Friday, 18 November 2011

Is it ever OK to read someone’s private diary…?

Well, as a matter of principle, I would of course say ‘no’.  The very thought of someone reading my innermost thoughts, without my consent, is tantamount to an assault – so I simply would not do that to another person.

But…. what if that other person is your seven year old child, who has gone through a big trauma with his parents divorce, and who is very closed about his feelings? 

Are these extenuating circumstances?  As a parent, do I have either a right, or a duty to see what he’s written, in order that I can unravel any issues he may have.  Or is it still completely taboo?

Well, as it happens, I have just recently discovered that my little one has started writing a diary.

Just like I did as a child, he loves to write little stories, many of which I have kept safely in a little box I keep their treasures in…  the home made birthday cards they have made me and my eldest’s first ever pair of baby jeans… complete with holes in both knees!  The things I hope they’ll appreciate when they’re older.

The discovery of his diary (which he sleeps with under his pillow) brought back a memory of the only time I have ever kept a diary. I was in my late teens and going through a particularly difficult time.  I’d left home and was not on speaking terms with my parents, I had a tempestuous relationship with a boyfriend, with whom I broke up and made up and finally broke up for good.  On top of all this, I’d moved to London and didn’t know many people, so it was a difficult time. 

For almost a year during this period, I kept a diary.  The most painful bit was the breakup with the boyfriend, for whom I carried a torch for years after.  (Exorcising the Ex) Writing everything down really helped me.  I kept the diary for a few years.  Then one day I stumbled upon it, whilst rummaging around at the back of a drawer.  I started to read it and it made me cry.  It brought home to me just what a bad time I’d been having and dredged up some deep feelings.  The diary had been kept in a box, along with letters from the same old boyfriend.  So I had a sort of ‘exorcism’ and threw the lot away.

Throwing it away made me feel the most extraordinary sense of relief.  It was as if, by throwing it all away, I could not punish myself by reading any of it again.

I think it is this reaction to my own diary, that makes me feel so strongly about reading someone else’s. 

I do really dread to think what impact the last couple of years have had on my children. I have tried hard to protect them from the fall out, but there is always a limit to how much you can protect your kids. 

And so, he’s writing a diary. He’s only seven.  The contents of his diary are most likely to be about what naughty stuff he’s been up to with his friends!  And comments about how much his brother annoys him. 

So do I read it, or don’t I? 

It’s such a tough one.  But I can’t help but feel that even at seven years old, everyone is entitled to a bit of privacy.  A little bit of himself, that he wants to keep to himself.  And even as his mother, even though he’s only seven, I think he’s entitled to it.


  1. Sadly I'm the type of mother who would read it - mainly to correct the spelling mistakes probably! However, seriously.. if he is really writing a diary - encourage it.. he's probably not well developed enough "emotionally-wise", yet to even write about his feelings about the divorce - let alone voice them to a diary/you or anyone. It will probably be mainly little stories about school/your dogs or football for example. But he may use it now or in the future to write about issues at school or short term day to day happenings - Kids brains' time frame is short at 7yrs, so if suppose another child kicked him that day - that's what he'd write - he won't think/write deep thoughts as a girl would - AS BOYS ARE REALLY DIFFERENT.They don't agonize in the same way. SO don't worry - read it or not - just don't tell him ever!! and if you do find anything "sinister", that's when you work out how to deal with the "forbidden" knowledge you have gained.

  2. Depends on if you are worried about something. If he is acting unusual, if you are worried about divorce impact, then absolutely read it. And LRS is right, never tell him. If you found something worrisome, and this goes for notes under beds and in backpacks too, create another way you learned the information. Children need a sense of privacy. But they are still children, and 7 is young. They still need protection. If all is well, don't read. If worried, you should.

  3. I think you are wonderful, and you are showing your son respect by letting him have his privacy. My family believe that even our not quite 4 year old granddaughter deserves her privacy and respect. If she asks us not to go in her room - we don't.
    You are obviously a brilliant mum, well done. xxx

  4. My mother found my journal and read it when I was about 12 or 13. Obviously there is a massive difference between someone who is becoming a teenager and a 7 year old but still, there wasn't a lot to read other than how much I hated school and problems I was having with friends, typical teenager stuff. One day when I came home she had it lying open on the table and confronted me about some of the stuff I'd written. It was really horrible and I felt so betrayed. I haven't told her this but to this day (I'm 19 now), I haven't forgiven her for invading my privacy and reading my personal thoughts. The worst part is that I used to love writing, but now I feel like I can't do it in front of her and I have to hide one of my biggest passions in case she starts wondering what I'm writing and her curiosity gets the better of her again. I know it's easier with a 7 year old to make up a story about how you found out about how he's feeling about certain stuff, and different people react to things differently, but it's taken me 6/7 years to get over what happened with my Mum and I'm still not fully over it, it's really made me trust her a lot less. If you read it now and he finds out, later on he might remember and hold it against you by keeping other things secret.

    Sorry this comment was so long, just thought I'd share a bit of experience. Hope everything works out :)


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