Daughter's Diary Upset Nosy Mom

How can a mother approach her daughter after reading upsetting revelations in her diary without her daughter's permission?
I made the mistake of reading my 16-year-old daughter's diary. I am upset and angry at the revelations she revealed in her feeling toward me. She blames me for being unable to bond with her and for my harsh discipline with her, when she was younger. I feel like I have failed her as a mother and I do not know what to do to change the situation.

I feel that any positive feelings I have about her have shut down. She has indicated in her entries that she is depressed and is thinking of death. Would counseling be an option here, and, if so, should it be joint or just individual? I don't think that she would go along with it. Do you have any ideas on how I should approach her about this?

You are beset with many troubling emotions, as is your daughter. Sorting out all your feelings and acting in a way that will most help your daughter is a priority. I am assuming that you felt concerned and worried enough about her and your relationship with her that you invaded her privacy and read her diary. Whether she consciously or unconsciously left her diary for you to read is something I can't comment on with any certainty. I believe your concerns break down into two areas: first, you now have knowledge of her talking about being depressed and thinking about death - what do you do with that knowledge? Second, you are now also aware of her long held feelings of anger, resentment, and blame toward you for what she perceives as harsh and unfair parenting in the past (and maybe the present as well).

I think your top priority is your daughter's depressed state and thoughts of death. It is not uncommon for teens to be depressed about many aspects of their rollercoaster life nor is it unusual for them to think of death as a way out of their despair. Just because these are common behaviors that doesn't mean they are any less troubling. I would make an appointment for yourself with a therapist as soon as possible. Make sure this therapist has a background in dealing with family situations like the one you are confronting. I don't know enough about your daughter's personality or the current status of your relationship with her to offer the kind of advice that would be personalized. You can't sit with this knowledge and worry about her taking her life - you and I know that. I always take kids' talk of death and depression seriously and if you have noticed other recent behaviors in her that have indicated a more distant, troubled state I would give her diary writings more regard.

My hope is that something good can come out of your indiscretion. She will be furious that you read her diary. You can get past that and begin to focus on repairing your relationship with professional help. Please set up your private appointment soon and go from there. You cannot linger on your personal hurt based on what she wrote in her diary. You need to take responsible action for the safety and well being of your daughter. The complex nature of what brought you and her to this present point in your relationship deserves to be worked on - for both of your sakes. Give me an update if you have the time.

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

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