Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Why I don't share details about members of my family

My own personal details shouldn't bother people. If I want to tell you all about my two heads, or my ingrown toenail surgery, then you might think "oh gawd there goes that boring me me me person again" because actually my personal details are not quite as thrilling as I think they are, but I'm just a bore, I'm not doing something morally wrong.

But once I start sharing with you all the details of my aunt's hysterectomy and the dreadful mess the surgeon made of it and the infections she had Down There, and exactly what impact it had on her failing sex life, you might start thinking "wtf? Does this aunt mind having these revolting details shared with complete strangers? What if I am one day introduced to her? However am I going to treat her with the respect and courtesy this poor woman deserves instead of going into howls of laughter any time someone mentions having Something Else Removed?" [by the way, I don't know whether any of my real aunts have had hysterectomies, this was a completely invented story]

It's EXACTLY the same when we talk about our children in public, but on a less extreme level. If I have told my parents all about my (fictional) 10 year old son's intense interest in airplanes, then the chances are that they will act on that. When we next visit, they'll strike up a conversation about airplanes. They'll already have arranged to take him to an airshow. Dad will have got out all his (fictional) aviation magazines.
No harm done?

- My fictional son had no chance to tell grandpa himself about his interest, to watch the delight in a shared theme blossom on grandpa's face, to go to the attic together to find the aviation magazines.
- My fictional son had no chance to see posters for the airshow and ask the grandparents themselves if they'd like to go.
- My fictional son also had no chance for this interest actually to fill only one wet Thursday afternoon. Because my telling stories about him concretised a personality trait, it will take quite some doing (and some considerable disappointment for grandpa) for him to move from airplanes on to car engines. Perhaps he'd really prefer not to go to the airshow, but to visit a car showroom, but that'll really disappoint the grandparents.

That's why it bothers me - because our children become essentialised outside the home or online - oh - her child is the one who wets the bed; her child is the one who had the huge tantum in Asda. People become defined by anecdotes told about them, rather than by being themselves.

This post was written for a public messageboard. I think that there has to be a place for an adult to say "we went to the swimming pool today" because their own story is intertwined with that of their child. Rather than a public forum, perhaps one is best to use a private messageboard, an email, a PM, a passworded blog. Or telephone or AIM for conversations which are not recorded (or in person of course).

There are limits to the kind of information one should share in any context - I am still working out what I think those limits ought to be - perhaps they vary somewhat from person to person.


Anonymous said...

Isolation may be related to this issue. When the adult is isolated and has less social contact than they desire, the result may be sharing more details than they normally would. If one were always alone with child, except occasionally around strangers, then it can be difficult. The adult addressing their social needs is the key but may be hampered for a variety of reasons. No answers...just more questions!

Carlotta said...

I agree that this is a complex and serious issue. I rarely blog about the children, but am tempted to do so, and if I do, I write something first and then seek their consent. I wouldn't do it otherwise.