At a school event or a birthday party or a sports practice, another parent asks in that confidential whisper, how is your child doing? The real question is whether this parent really wants to know. That’s because truly explaining how your child is doing would take about as many words as Moby Dick. Should you dive into the long and winding tale, or should you just say, “Much better, thanks!” and leave it at that?
The decision comes down to the consequences of the information you decide to share. On one hand, helping people understand your child’s condition can be a way to lay the groundwork for acceptance and necessary accommodations. On the other hand, sharing the ins and outs of your child’s health challenges can reinforce stigma surrounding your child, or could make the conversation more intimate than you intended.
Of course, we’re not just talking about parental oversharing on social media, what some people call “sharenting”. And we’re not talking about sharing for the purpose of advice, i.e. describing your child’s condition to ask for tips. We’re talking about sharing the story of your child’s illness only to have this information known.
One purpose of this sharing is to unburden yourself. This is extremely important! Telling your child’s story can help you process the emotions associated with it, and by taking care of your own emotional health, you can make yourself stronger, more resilient, and more able to support your child’s needs. But this kind of sharing is often inappropriate for casual conversation. If you don’t have a family member or close friend who is able to receive this full story, consider working with a mental health professional who can help you release this story into the world for the purpose of healing.
In a more casual situation, the key in choosing how much to share is not to ask how this sharing would feel to you or what you might get from sharing (sympathy? Respect?), but to ask how sharing will affect your child. Does your child need this information to be known? Would it be helpful for people to understand? Or would sharing your child’s illness possibly result in exclusion, isolation or stigma?
Another way of looking at this is to ask yourself whether your child would want people to know his or her story. Of course, you can see a bigger picture – temporary embarrassment might be outweighed by need-to-know. But try to think about this big picture from your child’s perspective. Knowing what you know, how much of your child’s story should you share to benefit your child?
Ask yourself why you are telling your child’s story. Is it for your child? Is it for yourself? Is it to satisfy someone else’s curiosity? Only a “yes” to the first question is a good reason to share.