My mom is reading my diary wha?!?!

Dear Dr Jaffe,

I am utterly confused. I would normally write down all my troubles in my diary, but that is the problem, my diary. I think that my mum is reading it. Last month I finally, after like 8 years, wrote down everything I felt after my parents split up and then my mum started asking really relevant questions. So I wrote again, stupidly trusting her, and because I was beginning to get a complex about the privacy of it, I booby trapped it, so I would know if someone had been in it…3 days later I get back from my dads and its evidently been opened. I am 17 and not really one for confrontation with my mum as we are close, and I don’t want to cause a rift between us, but at the same time I feel utterly betrayed, but can’t write it all down!
What shall I do??
–Confront or Cry

Dear Confront or Cry,

Have you ever been shopping at a makeup counter when they have one of those specials where if you buy two lipsticks more than you’d planned you get a Free Gift With Purchase? And its always something you didn’t even know you wanted but when you have it its super cool?

Today is Adviceopolis Free Gift With Purchase day for you. Because not only can we help you get your privacy back without confrontation, we’ll help you get it back while IMPROVING your relationship with your mom.
(And you don’t even have to buy a lipstick you don’t want.)

Although it doesn’t feel this way, your mom’s motivation in reading your diary wasn’t evil. I’d guess you inherited your confrontation aversion from her, so she probably thinks that stealthily reading your diary is a good way to make sure you’re all right without driving you away by asking prying questions. Of course nothing drives someone away faster than feeling betrayed, but parents aren’t always the clear thinkers we wish they were. It is tragic really. That is why we must be their gentle guides.

There are three excellent ways you can do this. I’m listing them in what I think would be good-better-best order, but only you know what that will work for you.

GOOD: Keep the diary you have now, the one your mom has read, and use it to write things that you wish your mom knew. Think of it like a direct line to her brain. In the meantime, start a second diary that you keep hidden where you can write about stuff that is Not For Mom Eyes. By giving her a shadow diary to read, you keep open that line of connection with her, while protecting your secrets. (Plus it makes it easy for you to hint about birthday gifts you’d like, and also every now and then to say something so sweet that it will bring a heartfelt tear to her eye. Which is always good. Moms like that.)

BLUSHER: On a sheet of paper write a note to her and put it in your diary where you know she’ll find it. Have it say something like “Dear Mom, I love you very much and I love our relationship. I don’t want to exclude you from my life, but there are things I feel are private and want to keep to myself. You know I tell you everything important because I respect and trust you and know that you respect and trust me. Show me that respect and trust now by letting my diary be secret. If you want to know more about me, ask. Or, if asking is too hard, write me a note and leave it in my room and I’ll write back. But don’t read my diary. If I find this letter is gone, I’ll know you’ve agreed not to read it any more. We don’t have to talk about this, we can just be glad we have each other and understand each other.” That way she knows you know without your having a discussion about it, but you propose a way to stay in contact. (And that end part? About having each other? Could, if handled right, lead to heartfelt tears.)

BEST: Have a face to face meeting. I know you said ‘no confrontation’, but this doesn’t have to be confrontational. Stay calm and say something along the lines of what I suggested you say in a letter. You could even propose that the two of you get a diary to keep together, where one of you can write about an issue and the other could respond. The key thing will be your delivery: by not blaming her or lashing out, you keep the tone from being challenging and you also act adult and mature—which will impress her. (Possibly leading to…heartfelt tears! For both of you! Double the fun!)

These aren’t the only options for dealing with this—you could keep your diary in code, or invisible ink, or on an etch-a-sketch, or tattooed between your toes, for example—but I think they’re the best options, the ones that will have you and your mom not just making up, but making over your relationship.

Dr. J

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