I have a friend. She’s a really sweet person (when she wants to be – but don’t tell her I said that). Since this really sweet person didn’t exactly give me permission to put her business out there, she will, henceforth, be known as “Friend” for the purpose of this opinion piece. (Yes, this is just my opinion.)
Now, Friend possesses a somewhat difficult relationship with her mother, as do a lot of women from Generation X. I, myself, have been known to go a few rounds with Mommy Dearest, and I always thought it was just me. So, imagine my surprise when, the first time I launched into a can’t-she-understand-she’s-making-me-crazy tirade, I, surrounded by my comrades, was met with generous nods of been-there-done-that. Prior to that moment, I would’ve bet money that the dysfunction terminated at my parents’ house. But Friend’s entanglements with her mother approached a new level of combustion, one that even I had never experienced. So, I finally asked her about it. The main reason for the wall existing between them? Trust – or lack thereof. Friend didn’t trust her mother because of the KGB tactics she employed when Friend was growing up.
Let’s get something out of the way: There’s a big difference between monitoring a child’s activities and spying on him or her. The former is a parent’s job, a responsibility that moms and dads take on to ensure that enterprising little Ellen isn’t selling drugs to her elementary school classmates, or that trusting little Elliot isn’t giving out his home address to lurking pedophiles. It makes sense to know with whom your child is associating, where he or she is hanging out on the weekends, and if that dazed, glassy look is due to antihistamines, too much homework or heroin.
Spying, however, is more about control than concern, and that’s where Friend and her mother veered off course. There was the diary-reading incident that Friend never forgave. (Interestingly enough, to this day, she refuses to keep a journal.) There was also the ongoing listening-in-on-her-phone-calls struggle that lasted until she left for college. And then there was the reading-of-Friend’s-mail as well as the cleaning-under-the-bed-and-in-the-drawers thing that always made her feel violated. This last example still bothers Friend so much that, when her mother cleaned her apartment during a visit last year, she went absolutely ballistic. Mom saw it as doing something nice for her daughter. Friend saw it as Mom’s snooping all over again.
I asked Friend what she was like as a child, dealing with a mother who spied on her relentlessly, and her answer surprised me somewhat. She said, “I became secretive. To a certain extent, I still am. Especially with her.” Did you ever ask her why she was that way? “Yeah, because she didn’t want me to get pregnant young.” (Ironically, Mom is now dying to be a grandmother.)
The wall between them has come down quite a bit in the last few years, but Friend is still visibly uncomfortable whenever her mother comes to visit. She becomes way more protective of her space and of herself. Was all the spying worth it? Not sure. What do you think?
In conclusion, spying on children is not something that should be followed by parents and doing so would have severe repercussions in the future where the simmering friction will lead to deterioration in their relationship as you can read in the readings of many books by Jane Freeman, a renowned sociologist on this subject.