My daughter’s friend
I have a pretty involved problem but I will try to be brief. My friend Maria and her husband Joe just got divorced. Their youngest child Beth is my daughter’s good friend. They are 16 years old. Beth splits time between Maria and Joe. When she’s with Maria, she’s well supervised, but when she’s with Joe she is not. He often goes to bed before she has gone to bed and I have come to learn from things my daughter has said that Beth is sneaking out of the house after Joe goes to sleep. My daughter has shown me Snapchats which show her drinking with boys no one knows. Maria has always been in charge of the kids and Joe is clearly in over his head. Maria and Joe are not able to even be civil to one another. My daughter has begged me not to tell Maria what is going on, but I can’t just sit by when the child is potentially in danger. When I tell Maria, she is likely to fall apart with this added stress, and part of me feels sick to my stomach even considering adding to her already crushing load. Also if I’m being totally honest, I dread being the messenger. Also, when I tell Maria, she will confront Beth, she might have to tell Beth where she heard this from, and Beth will tell my daughter and my daughter will feel she can’t tell me anything anymore and she will earn the reputation of being untrustworthy and a “snitch.” Maria could resent me, my daughter might hate me, and Beth will hate me too, but if I don’t do anything, Beth risks slipping further and further away. Help!
Miserable accidental witness
I am so very sorry. This is a terrible situation to be in the middle of and if it weren’t underage drinking and anonymous boys no one has ever heard of, I would be inclined to follow your daughter’s instincts to stay out of it. But it is drinking and anonymous boys so doing nothing isn’t advice I feel comfortable giving. In the middle of this terrible situation, I want you to take a moment to give thanks that your daughter shared the information with you. There is a lot of information in that one act: when faced with a problem she doesn’t know how to handle, your child comes to you; in telling you what was happening, even though she simultaneously is telling you not to tell, she is recognizing a problem that is over her head and recognizing you as someone who gives sound advice. Also, you must have a history of not overreacting and of handling problems rationally and proportionately. That is a great place to be coming from in trying to negotiate this current crisis.
I think there is no way to deal with this without being as forthright and transparent as possible in both your thinking and your planned actions. Tell your daughter exactly what is going on in your head and what is guiding your thinking and your actions and invite her to be part of that discussion with you so she knows what to expect. “Daughter, we need to figure this out. You know how much I care for Beth. If this were not such a truly scary problem that could result in truly tragic consequences, I would never even think about interfering but it isn’t that kind of problem. I think you know that. I think that is why you told me what Beth was doing. If Beth had gotten a tattoo, or multiple piercings, or mooned the bleachers with the cheerleaders during the football game, I don’t think you would even have brought it up to me. You know this is dangerous and you don’t want anything terrible to befall Beth that you might have prevented by just asking for help. I admire your courage and I admire your care for your friend.”
I think you start there and see what your daughter says. Try to incorporate her feelings and thoughts into your next statement about your planned actions, which really ought to include talking to Maria, your dear friend. If Beth were older, I might suggest talking to Beth and letting her handle talking to her mom if she wanted to, but she isn’t. And I have to always filter this kind of advice through my own mothermeter. What would I want someone to do if it were my own child? And How would I feel if something terrible happened to my child and I found out later that my good friend knew what was happening long before, but was too uncomfortable or afraid to tell me? That is always my fallback in questions like this, the mothermeter test.
Then you tell your daughter that you are going to have to tell Beth’s mom. She might balk. She might stomp and throw a tantrum. She might loudly protest that she will never tell you anything again. But don’t let that pull you off your north. You know what you have to do; you just wrote to me so I would tell you the same. There’s strength in agreement. But don’t minimize the importance of discussing your reasoning with her. Because you don’t want to do any damage to what seems to be a pretty open relationship. And you don’t want to risk her misunderstanding your motives with a teenage brain that does not always see things perfectly clearly on its own, and which has been known to react with undue anger to things it doesn’t understand. “Daughter, I’m going to have to tell Beth’s mom. I won’t bring up your name if I don’t have to. I will say, ‘I saw some images Beth sent on Snapchat that alarmed me and I have to tell you because I would want to know if [your daughter’s name] had done the same. From the pictures it looks like Beth is out late on nights she stays with Joe and that she is spending time with boys and drinking. I know there would be no way for you to know this since it’s happening when she isn’t with you.’ If she asks me how I saw these, I will tell her that I saw them on your Snapchat. I won’t say that you told me unless she asks. I will ask her if she could try to keep your name out of it when she discusses it with Beth. I will tell her that if Beth feels she cannot trust her friends, then she will grow more isolated that just puts her at greater risk. I will remind her that the more we share with our friends the hurts we feel, the less isolated we are, the safer we are, the more friends there are protecting us from dangers. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize your relationship with Beth and I will not say or do anything more than I absolutely must and I will keep your name out of it as much as is possible.” (Honestly, MAW, just writing that down brings tears to my eyes because I feel it so sincerely. We are each of us pulled from the jaws of death by our friends. I am praying that Beth keeps all her close friends as she navigates this hard time).
The most important thing is to be forthright and transparent and do it without judgement. If you can manage that, you have done your best by your daughter, her friend and your friend and I have to believe all of these relationships will survive this crisis and thrive as well.
I send you good luck,