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  • Baheya Sirry

Anne Frank’s Diary: 10 lessons for the Conscious Parent

Updated: Mar 24


"I tell myself time and again to overlook Mother’s bad example, I only want to see her good points, and to look inside myself for what’s lacking in her. But it doesn’t work, and the worst part is that father and mother don’t realize their own inadequacies and how much I blame them for letting me down. Are there any parents who can make their children completely happy?”
-Anne Frank

Anne Frank's journal

For whatever reason out there,


The universe brought me back to Anne Frank’s diary. A book I have known about my entire life. A book I believe I had to read in high school at some point but had no recollection about any of it, which almost makes me wonder if I did read it and do my assignment or if I just made something up (as a pre-teen I wasn’t exactly the best of students).


What I did remember, is that this was the diary of a young Jewish girl, and she wrote it while hiding from the atrocities of the Holocaust. To avoid the disastrous fate faced by millions of other Jews, Anne’s family went into hiding in a secret annex behind her father’s office for a whole 2 years. They shared the space with another family and a family friend. They were 8 souls living this confinement together until they were betrayed and discovered by the Gestapo in August 1944.


So, a few weeks ago, I uploaded Anne Frank’s diary onto my Kindle.


I decided to write this post to you for two separate reasons.


The first has to do with current events, as a flashback of what wars can do. How quickly a despot can destabilize the lives of millions or people, of entire countries, and of the entire world.


How it is that the humanity hasn’t learned yet, and that conflicts are still exploding everywhere while we sit, and watch is beyond me. Today we are witnessing the attack of Russia on the Ukraine, but let’s be honest, such conflicts and injustices have been going on non-stop since the end of the last World War.


It makes me wonder if in 50-100 years our descendants will read in their history books about the great pandemic that destabilized the world just before the third World War erupted. Them too wondering if we will ever learn. Will they discover the diary of another child in hiding, putting their deepest thought on paper because it was the only way for them to cope, under the sounds of the bombs, the rattle of machine guns, the screams of people taken from their homes and the tears of families torn apart by war?


But since this is a parenting page and I am a parenting coach, I was also deeply touched by Anne’s insights about her feelings within her own family, which brings me to the second reason I decided to write this post.


You see, we don’t usually have access to a teenage girl’s deepest thoughts. Diaries are private and rarely will the intricacies of a child’s feelings be shared publicly.


Some may feel that Anne’s diary should have been kept private as well, after all our privacy should still be respected after we pass. But it was in fact her father, Otto Frank, the only survivor from the 8 hideaways, who decided to publish this diary after the end of World War II. It was all he had left from his feisty teenage daughter, and he wanted to share her experience with the world. She had herself started to make edits to her journal with the intent of maybe having people read it after the war as she felt it would be important for people to see what they experienced and how they lived in hiding.

Anne Frank Family

But I digressed, what I want to share with you here is a first-hand account of how a child can feel when they are parented a certain way. How they may interpret the actions and words of their parents. I am sharing this because these are the things we want to work on as parenting coaches. Guiding parents to avoid some of the wounds we inadvertently pass on to our children. I will do this by selecting a few quotes from Anne’s diary and elaborating a little on what we can learn from her.


I do want to start this section by iterating that I share this with the utmost respect for Anne’s parents. They were put under excruciating circumstances no human being should ever have to endure. I am not presenting any of this to undermine the love and dedication they gave their two daughters and the extent to which they went to protect them the best they could at a time when the world was bleeding.


I am not judging their parenting style; I am merely reflecting on what we can learn from their brilliant daughter’s intimate thoughts.


This is one of the rare insights we have into the candid thoughts of a 12–14-year-old girl, and here are ten parenting lessons I think we can learn from her:


1. When we don’t meet our children’s needs, they must try to find a way to parent themselves … an impossible task for a child.

“She’s not a mother to me — I have to mother myself. Who else but me can I turn to for comfort? I’m frequently in need of consolation, I often feel weak and more often than not, I fail to meet expectations."
-Anne Frank

When a child’s needs are not met by their primary caregiver, they are stuck having to parent themselves. And even a young child can recognize that. It’s no wonder we now have an entire generation talking about reparenting themselves. Adults who now recognize what was missing and are giving it to themselves as a step towards healing and living a more fulfilled life. As a child it can feel very alienating to feel like this. Turning to your nurturing adult and feeling left in the dark and to your own devices.


It can sometimes be very hard for a parent to meet their child’s needs when their own needs were never met. It becomes a vicious cycle where we get stuck for generations. We can only break that cycle by bringing it to our awareness and making a conscious choice to change directions.


2. Don’t judge and label your children


“Everyone thinks I’m showing off when I talk, ridiculous when I’m silent, insolent when I answer, cunning when I have a good idea, lazy when I’m tired, selfish when I eat one bite more than I should, stupid, cowardly, calculating etc. All day long, I hear nothing but what an exasperating child I am.”
-Anne Frank

One of the most important things I remind parents I work with is to separate the facts from the judgment! Adding all these negative connotations to our children’s behaviour does not help us understand them, nor does it help us problem solve when we need to. Judgments come from fears, from belief systems ingrained in us since God knows when. I invite you to release the judgment and see the child in front of you!



3. When we judge our children over and over, what they feel is a dissociation from their true selves


“I wish I could ask God to give me another personality, one that doesn’t antagonize everyone... I’m stuck with the character I was born with, and yet, I’m sure I’m not a bad person. I do my best to please everyone, more than they’d suspect in a million years.”
-Anne Frank

And this, this right there, is what we don’t want for our children, to believe they are not enough as they are. That they need to be different to be loved. That they need to be someone else to stop bothering their family. This will lead them to develop a protective layer that will become their pattern of functioning (also known as the Ego). The workaholic, the pleaser, the control-freak, the perfectionist, all these traits that we find in adults have at their root an adaptive mechanism that we developed to please our parents.



4. Lecturing and berating are not effective modes of communication


“A veritable thunderstorm of words came crashing down on me again this morning.”
-Anne Frank

When we lecture our kids through a “thunderstorm of words” as Anne calls it, they hear nothing of it! They are not in learning mode. The odds are, they are in freeze or flight mode, or if you have a feisty one, they may enter fight mode. But they won’t hear anything constructive when we scold them. They might catch one or two of the above-mentioned judgments (lazy, rude, etc.) but nothing beneficial will come out of it. So, stop yourself from lecturing; pause, and invite your child to problem solve with you instead.



5. Your child’s love for you, will reflect how you make them feel about themselves


“I saw the sorrow in her face when she talked about not being able to make me love her. It’s hard to tell the truth, and yet the truth is that she’s the one who’s rejected me.”
-Anne Frank

As Dr Gabor Maté said, "Love felt by the parent does not automatically translate into love experienced by the child."


Traditional parenting will have us believe that our children MUST love us and make us feel loved because of all the sacrifices we have done for them. We feed them, keep them clean, keep them safe, provide them with shelter and education. All things that are unarguably vital to life, but these things are a right for every child, and it is every parent’s job to provide.


It is through connection and relationship building that our children will feel our love and will then expand their hearts to be able to love us back as parent and child continue to grow together.


In reading this quote I have great empathy for Anne’s mother. Not feeling loved by one’s child must hurt a lot! But just as Anne remarked herself, “she’s the one who’s rejected me”. By constantly berating her and scolding her, the mother has built a wall between her daughter and herself, making the child incapable of expressing love. As parents we must look inward and see what we can do to make the child feel loved, and only through a natural extension of them feeling safe and treasured for who they are, will the feelings be reciprocated in a seamless and harmonious way.


6. Empathy is born by example


“I seem indifferent to Mother’s tears and Father’s glances, and I am, because both of them are now feeling what I’ve always felt.”
-Anne Frank

This quote from Anne reiterates the point made by the previous quote. That our children will mirror back to us how we make them feel. Anne had grown cold and complacent to her parents’ feelings because she had never felt validated by them. I don’t believe this is a conscious choice that children make to spite their parents, this is a natural reaction from them. And the more we show them empathy and compassion, the more they will reciprocate it right back to us.


7. Feelings must be felt, there is no way around it


“Feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.”
-Anne Frank

With years and decades of life we learn to believe that feelings are embarrassing, they need to be bottled up and stored away. They are a sign of weakness. In fact, it seems that the only emotions that seems acceptable is the anger of a person in a position of authority. But to a child this makes no sense. Ignoring a feeling is like ignoring a part of you. It’s something inside of you, it's in your body, in fact your body is feeling it the same way you sense physical pain or a simple touch. The feeling is here, it is real, and yet you are constantly made to feel that it isn’t important, that it’s shameful. But once again, the ever-intuitive Anne reminds that that it isn’t so.


8. Demanding blind respect from children won’t actually get you respect


“Little children such as Anne, must never, ever, correct their elders, no matter how many blunders they make or how often they let their imagination run away with them”.
-Anne Frank

Traditional parents hide behind this cover of “blind respect for parents and all grownups”. Calling it respect, or “good manners” … but it is just a front, a superficial image and has nothing to do with whether a child truly does hold the adult in high esteem or not. What Anne’s comment reveals here is that children see right through adults. They see their mistakes, they notice their slip-ups and they also know that they are forced to get in line, but it has nothing to do with respect, it is out of fear and shame that a child learns to hold their opinion back, but it comes at great cost. Children lose trust in us, we lose our ability to influence them when it truly matters, but worst of all, we make them forget their voice.


9. Talking back is a strong child’s reaction to a controlling adult


“The quarrels, the accusations, I couldn’t take it all in. I was caught off guard, and the only way I knew to keep my bearings was to talk back.”
-Anne Frank

Let me bring you another one of my favourite parenting quotes here:


Children do well when they can”. By Dr Ross Greene.


What Anne is saying here, is that her only tool, the only communication strategy she had in her during these moments when she was pushed into a corner (even though the adults in her life probably did not realize this was how she felt) was to talk back.


Children talk back rudely when they simply don’t know how else to respond. Which means in this case, their impulse reaction is in fact beyond their control. The high-strung environment the adults have created, is in fact, what lead to this child talking back, getting scolded for it, making her more resentful and thus increasing the cycle of opposition and talk back. If adults learn to drop shame and blame, while respecting the child, she would be less likely to talk back in a way that would be deemed rude. You can check out my blog post about the Infamous Talk-back here.



10. Journaling is an essential part of self-care

“Paper has more patience than people.”
-Anne Frank

Pen and paper… a diary… a journal… a way for her to pour out her heart, her thoughts her feelings. This was how Anne coped with all the difficulties life had thrown at her.


But journaling isn’t just for the hard times in life, journaling should be a part of a regular self-care routine, to help uncover why you react a certain way to your children or to partner, to dissect your relationship with your job or your lifestyle, to see what is blocking you from adopting better habits, or to declutter your mind and alleviate the mental burden of parenthood. These are just some of the things you can put on paper in a stream of consciousness way of journaling. And if you are still skeptical about the advantages of having a diary, here are some evidence-based benefits of journaling:


• Journaling can: Improve work performance [1]

• Improve well-being after traumatic events [2]

• Improve communication skills [3]

• Encourage focusing on positive outcomes in negative situations [4]

• Decreases emotional distress [4]

• Improves sleep [5]





I hope you enjoyed this blog post. If you appreciated Anne Frank's insights, please share this with other parents in your circle and social media!


References:


1. Giada Di Stefano Francesca Gino Gary Pisano Bradley Staats. Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance. Harvard Business School.

2. Karen A. Baikie and Kay Wilhelm. Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing Published online by Cambridge University Press.

3. Melanie Sperling. Revisiting the Writing-Speaking Connection: Challenges for Research on Writing and Writing Instruction. Review of Educational research.

4. Erica B. Slotter, Deborah E. Ward. Finding the silver lining: The relative roles of redemptive narratives and cognitive reappraisal in individuals’ emotional distress after the end of a romantic relationship. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships

5. Michael K Scullin, Madison L Krueger, Hannah K Ballard, et al. The effects of bedtime writing on difficulty falling asleep: A polysomnographic study comparing to-do lists and completed activity lists. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2018 Jan;147(1):139-146.


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