At the risk of sounding like a phony, I’ll admit that when I see someone and casually ask how they’re doing, I’m really only looking for a summary. Doing great. Keeping it real. Living the dream. Something along those lines.
However shallow, this sort of exchange is the generally accepted social convention. “How’s it going?” is not the question you answer with, “I just had four bunions removed…would you like to see my scars?” If the person you’re talking to is a good friend, chances are you already know how they are. Or if the person answering the question wants to share more information, they can give a lead-in response like, “I’ve been better,” and see if anyone takes the bait.
But there is one instance in which people almost always over-share: When it comes to talking about their kids. When you see someone you haven’t seen in a while and you ask about his or her children, you’re looking for a basic, “Janie is doing great, Sam is getting bigger all the time.” Boom. Done. What you are probably not looking for is, “Ohmygoodness, Janie said the cutest thing last night while she was taking a bath – wait… here! I have a picture! Oh, and while I’m at it, let me show you what she looks like when she does this new little dance move. She calls it her shaking her ‘too-shie’ –isn’t that cute? Wait… here! I have a picture…”
I am not suggesting that there is never a place for sharing this kind of “cute” information, but pick your opportunities wisely. Because although these stories can be mildly yawn-inducing for people who have kids, they have to be mind-meltingly boring for people without children. Most people are simply not interested in the minutiae of everyday life with your kid. They just aren’t. They may love you. They may even love your kid. But they don’t want to hear every tiny detail, no matter how cute you think it may be. And it’s insensitive to blather on in this way.
Think about it, if you asked your insurance salesman friend how things are at work and he launched into a detailed description of accidental death benefits and annuitization schedules and wait… here! He has a picture! You would probably run away screaming, or at least think twice about ever engaging him in conversation again. It isn’t that you don’t care, it’s that you don’t care that much. You care enough to know that your friend has been really busy/ had a great quarter/ is thinking of making some changes, but that’s about it. If you were really interested, you’d ask more detailed questions like, “So tell me more about how you calculate overall liquidity ratios.”
Likewise, when people ask about your kids, they want to know how they are doing generally speaking. If they ask detailed follow-up questions or to see pictures, that’s your cue to whip out your smart phone and go to town. But the broad-spectrum “How are Fletcher and Ellie?” is to be only met with a one-, two-, or possibly up to five-word answer: “Awesome. Just like their Mom.” That’s my standard response. You can use it if you want.