I remember like it was yesterday….walking in the door after school near the end of my junior year in high school to see my mom standing in the kitchen waiting for me.  My dad was still at work, but she told me they’d found and read my diary.  I felt as if I’d physically been kicked in the stomach.  So many emotions swirled inside of me…shame, humiliation, sadness, betrayal, anger…

My mom told me they’d done this because they were “worried about me”.  My decision-making at the time was indeed questionable, at times, even reckless. I knew part of what they’d learned in those pages was my habit of frequenting bars in a very seedy area of town (yes, I was seventeen).  Also that I was gambling with my health and my future in the choices I was making with the boys I dated.  In looking back, it’s no wonder my parents were concerned.

But, to this day, I think what they did was very, very wrong.

I felt my parents had violated my trust by reading thoughts and feelings I hadn’t intended ANYONE read.   Equally true, I had blatantly disregarded my parents faith and trust in me as well.  They absolutely would not have condoned my weekly trips to the downtown drinking hole or my behavior with boys.  Like a lot of kids, high school was a period of time when I cared much more about fitting in with the crowd than pleasing my parents.  Most of the time that meant conjuring up the right circumstances to be let out of the house so I could socialize as I pleased.

Later in the evening, when my dad returned home to lecture me on my teen adventures in mayhem and romance, he added insult to injury.  If I wanted to create a list of “NEVER DOs FOR DADS”, #1 would definitely be never, under any circumstances, call your daughter a whore.

Because she will never forget how that made her feel.

The punishment for my crimes:  grounded for the summer.  This seemed very unreasonable to me.  So, in response, I befriended a guy my parents liked/trusted and approved of, and it wasn’t long before they allowed me out of the house, but only to go on dates with him.  

Do you see how this is being played out?  

Despite these conditions, it was still a very l-o-n-g summer.

Never again did I pick up another diary.  In fact, I shied away from writing anything for a long, long time.

In hindsight (from the point-of-view of being a parent myself for the last twenty-seven years), what do I think my parents should have done if they were worried about me instead of finding and reading my diary?  

Sitting me down to say they were worried about where I was really going and what I was really doing would have caused me to lie more, especially if my dad were at the table.  You see, by that age I understood my mom loved me no matter what, but my dad seemed to love me only when I met the criteria.  And the older I got, the less I measured up.

What I really think might have turned the situation around at that time was for my parents to spend more time with me.  Without telling me they were worried about me.  Because when I think about the essence of what I was looking for during those years, it was connection.  Especially with my dad who I felt was merely my disciplinarian.  And the man who provided a roof/clothes/food/car/private school education/family vacations.

The moral of my story is this:  When parents decide to be sneaky to find out what is going on in their teen’s life (whether it is well intended or not) there is already a problem.  And the best antidote to that is not to ramp up the game, but to make the time and the effort to work on the relationship with your child. Even if they literally tell you they want no part of it.  YOU are the adult, YOU are the one who needs to work consistently towards a better relationship.  

(This post originally ran on My Mother’s Footprints.)

About the author: Kimberly Muench is a freelance writer who published her autobiography My Mothers Footprints:  A Story of Faith, Calm, Courage, Patience and Grace in 2011. She has been a regular contributor to Suburban Parent Magazine in Dallas/Fort Worth, crafts a newspaper column entitled Something to Muench on, and has been published through a number of parenting blog sites including 10 to 20 Parenting, Mamapedia. University of Moms and A Fine Parent.  In addition, Kimberly writes weekly on her own website www.mymothersfootprints.com about faith, family, marriage and personal growth.   Kimberly is a wife and mother to five children who hails from Wisconsin, but now makes her home in Texas.

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8 Comments

  1. Maureen Stiles

    I think snooping should be a last resort for parents after repeated attempts at talking and reaching out in some fashion. However, today’s kids have high stakes in that they are often using a phone and Instagram and emails as a diary; without the experience to know that impulse sharing can be a problem. We parents have an obligation to our kids to monitor what they put out into the world via the internet and cell towers.

  2. I think this is a wonderful story with great advice to focus on the relationship not the misdeeds to create real trust for open dialogue
    Please check my website and read about my upcoming book. Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior for a way to connect with a misguided child:
    http://lauriehollmanphd/book/
    Laurie HollmanPhD

  3. So much YES to all of this!!

    Respect is huge with teens. If you don’t respect their right to privacy, how on earth can you expect to have a relationship??

    A child whose parents are connected with his or her life is unlikely to be out running the bars in the first place. This is a classic example of how things can go south when parents decide they must be “old school” and “not be a friend” to their children.

    To be clear- My children are not my friends. I have adult friends, with whom I vent and talk about adult issues. I am, however, my children’s friend- in the sense that they know they can come to me, to talk about world issues, social issues, and personal issues. They know I will listen to, and respect their opinions. They know I may disagree, even strongly, with some of their opinions and ideas of how the world should work. But- they know I am a safe place- that they can talk to me about anything.

    They also know that there are rules associated with living in my house and having Mom pay their bills. Having rules and boundaries does not mean you can’t be your child’s friend. It just means that the rules and boundaries are set down in a way that respects their right to disagree. They don’t have to “like” the rules. They do have to follow them. And, as long as they make an effort to be honest, open, and respectful, we can discuss the rules, and they may even change depending on circumstances and my teens’ ability to earn more freedom by showing they can be responsible.

    Parenting is hard work. Sneaky parenting is lazy, IMHO. And calling your child a “whore”?? That’s just bad parenting.

  4. Thanks for commenting Maureen. You’re right, the stakes are higher for this generation of teens and it is important we (parents) protect them when possible. My diary was so private and never intended for anyone’s eyes…I think the biggest betrayal I felt was how my parents used the information. Rather than try and make a healthier connection they used the information for punishment, which made matters worse. I appreciate your insight!

  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Laurie, I had a chance to peek at your upcoming book and it looks wonderful…I am sure it will be very helpful to lots of families. I love that you said “focus on the relationship, not the misdeeds”….that is exactly my point in sharing the experience, and in my perspective as a mother to five.

  6. My mom and I recently talked about this post (she found it on her FB feed), she wasn’t happy I shared the story, until I explained why I had written about this incident. My writing this post wasn’t to expose how crappy my parents were…in fact, I think they did the best they could with what they knew at the time…but, that doesn’t make it okay. There are lots of parents who don’t think through before they act or speak, which causes all sorts of hurt. I think parenting is the MOST important calling we can have, yet we prepare and continue our education about it so little.

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