that, they became distant. I don't want to be the type of person who plays the "HIV card", but unfortunately sometimes it does apply; it's just hard to be able to tell when exactly.