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39 Responses

  1. Alexandra
    Alexandra August 16, 2013 at 1:06 pm |

    This was great, a really lovely piece of writing. I had a conversation with my father the other night about how, when he was thirteen, he ran away from home, hitchhiked a thousand miles to Florida, and worked his way north again, to escape from his parents finding out he’d got caught selling dope. I was sitting there in shock to hear my father telling these stories of vulnerability and resilience and total lawlessness at that age, and telling stories of all of the friends he’d had who had died at that age pulling the same stuff…

    You never know what you don’t know about the people you love. You can live with someone for thirty years and still be shocked by the stories they tell you. You wouldn’t know it from my father now, but he came up really rough and sometimes he’ll tell a story that isn’t so funny about his childhood and I realize that he spent his teenage years balancing on the edge of a knife: which way would he turn out. I just have to listen to him recite the names of his cousins, and their epitaphs: dead, died in jail, in prison, dead, Jehovah’s Witness…

    What I’m saying is, your writing moved me, and seemed very true to life. This is how families are.

  2. pheenobarbidoll
    pheenobarbidoll August 16, 2013 at 1:24 pm |

    I know this will not be the most popular opinion by many here, but I agree with your mom about the diary thing. Teenagers can shut you out pretty easily, and their judgement on what should be secret is not always the mature decision. I read my daughters journals, not to be invasive but to make sure her secrets weren’t of the ” I’m being molested” kind or ” I’m an addict”. There was fortunately never anything in it that was a real problem, so her little admissions of what I consider average teenaged stuff were never brought up. I know she tried pot, I know she got drunk (but that was because she called me claiming to be sick and I made her come home because I’m not an idiot and can hear you’re drunk, kid)

    When she’s had serious sex stuff, she’s come to me. And I am thankful for that. I couldn’t to my parents, and it’s not because they would have reacted badly, it was because I didn’t want to disappoint them or have it change our relationship. Turns out, for me, that was totally in my head. And I was stupid enough to believe my parents didn’t know. They did. They simply waited until I brought it up.

    Parents are human. Sometimes, we’re deeply scared and feel like we’re so out of our element that we will read diaries. I’m 40 years old and I still sometimes wonder who the hell gave ME a kid. We can bullshit better after having a kid. We don’t want to disappoint YOU either.

    We also know how we acted as teens. And frankly, some of the things I did, now that I look back, are so soul grippingly terrifying to me that I don’t know how my parents survived me. The idea my daughter would do half of what I did makes my stomach clench up. Even now, and she’s 21 (today!) and soon to have a daughter of her own (that’ll learn her lol).

    No one tells you how much worry there is with raising kids. They sorta cover it, but not really. You do the best you can, just like your kids do the best they can.

    It’s fucking hard to be a kid. It’s also fucking hard to be a parent.

    I’m glad you cleared the air with yours. I’m sure there will be many a thing my daughter will eventually want to clear with me. It won’t be the diary thing though because I already copped to that and she just arched a brow and snorted. She’s more like me than she’ll admit.

    1. Alexandra
      Alexandra August 16, 2013 at 1:47 pm |

      Congratulations on your kid’s 21st birthday!

      1. pheenobarbidoll
        pheenobarbidoll August 16, 2013 at 1:54 pm |

        Thank you! I am now dealing with ” a grandmother? I’m not a fucking grandmother, grandmothers don’t say fuck and I just said it so see?”

        1. Fat Steve
          Fat Steve August 16, 2013 at 2:45 pm |

          Thank you! I am now dealing with ” a grandmother? I’m not a fucking grandmother, grandmothers don’t say fuck and I just said it so see?”

          My fucking grandmother did…and she was born in 1919!

    2. Computer Soldier Porygon
      Computer Soldier Porygon August 16, 2013 at 2:01 pm |

      Suppose it depends on the parent – you had the ability to handle the journal info. My mother found out I was having sex by reading my diary (I think my grandmother was the one to actually find it) and the resulting fight was ugly and physical. I mean, I know bad parents are gonna be bad parents but I have really intense privacy issues as an adult because of the actions of my caretakers, i.e. always going through my room and punishing me for things they found or just disappearing things (a lava lamp, a Sabrina the Teenage Witch book – whatever was full of demons that day)

      1. pheenobarbidoll
        pheenobarbidoll August 16, 2013 at 2:14 pm |

        Well, I can’t say I wouldn’t have taken something full of demons. Who could resist having their very own demon?

        1. pheenobarbidoll
          pheenobarbidoll August 16, 2013 at 2:18 pm |

          Seriously. I now want a lava lamp full o demons to torment until I bend them to my will.

          tink tink tinktink tink (pause)

          tink tink tinktink tink (pause)

          tink tink tinktink tink (pause)

          (that’s the sound of me tapping shave and a hair cut onto the glass)

        2. Computer Soldier Porygon
          Computer Soldier Porygon August 16, 2013 at 2:19 pm |

          Those were MY demons, mom! God – you just don’t understand how this feels. [runs away crying, slams door]

          #expentecostalproblems

      2. Radiant Sophia
        Radiant Sophia August 16, 2013 at 9:10 pm |

        or just disappearing things

        Oh. I am familiar with that. When parents have a problem with something (in my case mostly books), and just throw it away. Without telling you, or explaining what it was they found objectionable.

        1. Computer Soldier Porygon
          Computer Soldier Porygon August 16, 2013 at 9:23 pm |

          Oh yeah. So many books just vanished. The most maddening thing I think was when I could tell something was gone, but was like unable to remember what it was? Like… I know that shelf used to look a little more crowded, but I can’t remember.

        2. Angie unduplicated
          Angie unduplicated August 17, 2013 at 7:15 am |

          Wow. I thought my sis and I were the only people who had personal possessions disappear. That sis kept this and other, far worse, abuses from her own daughter, out of fear of retaliation, until the abuser’s death a couple of years ago. Her daughter was similarly shocked.
          Great post.

    3. Fat Steve
      Fat Steve August 16, 2013 at 2:42 pm |

      I know this will not be the most popular opinion by many here, but I agree with your mom about the diary thing. Teenagers can shut you out pretty easily, and their judgement on what should be secret is not always the mature decision.

      I agree with your position but I don’t think it applies to this situation. If Natalia was 17 and she says her mom didn’t find out about until it a year later (her mom says ‘years later’,) then she was snooping in the affairs of an adult, and as such, not analagous to you reading your daughters journal. Unless you’re saying you did it when she was age 18+.

    4. Donna L
      Donna L August 16, 2013 at 2:50 pm |

      some of the things I did, now that I look back, are so soul grippingly terrifying to me that I don’t know how my parents survived me. The idea my daughter would do half of what I did makes my stomach clench up. Even now, and she’s 21 (today!) and soon to have a daughter of her own (that’ll learn her lol).

      Happy Birthday to your daughter! My son is 23 now, and I feel the same way. Although I’ve always tried to be open with him about all the ways in which I fucked up, and all the dangerous things I did, when I was young, so he wouldn’t think he has to conceal things like that from me. I have many faults as a parent, but at least as to that, I’m reasonably sure he’s been open with me. Other parents I’ve spoken to have been very surprised at some of the things he’s told me. I’m glad he has.

      And Natalia, that was a great piece. Your parents are definitely very insightful. I wish all parents could be as supportive, even retroactively.

    5. Fat Steve
      Fat Steve August 16, 2013 at 3:01 pm |

      I should add that my feelings about reading your daughter’s diary are largely colored by the fact that I have a friend who was ‘outed’ at the age of 16 by her very own words, as her mother read her diary. This led to her mother committing her to a mental institution (I should add it was rural Georgia, during the early 80’s, when the only thing the mainstream media printed about gays was ‘OMG AIDS’, and her Mom has changed greatly in attitude since then.)

      Thus, it’s hard for me to be objective on this one, so my opinion perhaps is a bit skewed.

      1. Donna L
        Donna L August 16, 2013 at 3:18 pm |

        I know exactly what you’re saying, Steve. It’s not a coincidence that an estimated that one-third to one-half of homeless teenagers (at least in New York City) are lesbian, gay, or trans. Not all parents are fundamentally supportive.

        My son didn’t keep a diary. But I confess that I did look at his livejournal and xanga accounts a few times when he was in his early teens. And I’m glad I found out some of the stuff I did — not anything he was doing, but what some other kids were doing to him and saying about him.

      2. Bridget
        Bridget August 16, 2013 at 9:46 pm |

        Yes, I have a family member who was outed in a similar way and sent to “therapy.”

    6. Radiant Sophia
      Radiant Sophia August 16, 2013 at 6:51 pm |

      Growing up, I didn’t keep a diary for exactly this reason. My mother could have read it. In the end, I don’t think it mattered. I haven’t spoken to my parents in 13 years, and my mother still wishes I were dead. If I had kept a diary when I was growing up, my mother would have read it, and I would have been kicked out when I was 14. Long before I was able to survive on my own.

      Also, loved the article.

      1. Donna L
        Donna L August 16, 2013 at 7:06 pm |

        I’m sorry, Sophia. One story like that is too many, and I’ve heard a lot of them.

      2. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune August 16, 2013 at 7:12 pm |

        Yeah. My mom was pretty snoopy too. And while I didn’t have to worry about being kicked out of the house or physical violence, god the emotional bullshit was not worth it. My parents are fantastic in many ways, but…yeah.

        Thanks for the article, OP; it was thoughtful and clear and well-done. I’m going to bookmark this for future conversations with The Spawn, who is at the age of relevance for all this. And I have to say, this is exactly the kind of trauma my wife and I were worried about when we told The Spawn that we would 100% support her if she needed an abortion and to please not hide it.

    7. aldonza
      aldonza August 16, 2013 at 8:55 pm |

      I had a fake diary and a real one. I used to write some entertaining stuff in the fake one to fuck with my Mom just in case she read it. I’d had so many friends to told me their parents read their diaries and how shitty it was that I was too paranoid to keep my real one in the house.

    8. BabyRaptor
      BabyRaptor August 17, 2013 at 8:37 am |

      Yeah…No.

      The quickest way to make a person not trust you is to ensure that they have no privacy. I know this because I lived it. My grandmother did the same thing you’re saying you do, with the same justification. And it taught me that I had no reason to trust her at all, because she didn’t trust me at all nor did she respect me.

      Teenagers don’t make the best decisions. So what? Neither do adults. Teenagers are still people. And they’re often smarter than their parents will give them credit for, especially in situations like the OP’s where “immature decision” means “not a decision that I like.”

      Personal boundaries are necessary for all people, not just adults. And actively snooping in a person’s private writings shows you have no respect for that. Do they know you do it? Because if not, now you’re also a liar, and lying is yet another reason to refuse to trust people.

      I’m all for wanting to know about your kids. But don’t take the easy, assholic way out and then justify it. Be someone your kids would actually trust.

      1. Katerina R.
        Katerina R. August 20, 2013 at 6:56 am |

        Thank you for this.

        My perspective is a bit different to that of many posting in this thread, being a childless 21-year-old student, but the number of people here justifying intrusions into privacy (not even in situations where risk is suspected, but as a *general routine*) unnerved me a little. That sounds like the kind of solution that addresses the symptoms of a larger problem while ignoring its roots, the problem here being the upbringing attitude in general. If these kids did not feel like they could trust their parents with important things, there was likely something very very wrong with the approach to child-raising already, of which treating your child like they have no rights and are thus essentially subhuman was only a small part. It particularly smacks of the kind of authoritative approach that involves a lot of ‘I’m your [parent] and you’ll do as I say’ that means the child would have felt like their opinions and feelings wouldn’t be respected or even considered if they did come forth with a problem and that things would be decided for them… which is the exact opposite of the kind of person whose support you’ll want if you have a serious problem.

        My parents never tried to intrude my privacy that way, but it was also explicitly understood that I would be able to come to them with any concern and they would support me with it. For the most part, I felt (and still feel) that I could trust them, and that is largely a result of them taking me seriously as a person even when I was little and not using ‘I know better’ as an excuse to not have to explain themselves to me.

    9. theLaplaceDemon
      theLaplaceDemon August 17, 2013 at 8:42 am |

      I cannot speak from the perspective of a parent, but as a former teenager who lived with her parents until she was 19, I am extremely thankful that my parents never read my diary as a teenager. I appreciated (and still appreciate) that they trusted me and respected my privacy. And it’s not just about hiding the “bad” teenage stuff I did so I wouldn’t get in trouble – it’s about having a safe space to put down thoughts that make you feel vulnerable, that you aren’t ready to let out into the world. I have a reeeally hard time processing just in my own head, so my journal felt like an extension of my brain.

      I was an extensive journaler from 15-19 – it was pretty much how I processed and worked through what was going on in my life. It was a place where my thoughts could be a little more organized, a little easier to piece together. I cannot imagine how it would have felt if my parents had taken that away from me by disrespecting that privacy. I also can’t imagine what it would have done to my relationship with my parents. It would have killed pretty much any chance that I went to them in a time of crisis, unless I absolutely had to.

      1. pheenobarbidoll
        pheenobarbidoll August 17, 2013 at 9:00 am |

        Didn’t work that way with my kid. -shrugs- But I wasn’t out to nail her for her behavior. Asked her last night if she felt her privacy was violated and she laughed, said no and said she knows I was just looking out for her. It was me and her against the world for about 15 years, her dad was a drunk and didn’t involve himself much in her life. So our relationship wasn’t and isn’t anyone else’s. YMMV.

        1. Fat Steve
          Fat Steve August 17, 2013 at 5:12 pm |

          It was me and her against the world for about 15 years

          I would imagine that it makes a world of difference that you’re not doing it in an adversarial way.

  3. Computer Soldier Porygon
    Computer Soldier Porygon August 16, 2013 at 1:36 pm |

    That was great to read. It seems like such a healthy and productive conversation it kind of blows my mind – I would love to have a similar one with my parents about some things but I just can’t see it going very well.

  4. Elaine
    Elaine August 16, 2013 at 3:57 pm |

    This is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read on this subject. It should be required reading for any sex-ed curriculum.

    When I think of a teenage girl going through this convoluted routine (courts, lying, pretending, making this long trip out of town and back, scrounging for money, etc.) vs. telling the parents, I’m reminded of that old comic strip The Family Circus, in which the mother tells the child to deliver a note to the next door neighbor, and you see the child going through the backyard, over the fence, around the block, through the playground and eventually arriving at the neighbor’s house a half hour later, while the mother is picturing him simply walking ten steps to the next house. In hindsight, one thinks how simple it would have been to just walk up to Mom and/or Dad and say “Can you help me? I’m pregnant and don’t feel ready to become a parent.” The parents in this piece insist they would have handled it without going berserk, and based on what I read here, they (probably) would have. But — the sad fact is, so many other parents are conditioned by their own upbringing, their peers, their extended families, their churches, the media, etc. etc. to react as negatively as possible. Some of those people get elected to office and we end up with a Congress like the one we have now. Until this situation changes, daughters like Natalia are going to put themselves through exactly this type of insane routine — or worse, like hiding the pregnancy and then leaving the newborn in a dumpster or killing it. If we want this to be the last generation that feels they have to resort to such desperate and tragic measures, we need to bring the reality of abortion out into the open and stop letting it be stigmatized.

  5. Bridget
    Bridget August 16, 2013 at 9:50 pm |

    This is a great article. Seems like there’s a lot of love in your family.

  6. macavitykitsune
    macavitykitsune August 16, 2013 at 10:04 pm |

    I just want to say, on a reread, how awesome your dad is for being willing to discuss these things at this stage. I grew up with a similarly awesome dad, who’s really gone the distance to get over his internalised homophobia/racism largely for my sake (oh yeah, the coming out + foreign wife was not easy for anyone), but where other things are concerned… all through my teenage years I was always struck by how unwilling other fathers were to discuss things openly with their daughters, particularly reproductive/sex/relationships stuff. I really do think it makes all the difference in kids’ lives if their male caregivers (if any) are as able and willing to discuss these things in a positive and non-condescending way as their female ones. I’m glad your dad got there eventually at least.

    And gods, gods, how incredibly difficult it must have been to go through all that to get an abortion, iwthout even parental support. You’re very strong and inspiring, OP.

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous August 17, 2013 at 10:15 am |

    Natalia, thank you for this honest, probing, and insightful piece. I am astonished and humbled by your family’s grace and understanding for one another.

    I also terminated a pregnancy without informing my parents. In my case, the pregnancy was ectopic. I felt guilty for years afterwards. I rationalized it by saying that I didn’t have a choice in the situation; ectopic pregnancies are by their nature unsupportable. I now think that I did have a choice; there was possible death on one side, and life – my life – on the other, and I chose the latter.

    It makes me sad that the burden of dealing with your pregnancy fell so entirely on your shoulders. What I remember most about my own experience is how alone I felt; my boyfriend refused to come to hospital until the next morning, and I finally understood, in my bones, what it would mean to live in a society that would deny me reproductive treatment and care in my most vulnerable moment.

    I was raised by conservative immigrant parents and am also a doubting but practising Christian. I felt certain that my parents would have disowned me over the pregnancy, or at the least, that I would lose their trust and respect. I could not bear the thought of damaging my relationship with them. I sometimes wonder, though (especially after reading this piece) whether I misjudged my parents, whether the trauma of going through this experience alone (and having to cover it up afterwards) did not in fact outweigh any shame and disappointment I would have felt by informing and including them.

    I think my parents expended a lot of energy during my adolescence and young adulthood trying to push me onto a certain life path and restrict me from engaging in practices they considered immoral and damaging (e.g. sex before marriage). Their control took a toll on me physically, mentally, emotionally. On the other hand, once they saw (some of) the damage, they made an earnest effort to change their values, thought processes, and cultural practises. I life my life with extraordinary freedom now, and none of that would be possible without the guidance and financial support my parents provided me with early on.

  8. Josephine.e
    Josephine.e August 17, 2013 at 10:36 am |

    I jumped through similar hoops when I had an abortion at 18 (without the parental consent thing of course). My mom found out the day I had it, though because she decided to visit me at work (where I wasn’t). She had a similar reaction to your parents. Sad that I went through it without her, sad I didn’t feel like I could tell her….

    But something in what your mom was saying about the hypothetical beautiful sweet baby made me think of another reason for teenagers not to share this kind of information. A year after my abortion I was pregnant again (yeeeeaah. That happened…. O.o). This time I told my mom and she was so excited and so enthusiastic about helping me be a great mom. She didn’t react badly at all, but she definitely got overwhelmed by her own perception/experience of what was happening… And, although now, almost ten years later, I -am- a great mom and so happy with my life, I do think that I might have taken a different road had my mom’s excitement and sentimentality not played such a role in how I handled this pregnancy. I was definitely eating up the attention and approval that I was craving from her, which is a pretty ambiguous place to be when making that kind of major life decision, at best. Something I feel very strongly about is that my kids lives should be about -their-feelings, desires, needs and decisions. It’s so easy as a parent to let our overwhelming feelings overshadow that basic right to autonomy. I think that’s something parents need to acknowledge and really think about when having these conversations with their teens. Of course we parents have a right to our feelings, but it’s our responsibility to find an adult support system to help us process them instead of bringing them into our kids lives in a central way.

    1. Bridget
      Bridget August 19, 2013 at 8:40 am |

      I think you make an excellent point. The parent-child relationship is so intense, and parents’ emotional reactions tend to be so important to kids. I think with abortion (and other issues), parents don’t realize how kids worry so much about disappointing them or making them sad or whatever. It’s not just about “will my parent support my choice?” but all the exhausting emotional conversations that the kid may not feel prepared to handle.

  9. Growing Down | Clarissa's Blog
    Growing Down | Clarissa's Blog August 17, 2013 at 10:56 am |

    […] You see, I had an abortion in 2004 when I was 17-years-old and [my parents] found out about it nearly a year later when my mother read my diary. They confronted me about it, and while we eventually got past this rough spot in our relationship, we didn’t really ever discuss all our feelings with one another. At the time, I was so furious that my privacy had been violated that I had absolutely no regard for their feelings. […]

  10. nilbogboh
    nilbogboh August 18, 2013 at 3:59 pm |

    A lovely piece! Thank you.

    I told my both mother and my sister about my abortion a few years afterward (but not my dad. We’ve never spoke about anything related to sex). When I talked to my sister she expressed frustration with me that I hadn’t felt like I could talk to her at the time. I tried to explain that I wanted to, and I knew that she would be supportive but she was going through some difficult things herself at the time and I didn’t want to burden her with more. I had just turned 18 when I had the abortion and I was very much the kind of person who wanted to prove that I was an adult and I could handle everything myself (neither of which was really true for me). Overall my sister was wonderfully supportive. My conversation with my mom was very odd. On the one hand it was great because she was not judgmental and never expressed any disappointment or frustration. On the other hand, she couldn’t understand why it was still an issue for me or why I wanted to talk to her about it in the first place. She is the kind of person who thinks that the only correct way to deal with difficult things is to put it behind you and move on. She assured me that I made the right decision, but she kept insisting that there was no reason to continue to think about it. I don’t regret having an abortion, but I have always been the kind of person whose emotions are fairly close to the surface and I need to process difficult things, which can be a long and drawn out process. During our conversation my mom also shared some very personal information about her life that I didn’t know, but she only did it to show me how it is possible to “get over it.” I am glad that I told her, but I’m not sure that it was great for my long term emotional well-being. Getting over something for me doesn’t mean pretending it never happened and pushing it out of my mind; it means recognizing the complexities of the situation and acknowledging the difficulties.

    When I had the abortion, I only told my roommate. My boyfriend told a bunch of his friends, which I found very frustrating. The friend that I told was outwardly supportive, but a year or so later she was out of the house and had left her journal on the table. I knew that I shouldn’t look at it (and I still feel guilty about it), but I did. She had written several entries about how she thought I made a rash decision and never even considered the potential life of my child. She took it upon herself to think about my potential child because she felt that no one else was. I felt crushed by this. She had no idea how I felt about anything because I didn’t talk about. I felt like she didn’t trust me to make my own decisions. I felt betrayed, belittled, and enraged. I have never spoken to her about it (it’s been well over a decade) and I probably never well. It still frustrates me to think about other people co-opting my experiences for their own emotional journeys. Ultimately the lesson that I took away from this (besides not reading your roommate’s journal) is that I can’t control other people’s emotional responses to my choices and I can’t expect everyone to share my sentiments. It also reminded me that choices are not made in a vacuum and the consequences extend beyond ourselves. That doesn’t mean I think that others should have a say in a woman’s decision to have an abortion, but it is naive to pretend that other people won’t have an emotional investment, no matter how upsetting and frustrating it might be.

  11. Natalia
    Natalia August 19, 2013 at 7:53 am |

    There’s a reason why Natalia is a “cool girl” name! ;)

    And this is a great post. It reminded me, very painfully, of all the things I can’t talk to my mother about – because she is judgmental and doesn’t usually mean to be, but isn’t willing to change the way she speaks to me either. It’s great that you were able to have that conversation with your parents, to go into so much depth and detail, and to have it remain mutually respectful. I’m jealous – in a good way. :)

  12. amber p
    amber p August 19, 2013 at 11:26 am |

    I literally cried reading this–especially the part about not being able to imagine having the conversation with your parents. This was the exact reason I never had sex as a minor. There was plenty of sexual contact in my high school dating relationships, but I always drew the line at a penis getting anywhere near my vagina because even though I knew my parents would support whatever choice I made about a pregnancy (they have always been very openly pro-choice), I couldn’t imagine talking to them about it. They were even open with me about an adult cousin’s abortion while I was in high school.
    When my sister got pregnant at 18 (and was out of high school and living with her boyfriend) she didn’t feel like she could tell them and she kept the pregnancy. My nephew was born in January 2002, but my sister didn’t announce the pregnancy to my parents until November 2001. It was very obvious by that time, but she just couldn’t handle telling them because of the disappointment factor. I think that’s something a lot of parents don’t take into consideration.

  13. JA
    JA August 19, 2013 at 1:42 pm |

    Thanks so much for Feministe for posting Natalia’s piece. I noticed in the comments that a few women have shared their experiences–very powerful. If Natalia’s story resonates with you and you’d like to speak with someone about your abortion experience, Exhale offers a talkine for emotional support, resources, and information. More information is available here: https://exhaleprovoice.org/after-abortion-talkline

  14. Athenia
    Athenia August 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm |

    Mom: Well, I thought I just needed to teach you the values of being good, of not having sex with someone that you didn’t love, of not having sex before you get married.

    Me: I don’t remember you ever saying that…

    Story of our lives. Thank you for sharing!

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