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My 13-year-old daughter spent a night this weekend at a girlfriend’s house. I know and like this friend and her parents, and the girls have had sleepovers before. My daughter told her father and me a very disturbing story when she got home. She awoke in the middle of the night to someone tickling her belly and quietly chuckling. She was lying on her side facing the outside of the mattress she was sharing with her friend and says this person was a male with whitish hair crouched down beside the bed. It was dark and she was scared to look at his face. She turned onto her other side and tucked the blanket under her back but felt someone poking her and tugging on the blanket. Then a hand rested briefly on her upper arm—and he left. My daughter eventually fell back asleep. In the morning, she told her friend about this, and the friend said she must have been dreaming. My daughter said no, that she’d heard the floor squeak and noted the time (3:30 a.m.) on her friend’s bedside clock. After my husband picked up my daughter the friend asked her father (who has silver-gray hair), mother, and teenage brother (who has dark hair) about it. The friend texted my daughter that everyone denied such a thing could have happened and the whole family was upset. Then she said her father wanted to talk to my husband (who didn’t really want to have anything to do with this mess). The father and mother called and spoke to the two of us. They said this could not have happened—they’re not that kind of family, etc. They were terrified that word of the alleged incident would damage the father’s reputation. I said that I believed my daughter but that my husband and I weren’t planning to pursue the matter any further. The friend’s parents were relieved and grateful; there was talk about the awkward situations kids sometimes put parents in, about having a drink together sometime. (Of course my daughter will never sleep over there again.) I felt good after the phone call, but now I’m wondering if I let them off too easy—and whether I adequately demonstrated to my daughter that I believed her. For her part, she’s just worried that this has ended her friendship. Do you think I handled this properly?
What an eerie, creepy, middle-of-the-night episode that’s going to haunt everyone’s nights for a while. Your daughter is old enough to tell dream from reality, and while there is a chance she was dreaming, I, like you, believe she was awakened by her friend’s father. Whatever he was up to, thank goodness it wasn’t any worse. I’ll also throw out the possibility that the father has some kind of sleepwalking disorder, or maybe he had an Ambien and a glass of wine. Overall, you handled this fine. Most important was listening to your daughter, telling her you believed her, and staying calm. If you had overreacted, that would have turned an unnerving event into a trauma. (I do have an objection to your husband’s desire to stay out of this “mess.” Someone needs to tell Dad that when you bring your bundle of joy home from the hospital, you sign up for dealing with the messes that ensue.) I do think, however, that you and your husband should have been the ones to initiate the conversation with the other parents. Of course, this was destined to be awkward and inconclusive, but you needed to register that something bizarre happened. You did ultimately do so, and you were right to say to the other parents that you both believed your daughter and decided not to take this any further. You should tell your daughter about this conversation and reiterate to her that you trust her account and that she did the right thing by letting you know. Your daughter is understandably concerned about her friendship, but sadly this is a toxic event for both families. Tell your daughter you too hope that she and the other girl remain friends. But prepare her that things may be uncomfortable between them. Then keep tabs on how this plays out, so you can help her navigate the potential aftermath of this strange encounter.
Dear Prudence: Hijacked Confection
Three months ago my husband and I put our now 6-month-old son in day care. The woman looks after four children in her home, has great references, and is affectionate to the children. Everything is going great except for one thing—she appears to be pretty racist. My husband and I have both heard her say derogatory things about Latinos when we converse with her when we pick up our son. For example, she said that a local park used to be nice “until all the wetbacks started going there.” My husband and I are both shocked and dismayed at this. Neither of us has said anything, but I do not want my son exposed to such a disgusting, hateful point of view. However, we live in a small town and our day care options are quite limited. Do we address her language, even though it might mean that she treats our son differently? I feel dirty not saying anything, but I'm worried about potential repercussions.
If you had lots of day care choices, I’d tell you to find a provider who didn’t have such noxious views. But day care can be one of the most expensive and difficult dilemmas of the early childhood years. So I’m going to reluctantly say that you should stay put for now. Your son is an infant, so there’s little chance of his being affected by the bigotry of this woman. When he gets to be a toddler, find a good nursery school for him. In the meantime he will be barely verbal, so you don’t have to worry about his repeating any vile statements this woman might make. But the next time she says something to you that you find appalling, go ahead and respond. You can say something like, “Bernice, describing people that way makes me uncomfortable.” If she reacts badly, or you think her attitude toward your son changes, then she should not be caring for him. But let’s hope your speaking up prompts her to filter her bile.