Monday, June 15, 2015

The One With the Diary and the 'Seriously Angry Dad'

Dear Dad,

My wife's cousin is staying with us for a few weeks. She is the type of woman who is very know-it-all and judgmental, even though she is single, has no responsibilities in the world, and doesn't have a clue what it is to be a parent.

She told me this morning that she went into my 12-year-old daughter's diary to see why she is acting so "sad" during this visit, and read about a lot of problems going on at school. I told her I couldn't believe she broke my daughter's trust (she is staying in my daughter's room). She told me I should be grateful that she took the time to learn about the problems (normal 12 year old stuff) so I can help my daughter fix them. I was really pissed about this, so I confronted my wife.  My wife said that is just who her cousin is and to grin and bear it through the rest of her visit. People joke that my wife wears the pants in the family because I am a stay at home parent. Grin and bear it?

So, my question is: when is it ever acceptable to invade a child's privacy, and do you think I should just "grin and bear it?" 

Signed, Angry Dad

Dear 'Angry Dad',

I have to admit I find myself a bit upset (and my skin is crawling) from just reading your question. Your wife's cousin did not just blatantly disrespect your daughter, but she sent you a very direct message that she has no respect for you. How dare her enter your home and try to tell you anything other than 'thank you' for sparing her from paying the cost of a motel/hotel? Unfathomable.

My advice is to have a discussion with your wife immediately and make it clear that you can grin and bear through know-it-all statements and judgmental actions if you have to (and are willing to), but you are putting your foot down when it comes to boundaries being crossed and being disrespected in your own home. Please don't ever let anyone tell you that because you are a stay-at-home father, you are not entitled to half the decision making in your home, and to basic respect from anyone who enters your home.

I would make it very clear to your wife that you are appalled and are not going to back down because what her cousin did is reprehensible. I would politely advise this cousin (as a united front with your wife after your discussion) that if she does anything like this again, you will be more than happy to help transport her things to the aforementioned motel. If your wife does not agree with you, or continues to dismiss this, I think a session or more of couple's therapy may be in order.

I believe that our children are due their fair share of privacy. I do not believe acting a little sad or showing some moodiness is justification to snoop into their personal belongings. As parents, we need for our children to have a sense of trust and for our children to have their own sense of boundaries and selves. If you snoop through a diary completely unwarranted - something I can not process your wife did not get upset about - what message is that sending your preteen daughter?

I do believe that text messages and anything involving social media is fair game when it comes to privacy - if you are going to allow your children to use those platforms (and I must say, I think 12 is still far too young), you have the right to snoop any time. The difference is that you make it clear that it is fair game and you aren't betraying her by checking in on her. I believe if you suspect any type of drug use or if your child starts to exhibit extreme warning signs (acting depressed, extreme mood changes, getting in trouble a lot, etc.), only then would reading a diary be appropriate.

I wish you luck in resolving this, as I believe there is more than one issue at hand here. If your family has agreed that having you stay at home works best, the position better be respected for what it is. If your wife is going to allow her cousin to blatantly disrespect and undermine you even after you advise her of your thoughts/feelings on the situation then a good therapist may be the step to untangle this knot in your nest. Sending you good thoughts and energy. Please keep us updated!

There is a fine line as parents when it comes to respecting privacy and knowing when to get to the bottom of what is going on with our children. When do you think it is acceptable to snoop into their personal space to gauge what is going on in their too often private lives?

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