In a blog post in January this year, Back at school after eye surgery, we raised the delicate issue of how much information parents should give to school staff and peers when their child is either returning to, or beginning school with an artificial eye.
But what about the parent with an artificial eye? Do they always tell their child that one eye isn’t real? When is the best time to do this? How long do they wait before revealing all? And how do they go about telling their story?
Some parents come to see us without their children because they haven’t told them about Mummy or Daddy’s false eye. But children notice things, especially when Mum or Dad comes home with a new eye, and they’re bound to start asking questions. The trick is to find the right time and method of introducing the subject.
Some parents never tell their children. Perhaps this is because it never crosses their mind to do so, or they don’t see it as important. Perhaps it goes deeper than that; the parent might fear their child viewing and treating them differently. Whatever the case, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the fact will surface one day, and it may come as a shock to the child, regardless of his or her age.
This happened to a forty-year-old man while he was driving his mother to the airport. He and his wife had just started talking about the sad news of their son who was about to lose an eye. You can imagine his surprise when his mother interjected with, ‘So, what’s wrong with that?’. When he stressed the tragedy of such a loss, his mother said calmly, ‘It’s not that bad, I’ve had an artificial eye for forty years’. The shock of the news brought the car to a screaming halt.
Several years ago, right at the other extreme, a mother came to see us for a new eye fitting. She had two children, a girl aged eighteen months and a boy aged four years, but had never brought them with her. We suggested she think about telling her children she had an artificial eye, because the new eye would probably be spotted by her eldest.
The way she chose to do this was simply by including the children at this appointment to get her new eye. The little girl observed what was happening without fuss, and the boy played with the toys in the toy box. Half an hour into the fitting, the boy suddenly abandoned the toys and started taking notice of what was going on with Mum. He began asking questions, such as: ‘I’ve got two good eyes, haven’t I?’, to which his Mum replied, ‘Yes you have, and I’ve got one bad eye’. The questions continued until just as they were leaving when the boy began to gag. Before a bucket could be found, he’d passed out. It was all too much for him. On the way home in the car, he showed he hadn’t forgotten his Mum’s secret. He asked, ‘Do you think we should tell Daddy?’
We don’t have an easy answer to the question of how and when to tell your children. But we’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. When did you tell your child, and how did you do it?