How Our Children Are Affected by Their Father's Dissociative Identity Disorder
My husband and I have 11 children together (and no, we are not a blended family; yes, they are all our biological children; yes, they were all single births; and finally, yes, we do know what’s causing it…). Having a large family is challenging on its own. And then as an additional twist to make it interesting…. my children’s father has dissociative identity disorder (DID).
Though he was only diagnosed with DID about six years ago, my husband and I have been parenting together for close to 26 years. The DID has been there all along; we just didn’t know what to call it.
Having recently started sharing the story and ongoing journey of our life together, people are now naturally wondering many things. And in particular, they wonder about the impact on our children; the impact of having a father who has DID. Ultimately that will be a story for our children to share if they choose to do so in the future.
And though we’ll never really know the ways having a parent with DID has and will shape our children, I can share five things I have observed:
1. Our children have questions.
Prior to my husband’s diagnosis, I would simply try to bite my tongue when I felt frustrated and angry with his behavior (not that I always did a good job of that but I did try). Once we started to understand DID as the absolutely remarkable coping mechanism it is and the level of healing that was going to be needed, we became intentional in creating opportunities to talk with our children about the illness: about what they see, hear and experience in their own interactions with their dad (the host) and his alters. We try to anticipate their questions and provide age-appropriate resources to seek out answers when we don’t have them. We recognize we are on this journey together as a family and are learning together.
2. Our children are impacted by the stigma of “difference.”
Our adult children will often reminisce about experiences they had growing up where their dad would show up at events or activities dressed in unusual “costumes” and behave in strange ways. As a family, we always chalked these experiences up to my husband’s unique personality. (Little did we know that was plural!) And though they giggle about these events after the fact, there is discomfort and awkwardness in the moment — embarrassment that competes with a fierce instinct to defend and protect the father they know is shattered and broken inside; the father they love with all their heart.
3. Our children love unconditionally.
This does not mean our children haven’t had their own moments of frustration, anger and even the occasional wish they had different parents (OK, probably more than just occasionally…). But unconditional love remains at their core at all times, whether their father is working alongside them to fix the brakes of the car while giving directions in an accent from another country, or if one of his female alters is cooking in the kitchen fully dressed as a woman complete with a wig and makeup. Our children are able to love the many variations of their father without judgment or rejection.
4. Our children are safe.
I’m not entirely sure why so many people seem to be worried about safety when they learn my husband has DID. Perhaps it’s popular culture. Perhaps it is just people are afraid of what they do not know. The reality though is that my husband’s alters have a heightened awareness of danger and, if anything, our children are more protected than they’d be if they had multiple physical bodyguards watching over them at all times.
5. Our children are happy.
My greatest joy is to hear our children laugh and to see them smile, their eyes sparkling when they are excited. They have adventures with their dad; he continually surprises them with his knowledge and wisdom, and they are building memories and experiencing life with him in a way I believe only a child of a parent who has DID can!
I’d be lying if I said I don’t worry about them and if I pretended we didn’t have bad days, but really, wouldn’t that be true of any parent?
Follow this journey on the author’s blog.
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