Ask Fiona: Was I wrong to tell my young son his father is dying?

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a woman who is worried about her sons finding out that their sister has a different father and a woman whose husband is being unfair

Children have vivid imaginations, and this can lead them to create frightening images about death

MY mother thinks I have made a huge mistake by explaining to my eight-year-old son that his father is dying. My husband hasn't got much time left and I though it would help my son to understand the process if we involved him more.

Although he's clearly upset, he's been very brave, and I thought he seemed to be handling it as well as anybody else. Now I am worried that I've exposed him to unnecessary pain and wonder if I should keep him away from the funeral. What do you think?


FIONA SAYS: I don't think you've made a mistake. I also think there is little to be gained by keeping him away from the funeral. If he has coped well so far, I think it better that he sees for himself what's involved. Children have vivid imaginations, and this can lead them to create frightening images about death. Moreover, if you exclude him, he may think that he is somehow to blame or that he has done something wrong.

Everyone is affected by grief differently but, on the day, he'll certainly need even more comfort and support, as will you. Given this, it might be a good idea to arrange for someone he trusts to be available to step in and look after him if it all gets too much for you.



MY husband and I have been married for 16 years. My daughter is 19 and my husband knows she is not his, but he adopted her, and she has his last name. We also have sons and my husband is definitely their father. However, I am scared about what will happen when they get older and find out? I do NOT want to tell them but am worried that they will find out. My husband has a daughter of his own and they have met her, but they were younger then and didn't quite understand the whole situation. They never asked questions, but they're getting older and I am unsure what to do when they do. I don't want them to hate me, because in their eyes I am the perfect mum. What should I do?


FIONA SAYS: Have you spoken to your daughter and husband about this? Your daughter presumably knows that she is adopted and, as this directly affects her, she should have some say in whether this is kept as a family secret or not.

Personally, I'm not a great fan of family secrets as they have a nasty habit of coming out at times of family stress and tend to cause far more upset than they should. Moreover, keeping such secrets means that those 'in the know' will worry constantly about others finding out, as you are already. Providing your daughter and husband are relaxed about the issue, I see no reason why you shouldn't just tell your sons now in a way that is appropriate for their age. Otherwise, I think you should at the very least accept that they may one day find out, and stop worrying about what will happen when they do. After all, they have accepted that their father can have children by another woman, so why do you feel they cannot accept that you could have children by another man? If they are attending school (and your email suggests they are), they will have come across many different types of family arrangements, from single parents to large merged families. So, far from being shocked by their own family situation, I think it far more likely that they will simply accept it as perfectly normal. Nor are they likely to hate you when they do find out.

At some point all children will ask questions about where they come from – it's all a part of them learning about who they are. I'm sure your boys will be no different. You may be the "perfect mum" now but children soon learn that parents are fallible just like everyone else. Besides, you may even find that your daughter has already told them. So please, do stop stressing about this.

Love them all equally and I see no reason why this should harm your family or your reputation as supermum. If you struggle to find a way to tell your boys or simply feel the need to talk this through further, I suggest you contact Family Lives (


My husband left me suddenly a few months back and moved in with his brother. He said he wasn't sure he loved me any more and that he needed some space, whatever that means. I have no idea whether someone else is involved but I am suspicious as he's always out whenever I call his brother. I've told him that I love him and want him to come back, but if I try to get him to say what he's feeling he says that I should divorce him and look elsewhere. Despite this, he still visits me a couple of times a week and we usually end up in bed. I am so confused. Why can't he decide whether he loves me or not?


FIONA SAYS: He seems confused and unable to make a decision, but this really can't go on. He's left you with no real explanation, and may or may not be seeing someone else. On top of this, he thinks it's acceptable to still visit you for sex. This is not only hurtful, it's disrespectful. Moreover, if you let him continue like this, he's under no real pressure to change his behaviour. So, much as you may be reluctant to force this issue, I think you should consider putting a stop to the sex.

Remind him that you still love him. Then say that he's still welcome to visit but only if he's prepared to talk with you or a Relate counsellor ( about the problems in your relationship. Anything else is simply unfair.



I have been living with my boyfriend for three years, though I really can't tell you why. His idea of a good time is to watch sport on TV or play snooker with his mates once a week. We never do anything else and I am bored rigid. If I go with him, I get so angry listening to his mates brag endlessly about what exciting things they do or how tough they are, or their sordid sexual antics (mostly untrue I'm sure). My boyfriend joins in with the drinking and tall tales, even when I am sitting next to him and he knows that I know the truth. It's pathetic and tedious. I feel like he is sucking the life out of me, and with each passing day I seem to get angrier.


FIONA SAYS: If he's so dreadful why are you still with him? You need to think about this carefully because so much about him seems to disappoint or annoy you.

Is it possible that you stay because there are in fact some positives in your relationship that compensate for the negatives? Does he love you or make you feel happy at other times? Does he provide a secure home for you? Do you think that there is scope for him to change his ways with a bit of encouragement from you? If none of this sounds plausible, what's stopping you from ending this unhappy, non-relationship? If it feels easier to stay put, or you lack the confidence to make the break, you may find it helpful to chat with a Relate counsellor (

:: If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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