sixtyandme logo
We are community supported and may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Private Life: Should Your Kids Read Your Journals When You’re Gone?

By Candy Leonard October 12, 2023 Mindset

My friend’s mother died after a sudden stroke, and among her belongings he and his siblings discovered volumes of journals, going back 40 years. They started reading through these family artifacts and learned a lot. Perhaps more than they wanted to.

Private Thoughts and Feelings, Revealed

Suddenly, they were inside their mom’s head and heart, privy to her musings and concerns. In beautiful prose and old-school penmanship, she expressed worry about her children and laid out thoughtful analysis of their decision-making, both good and bad.

She painted decades of vivid vignettes, where she felt unheard and powerless. She worried about her grandchildren and took pride in their accomplishments. She detailed many happy birthdays and merry Christmases.

She expressed anger and affection for unlikely targets. Reflections on unfulfilled aspirations were interspersed with reviews of movies she enjoyed and details of pleasant outings with friends and family.

Should these adult children assume their mother wanted them to know her innermost thoughts? Should they have respected her privacy and not read them?

Maybe she didn’t think her kids would take the time to read them. Or maybe, writing for herself and caught up in the process, it never occurred to her.

Whatever her intent, her adult children now see beyond their mom’s smiles and brave face. It’s a one-way conversation, with no opportunities for questions or explanations.

Keep or Toss?

My friend’s experience made me think about the many notebooks I’ve filled over 25 years of journaling, and the box in the basement where they’re stored. I can visualize my son and daughter discovering that box, two or three decades from now, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Like my friend and his siblings, my children may learn more than they want or need to. Words written for myself will become personal disclosures.

My kids know the basic arc of my story, of course, and they’ll remember – or be reminded of – many of the scenes, events, and conversations I deconstructed. Some of those memories may be sweet; others, not so much. Maybe my words would ruin sweet memories, but sweeten others.

Like many women, I wrote more during times of turmoil, and still do. Journaling allows me to vent and sort out my feelings about many aspects of my life – including my role in the matters I’m venting about. What could I have done differently? What have I learned?

Journaling creates a private and peaceful space, even when we’re not at peace. It’s a practice that, I’d like to believe, makes me wiser and more self-aware.

Engaging in self-censorship – out of fear someone would read my words someday – would weaken the emotional and psychological benefits of journaling, and there are many.

Recent research on journaling shows that it helps people identify and accept their emotions and manage stress. Some studies suggest it can actually strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, and improve sleep and working memory.

It has been shown to be effective in enhancing mood and managing mild depression. And because it calms and clears the mind, journaling can also reduce anxiety.

What Do We Want Our Children to Know?

My children will be privy to the full palette of my emotions, and maybe understand why I felt as I did. Will they scan for their names and only read those sections? Perhaps they’ll notice variations in my handwriting or choice of pen, and feel different energies coming through.

Maybe the tiny fine-point print of a mechanical pencil and the fast, scribbly brain dumps with a ballpoint or gel pen will add dimension to my story.

Part of me wants to leave these books and share the thoughts and feelings I had when they were growing up, and since. Maybe it will have value for them; after all, they were probably affected by much of it.

Knowing what was going through my heart and mind may give them useful insight into their childhoods and their lives today.

But another part of me thinks I should burn or shred them. Do I really want my children to read my thoughts on such important matters yet not be able to ask me questions? Could the revelations in this one-way conversation be a burden to them, or harm them in some way?

I won’t be around to know. I want to make things as easy as I can for my kids and grandkids when I go, and maybe leaving my journals behind is not consistent with that goal.

There are many pros and cons, and ethical concerns, about adult children reading their parents’ (usually it’s mom’s) journals. There are many factors to consider, and what’s right for one family might not be right for another.

For some, the revelations could be disruptive to the next generation. For others, it may bring understanding that serves them well. It’s one of many decisions we have to make as we plan for our departure from our children’s lives, even though it may be decades away.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What do you think about your children reading your journals after you’re gone? Do you think they’d want to? Have you read the journal of a deceased friend or family member? How did it affect you? Please share any thoughts and experiences you have so we can all learn.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Pat Skene

This is an excellent article. If we use journaling as it’s meant to be, private thoughts and experiences, I believe that’s where those thoughts should stay…private. I only have one child, a daughter. We have discussed this and she has promised me she will destroy anything that looks like a journal, without reading it. Not that I have any big secrets, but I cant see any value in leaving things in my notes that would make her worry or feel guilty in any way.


I have kept journals for many years. It was a mostly cathartic experience and I wouldn’t want others to read them. I recently disposed of most of them. I thought of doing a burning ceremony where I would release those words and memories back into the universe and ended up just thinking of that ritual as I threw them away. I’ll throw away the journals I’ve been writing in recently and any others I write in in the future.
Thank you for the insights.

Renate Huf

💕I like the idea of making it a ceremony and releasing the thoughts 💕

Ciara Roots

I have no kids (by choice), and I don’t keep a journal, so this doesn’t apply to me personally. However, I have a friend who found her mother’s journals a few years after her mother died. What she found was shocking–the woman who raised her, and whom she believed to be her mother, was actually her aunt. Her mother was very young when she got pregnant, so her sister raised my friend as her own. My friend said she had always felt unusually close to her aunt, who went on to get a PhD and become quite successful. The journals were filled with family secrets and intrigue. I suggested to my friend that she hire a writer to turn the journals into a mini-series because they absolutely spell-binding, but she decided to keep them private. I do know my friend was devastated about this discovery, and she felt betrayed because no one had ever told her the truth. So, for those keeping journals, this may be something to consider if your journals harbor anything you’d rather not have anyone read.


I have thought about this as well – your thoughtful article has helped me to realize my journals are for my well being. I am the only person who truly understands them. I will not be keeping them. Thank you for my insight!

Wilma Rubens

I have written a memoir from my boxes journals. Figured out how to show my emotion so guess it is time to ditch my journals.

1 2 3 4

The Author

Candy Leonard is a sociologist and qualitative research consultant with a focus on gender, health, pop culture, and the baby boom generation. She’s the author of Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World, and has written for the Huffington Post, Next Avenue, CultureSonar, and Boomer.

You Might Also Like