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When I Found My Stepdaughter's Diary

Cleaning under my stepdaughter’s bed has become a routine around here thanks to her insistence that “cleaning your room” really means “shove everything you possibly can under your bed and whatever doesn’t fit can go into your pillowcases.” Every other weekend when she and her brother come home, we divide and conquer the mess under the bed. Barbies go here, Lalaloopsy dolls go here, crayons go there.

She really hates this process, hates that she has to help clean, and the other day I thought I’d surprise her by taking care of it while she was gone. I decided to reorganize her toys and make it a bit easier for her to put things away.

I know, I know. What kind of stepmom am I? I should’ve made her do it and then wash all of our castle’s windows.

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But while cleaning out under her bed, I noticed a pile up against the wall that was strategically placed. This wasn’t a jumble of toys shoved under there in two seconds; this was a pile she had meticulously created, a pile she obviously wanted to stay there.

I decided to ignore it and, instead, focused on the rest of the jumble. But after a while, my curiosity got the best of me. This section consisted of two small teddy bears “guarding” her pencil box. The pencil box was sitting on top of a stack of coloring books and there was a small Superman flashlight in the lap of one of the bears. At first, I assumed this was an “under-the-bed kit” she had made so that when we told her to go to sleep, she could sneak in a coloring book or two and continue to doodle into the night. But when I saw a bundle of papers stapled together between the books, I couldn’t help myself. I pulled it out and the words written on the front were MY DAIRY.

I had a good feeling this wasn’t anything about cows or homogenized milk. Also, I immediately felt guilty as hell.

I have to trust that if she’s being bullied or unhappy with her actions that she’ll come to me and talk about it.

Chloe is 7. I’m positive that her diary is full of nothing but rants about her little brother, maybe about me and my insistence on doughnuts not being considered a snack and perhaps a Christmas list. But I couldn’t help but want to open it and read it. What other things could she be writing about? What if, at 7, she’s writing about kids bullying her, about her being a bully? What if she’s unhappy about her body or her personality? What if she’s scared of one of her teachers? What if she’s uncomfortable in our home, or what if she hates having stepparents?

Yeah ... I’ll admit it. My mind can go to dark places if I let it.

But I couldn’t let myself open it. I couldn’t break her trust like that. I carefully put it back exactly where I found it and left the room. As far as I know, she has no idea I found it.

I know a lot of people think it’s OK to look through their kids’ journals and emails and cell phones. I know there are a lot of articles out there speculating that a lot of teen violence could have been stopped if the parents had just been nosy. I know a lot of people think their kids don’t deserve any privacy, but I’m afraid I’m not one of those people. And that’s because of my parents. I know for a fact that neither one of them ever looked through my diaries or journals. I know because I used to leave them out in the open and spy. I would purposefully leave it open on the kitchen table and wait to watch my mom rifle through it, but she would close it up, stack it with the rest of my things and leave it alone. She respected my privacy and, because of this, worked really hard to have an open relationship with me. Of course, as a kid, there were things I didn’t want my mother to know, but I knew that if I was ever in trouble or ever needed her advice, I could ask her. I wasn’t intimidated or scared to share things with her. I knew she could handle it and I knew she would do what was best for me.

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And that’s what I want for my kids. If Chloe really is working through some hard times, I trust that she’ll talk to me. I feel like I know her very well and she’s already in the habit of coming up to me and saying, “We need to have a private talk.” She knows that she can share anything with me, regardless of how it makes me feel, and that I’ll help her. I have to trust that if she’s being bullied or unhappy with her actions that she’ll come to me and talk about it.

Because if I can’t gain that trust when she’s 7, I’ll never have it when she’s 17.

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