No one tells you about the range and intensity of emotions you feel the day your firstborn arrives in the world. Maybe because it just can’t be fully articulated and, even if it could, you can’t fully comprehend it until you experience it. One thing I wasn’t prepared for when I held MJ for the first time was a feeling of detachment even in the midst of incredible joy. As I stared at this tiny face, I couldn’t help but wonder: who are you? For a moment I kind of wanted the doctor to put her back in where I was comfortable with her. At least there, I could anticipate her movements. I knew that she was most active after I ate and at night, when I was preparing for bed. I just knew her. Now, here she was, separated from me, a breathing, unpredictable human being.
Of course, the years go by and this feeling passes and you get to know this person like you’ve never known anyone else in your life. Until ... the tween years. I’m starting to get that feeling again. For the most part I can still take one look at MJ and know exactly how she’s feeling, but then there are times I look at her and once again wonder: who are you? And this is precisely what defines these years, because she’s trying to answer that question for herself. One minute she wants to snuggle up with me on the couch, the next she looks at me like I’m a three-headed alien who doesn’t understand anything about life. She’s too old for toys and too young for boys. She’s too old to be dragged everywhere I go and too young to stay home by herself.
Yeah, yeah, I know I was going to talk about the diary thing. So you walk into your tween’s room to drop off some laundry or whatever and there it is—lying in plain sight (most tweens aren’t savvy enough yet to hide it under the mattress). It’s calling to you READ ME! READ ME! And you think, well why not, what could it hurt? It could actually give you some insight into the changes that are happening, like a direct portal to her soul, help you to know what’s bothering her. After all, you just want to help, right? You feel like you’re losing grip of that little girl you used to know so intimately. But I implore you, I beg you, DON’T DO IT! Not just for her sake, but for yours.
I’ve kept a journal since I was a kid (yes, at some point you mature from a diary to a journal, but it’s basically the same thing). There are things I write even today that I would be mortified for anyone to read. What I write one day may not be what I’m feeling the next. Which is exactly the point of a journal. It’s thinking out loud. It’s getting out all the junk that clutters your mind. You wouldn’t want someone digging around in your brain now would you? Our tweens need this safety zone, this place where they can unload without threat of anyone knowing about it. Plus, what if one day she writes in there ... I hate my mother. Gasp! Oh, don’t be so naive to think it wouldn’t happen. If you had a mother growing up, at some point you thought or wrote or probably even said, I hate you. It doesn’t mean it’s true, but it won’t help for you to read that.
We’re told in the book of Ecclesiastes that there’s a time for everything under the sun, so is there a time to read your tween’s diary? Mmmm ... maybe. If something major is going on with your tween like drugs, depression, eating disorder ... and you are genuinely concerned for her safety. But only after you’ve exhausted all other options, like start with actually trying to communicate with your tween. I know this can be difficult, especially if they’re having a major issue. I always find my kids open up the easiest when we’re doing something else as a distraction, like going for a drive or tossing a ball in the backyard.
So, yes, I’m writing this because it happened to me the other day. I saw MJ’s diary lying on her desk and before you think I’m a fabulous saint of a mother, I’ll tell you that I picked it up and I held it for a few moments, struggling. The mother in me was imploring me to read it; she was the devil on my shoulder, sweet-talking me with all the good reasons to do it. But then the ten-year-old in me appeared on my other shoulder and reminded me of what it’s like to be that age. And she reminded me of the most important reason of all to not read it—you want to be able to trust your daughter. Don’t give her a reason to not trust you. Smiling, I placed the diary back on her desk, then went to find her baby book to read instead.