How much to share


There comes a time in life when it’s a good thing that family knows what we’re up to; how severe our health issues might be, what our plans might be.  But the question faces us squarely:  How Much To Share?

I’m not talking about a blog.  Having decided long ago to write a public diary I made up my mind back there in the dark ages that I had no problem being open about my life.  I’ve lived with a lifelong hatred of hypocrisy and I am what you see. For better or worse; I’m not about to be someone in public and someone else in private.

Let me tell you a story. Peg & I were out shopping one day and the phone rang.  It was my father-in-law and the conversation was rather abrupt.  “I’m going into the hospital tomorrow for major surgery.”  Click.  (well it wasn’t quite that short a conversation but he communicated very little of consequence to tell us what might have lead up to this significant decision, nor how serious his situation might be — those things we had to dig a great deal harder to learn.

By contrast, there came a point in both my parents lives when I went with them to doctors’ appointments; when we talked about end of life affairs;  when we discussed plans and sad memories.   Peg & I are getting to a point where we are consciously thinking about how much we share with our daughter and how much is too much! And why it might be too much.

Certainly there are no two identical families; and I really believe there can be no rule concerning parental sharing.  Some families are close; others aren’t.  In some families a direct conversation about a parent’s health or their funeral plans or finances — would be used to the parent’s harm; if I’ve learned one thing in life it’s that there is no power on earth more destructive to family unity than the prospect of inheriting money.  I’ve seen families I know torn apart over bequests and imaginations of favoritism to say nothing of outright larceny and fraud.  The love of money is the root of all evil.

We are a small family.  We get along well together.  Two of us are outspoken — you can guess who they might be.  Neither of those two is Peggy.  Kathryn and I have shared a private blog for several years; a place where an adult parent can just chat with an adult child.  I think it’s been a good thing for us, particularly seeing as two of us have been flitting around the countryside for five years and I did not want to lose the closeness we had with our daughter all the previous years.

Recently I have been blogging about time and decisions.  To be sure, there are some topics we have to grow into in life.  The process by which we make decisions changes over time and it’s informed by our living.  In advancing age we make decisions that might be diametrically opposed to choices we made when younger — but then we make them at this age for very different reasons and anticipating very different outcomes.  And the question comes to mind, just how much do we choose to share with our daughter — or it we had more than  one child — with our children.

A big part of that decision depends on how well we know our own flesh and blood. That is not as simple as it sounds — if you look back on your own life and the lives of your friends I’m sure you’ll remember either having been, or knowing other families that never had an idea about their child’s addiction, or affairs, or gambling, or …. well, you get the idea.  Children take some clues from us as they grow but they become their own people and they make their own choices; not all of which will ever be good, or great, or stellar!

Even if we know our adult children well enough to think we should be forthright with them about … oh, say, illness or depression, or money troubles, … the question comes to mind is this something they really need to be saddled with?  Or will sharing actually make their life easier because it puts their doubts and fears to rest?  Knowledge is powerful.  Enough gives us confidence to move forward; too much knowledge backfires and it often results in brash, ill conceived decisions.

Kathryn has her own blog — yeah, there’s something about genetics I do believe.  In a recent post she too has been dealing with the different ways of looking at time as she tries to deal with us, and with her newly married daughter who now has her own home, and husband, and is living life at what might seem to her and to us to be a breakneck speed — but which I remember fondly as being just about the right speed for that age.  I was young once too!

The mechanics of our lives has complicated the subject of what do we tell her.  We knew from the get-go that we would not RV forever.  And we talked about that but when we decided to get off the road it was a tough nut to swallow;  why this sudden change of course.  And then the choice to buy a home here — even if it is justi a mobile home in an RV park — that seemed like we had gone off the rails.

I’m reminded of what it was like in college.  Each course had it’s own précis or syllabus.   As you know, a précis describes the nature of the course but it does not give you all of the content that you will, in time, learn during the course — that’s the reason for the course and the coursework.  Lectures, workshops, independent study — all these work together to teach you the content of the course that was described in a précis of one or two paragraphs.

Sharing with a child — even an adult child — is rather like writing that précis.  It’s an abstraction of the overall theme not a detailed description of the minutia.  And the question comes to mind whether the person with whom you want to share is going to benefit by reading the summary or whether they would be better off waiting for the content to be revealed during the course/life.  After all, evening college some courses are required and it doesn’t matter at all whether you read the syllabus or care about the content — you still have to take the course.

I’ll admit I periodically find myself wondering.  Do I want our daughter to feel the way we did when Peg’s dad phoned with a big surprise.  Or do I think she’s ready and able to take the experience of metaphorically sitting with us in the doctor’s office to hear the unvarnished truth?  I don’t always know the answer.  Sometimes I guess right; other times I guess wrong — but I never take it for granted that just because one subject resulted in a certain outcome that I should only do that in the future.  Time and circumstance determine the right course for the next situation.

I think it’s something that a parent should think about — real hard.  Preparing our kids for life doesn’t really end when they reach the age of maturity; we have lessons to teach them, and lessons to learn from them for the rest of our/their lives.  It’s easy to under-estimate the maturity of our kids.  But just because they reach a certain age is no reason to assume they have mastered the same life lessons we had at their age.  And when I think about the behavior or a lot of adults — as regards alcohol and drugs and sex — I think there are a lot of folks who haven’t learned very many lessons at all.

I urge you to consider your own offspring.  Do they deserve to know more about what’s going on with you than they know now?  And if so, how do you go about sharing?  It’s worth a little consideration.

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6 Comments

  1. Reminds me of the time Mom called to say she was home from the hospital. When I asked why she hadn’t told me she was going in she said she didn’t want to worry me. Instead I worried forevermore that she was sick and I wouldn’t know.

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    1. Linda, I’m chuckling because that is the absolute truth. Parents often think they are helping when in fact they are creating more cause for concern than if they were just honest and shared a little more.

      This idea about not wanting to “worry” someone is challenging though. I do think it stems from self-worth issues. Why should they not be “worthy” of some worry? Why are others more important and they so inconsequential that others should not worry. I have seen it so often among women who put their families first — not necessarily because they are altruistic, but because they have been put down much of their life and they don’t really feel worthy of attention. It’s one of the shames about society that troubles me, that we ingrain various forms of inferiority into so many of our citizens / families.

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  2. Peter, you and I hail from a generation where sharing meant dark meat on the Christmas turkey.My parents/grandparents didn’t “share”. Seven year old me saw my mother taken away in a straight jacket, nobody shared her mental breakdown, she was “away for a rest”, I didn’t get to visit her in the psychiatric ward, she was just gone for months at a time.

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    1. Agreed. Human experiences are so varied and so individual that there is no rule-making, no best-way. For that matter the way illness is treated has changed so much. I remember when Peg’s mom was dying from cancer of the spine, the doctors had said she had but weeks to live and yet they would not prescribe morphine “because she might become dependent” — this rationale for a short-term terminal patient. I was livid but I was also a 20-something concerned about his brand new mother in law.

      Sorry to hear about your mum. The relationships we have with parents/children/grandparents/siblings are such complex things. Still being conscious about the way we live and the way we treat those important to us is worthy of a thought, eh?

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      1. I wouldn’t see the world as I do if not for my tumultuous childhood. It could have gone either way, I might have self destructed (which in truth I did for a while) or forgive people I loved for doing the best they could. Looking back I wouldn’t change a thing. 🙂

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      2. 🙂

        It is THAT — the willingness to accept that we have individually made our own choices to shape our own world, and not allow the world to shape us that really makes us similar. On some level it is always thus. Some will blame the world and become victims of their own state of mind. Others will say “I will not have it thus,” and begin the lifelong process of change. No one else can do it. Not all are successful in the sense that they achieve all their dreams, but even those who fail to achieve their ultimate goals are aeons ahead of those who never tried and let the world determine who they would become.

        Some would say Stephen Hawking had a terrible break in life — and he did; but think of how many people he has affected in positive ways in spite of the cards he was dealt. There are so many more with such different stories but the difference lies in a single choice to do more, be better, overcome, survive — whatever the challenge.

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