No, I don't "love" it. I think it is a total invasion of privacy for you to
be even going through your daughter's bookbag. How dare you? You get nothing
good out of snooping. I think this is totally her business and you should
stay out of it. She'll learn her way what is right or wrong by experience.
That's how we learn, after all.

     That's a comment I got from commenter Cristina, responding to my most recent post about a letter I found while rifiling through my 8-year-old daughter's backpack. I had thought my post was about this extraordinary turnaround by a mean girl who'd seen the light. Turns out, for Cristina, it was actually about what a lousy mother I am for ransacking through my kid's bookbag. In the spirit of my daughter's former nemesis, I thought I'd write Cristina a letter explaining myself, and hope for a bit of empathy, a smidgen of  redemption.

Dear Cristina -

Slow down. How dare I? Wow. Harsh.

I've always found it amazing how incredibly judgmental and downright mean some women can be about other mothers' mothering. A friend brilliantly dubbed these superiority snark attacks "Mommy drive-bys." They're the toxins we all get slimed by in those moments we judge or get judged for breastfeeding/bottle feeding/co-sleeping/not co-sleeping/TV/No TV/working mom/stay-at-hom mom/organic/nitrates/overscheduling/underscheduling.
Mommy drive-bys are Pyrrhic Victories where both the snarker and snarkee are vanquished. 
So, Cristina, I'm sure my daughter would be psyched to have such an ardent defender of her privacy. However, I'm more interested in why you seem so angry with me. 
Let's just be clear about my crimes:
How dare I go through my daughter's backpack?
Um, let me count the ways....
She's 8 years old.
How dare I invade her privacy?
She's 8 years old.
Look, is she entitled to some degree of privacy? Absolutely. Some. More and more as she gets older.
I don't read her diaries or any of her writings stashed in her room.
I always knock before entering her room. I don't listen to her phone calls. I never barge into the bathroom. I announce my presence going into the living room if she's got a friend over. I don't monitor what she eats or drinks, except to make sure she does both. And poops. I admit it. Sometimes I inquire quite specifically about that. There I go invading again.
So it's true, When the tallies come in, it turns out I'm all up in her business about most things. I walk her to school, don't let her walk alone.
I monitor and control when and what television shows she watches, how much she watches (two hours only on the weekends, plus a movie night here or there);  I regulate carefully what she does on the computer. I need to know her friends and yes, I do ask parents if they keep guns in the house before sending her on a playdate (in Oregon 75% of families have 2-3 guns in the house. As a reporter I've covered my share of accidental shootings, so you betchya, I ask.)
I ask my daughter lot of personal questions. And absolutely I go through her backpack.
She crumples up her homework and forgets about it sometimes unless I fish it out. She leaves food to rot in there from snacks and lunch. In fact, it was the scent of rotting cheese and moldy salmon jerky that sent me fishing into her back pack when I found the envelope in question. I wish I could say I knew it was private and that I proceeded with malice aforethought, eager to invade her privacy. Actually, I thought the envelope might be an informal birthday invitation or something from her after school activities, as it was in a long, plain white office envelope.
Had I known it was a personal letter to Leah from a friend, I still would have opened it. Totally.
So hang me by my toenails, Cristina. Slap the Scarlet BM on me (Bad Mother).
But do know that I value my daughter's trust and her privacy. As she gets older, she will have and do all kinds of things out of my realm of awareness, and I will support that. Maybe I shouldn't be writing about her at all. I assume there will be a time when she's a regular reader of whatever I'm writing and I will run everything by her before publication. Maybe I should do that now.
But for now, I'm still the mother of an 8-year-old girl, and I
figure I have a bit of latitude in this arena. Not much, and not for long.
I respectfully disagree with you that my role here is to "stay out," and that "she'll learn her way what's right or wrong by experience." Certainly experience is a big part of it, but I think as a Mother I envision a far more powerful and active role in helping guide her toward making good decisions, to give her a framework, an infrastructure from which to launch into the world.

For the record, I have resisted the urge to try to convince the vet to implant a microchip in my daughter, like the one in my dog. And I don't have a hidden video camera in any of her stuffed animals. Nor do I have any of the software you can get to spy on your kids. All tempting, though. Fabulously tempting.

Leah's father often explains hard decisions to our daughter by saying he knows that "8-year-old Leah may disagree," or really hate this or that rule, but that he's thinking about 25-year-old Leah, whom he predicts will appreciate that we made it and enforced it.
I understand the damage a super snooping Mom can cause. Maybe you see no distinction between me reading her diary or eavesdropping on phone calls (which I don't) and me reaching into a 3rd-grade rotting-cheesy-backpack and fishing out a letter and reading it (and then blogging about it...which is really the crime you should have gone after me for).
I see a distinction.
In the end, I did what I always do. I talked to her about it. She told me about the letter after school, and that she and the girl had a nice conversation about it, and that Leah made the girl a thank-you card. I told Leah I found the letter in her backpack, and asked her what she thought about my trespassing. She said it was okay, that I'm her mom, and that she told me about the letter anyway because, she said, bored, that she always tells me stuff cuz I'm mostly good at listening except when I have my interrupting problem.

So maybe, Cristina, we're both right.
Now keep on driving. Nothing to see here.

About the Author

Pam Cytrynbaum

Pamela Cytrynbaum teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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