OBJECTIVE: About 14% of cancer patients live with dependent children. Healthcare professionals are well placed to help patients support their children as part of a patient-centred practice. Children tend to appreciate open communication during the course of illness, but patients often find this difficult. However, research is unclear about patients’ preferences and their willingness to talk with healthcare professionals about their dependent children. METHODS: We conducted 15 in-depth interviews with patients from haematological (N = 11) and gynaecological oncology (N = 4). The interviews and subsequent analysis focused on patients’ communicative preferences, taking the theoretical framework of "biographical disruption" as a starting point and using Jenkins’ concept of identity as a social, relational and dynamic process. RESULTS: We identified two overall identities at stake for seriously ill patients with parental responsibility: "patient identity" and "parent identity." As "patients," patients were ambivalent about relating to their children, but as "parents" they wanted healthcare professionals to talk about their children. CONCLUSION: In order to be patient-centred, clinicians should, we suggest, acknowledge that patients have these conflicting perspectives and identities, which surface at various times and situations throughout their illness trajectories. Research is needed to further explore these findings in different illness groups and cultures.