My daughter had a friend over last week. They were playing in her room when I heard the friend say, “You have problems.” My daughter responded with an amused, “No, I don’t.” and continued to play. The friend repeated it a few more times. “You have problems.”
“No, I don’t have problems.”
“Yes you do have problems. My mom told me you have problems.”
I was sitting in the living room listening to this exchange with my gut slowly shriveling up inside me with hurt and dread and guilt. What do you say in that kind of situation? I called the friend into the living room and politely asked her to stop saying that to my daughter and that if she continued to say it, I would send her home. The friend meekly complied. For about 2 minutes. Then I heard some furious whispering and my daughter burst out of her room crying, ran down the hall and out the door. I ran after her, worried and upset for her. She told me she didn’t want to play with her friend anymore because she was being mean. I wasn’t sure what to say to her, so I thought about what I would do if someone was being mean to me in my own house.
“If your friend continues to be mean and you don’t want to play with her anymore, you can ask her to go home. You don’t have to play with friends who are mean to you.” I wasn’t sure if she’d do it. My daughter’s self-esteem is low and she is so social and loving that she puts up with a lot from other kids for the chance to play with them.
I sat back down in the living room. Playing commenced. About 2 minutes went by when the friend whispered something else and my daughter said, in a clear and loud voice, “You’re being mean and I want you to go home.”
The friend left the house crying and I called her mom to let her know she was walking home (a few houses down) and why she was crying. I can describe the conversation with one word: awkward. When I hung up with the mom, I was still upset. Not at the friend, or even at the mom who told her daughter that my kid had problems, but just generally upset that this was probably just the tip of the iceberg to come. Being hurt by your friends sucks. Watching your child get hurt by her friends sucks about a thousand times more.
That night while I was making dinner, my daughter sat down at the table and asked me if she had problems.
“Do you think you have problems?” I countered.
“Then you don’t have any problems.” And I meant it. Because, who doesn’t have problems? If you feel good about yourself and you are functioning well in society, you’re doing just fine. And if anyone tells you otherwise, just tell them to go home.