Monday, May 20, 2013

What parental overshare is not

When I saw a post on the NYT parenting blog (note: also classified as "Style") with the title, "Ending the Secrecy of a Child’s Addiction," I thought, here we go, this is going to be some whopper of a parental overshare. Isn't it enough that some child has an addiction, but now their parents are telling the NYT readership about it? How will this kid ever get into college, get a job, etc.?

But then I read the post, and that wasn't it at all. The "child" in this case was a man in his early 20s, the child of his parents, but not a child. Key details: early-20s, and "was." The dynamics of parental overshare - a child totally dependent on caregivers, finding their deepest secrets in a national publication, with no recourse to give their own side of the story; embarrassing or altogether damaging biographical details haunting a child later when, as an adult, they're looking for a job/a spouse - clearly don't apply. And the story itself? Mighty depressing.

The author, Bill Williams, does address the "dirty laundry" question:
As family members, we struggled from the beginning to find both our own support system and ways to engage and encourage William in recovery. In the beginning we kept William’s and our battle to ourselves, in the interest of protecting his privacy and ours. He still had career goals and ambitions that could be thwarted with heroin use on his “résumé.” While it’s harder to admit, we also kept quiet out of some sense of embarrassment or shame. How could we possibly explain the corrosion in the midst of our well-reared, respectable family?
Under the circumstances, it is courageous for Williams to write about this. The only thing at stake, at this point, is his own reputation.

What's interesting here from a parental-overshare perspective is that the fact that the "child" in this case was an adult seems to have made it more obvious why one cannot just go around telling someone's secrets. Even if that "someone" is so close to you that their life events are in a sense yours as well. Even if you could justify telling the secrets as being in service to a greater good, and even if, conversely, you feel as though your refusal to spill is largely motivated by fear of damage to your own reputation.

And the "sharing" in this case seems to refer only to conversations with those actually in their lives, and not to, for example, a post on the Motherlode blog. I try to be clear, whenever I talk about parental overshare, that I'm referring to published articles, to memoirs. To things that turn an identifiable child into a sort of public figure, about whom a great number of people who don't know this child personally will form an opinion. I'm not referring to times when parents discuss a child with friends and family - cases where yes, of course, the child is identifiable, and yes, of course, the wrong email or Facebook post could get forwarded to the entire world, and yes, there are people who don't know how to use the privacy settings. But venting to/confiding in friends is just an entirely different category of behavior, and a necessary one, I suspect, for most parents.

No comments: