Care and Feeding

I Met the Family of My Daughter’s New Friend … and Alarm Bells Went Off

My danger senses were tingling every time.

Two young girls smiling, one is in a wheelchair, the other stands with a book.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My family recently moved across the state. Our youngest child “Ellie” is 8 years old. She has anxiety and has trouble making friends. Their school doesn’t start until next week, but one of my older kids has already made friends with a kid in the neighborhood. My son’s friend has a sister, “Lucy.” Lucy and Ellie are both going to be in third grade and are going to be in the same class at school.

Over the past few weeks, they have become great friends. Lucy and Ellie have bonded over their shared love of animals, superheroes, and that they both have disabilities (Lucy uses a wheelchair, and Ellie uses a hearing aid and has some vision issues). Lucy is more outgoing but very patient with my shy and timid daughter, and I think that if this relationship continues into the school year it would be a great way for my daughter to feel more comfortable at school. At her old school, last year was the first year in-person since kindergarten, and my daughter didn’t make a single friend during the whole year, so it would be great if we could help her make friends this year.

The issue is that Lucy’s mom’s boyfriend, “Carl,” is a bit of a creep…

I talked with him while Ellie and Lucy were playing at Lucy’s house, and while he didn’t say anything to the kids, he did tell me some stuff, especially about how glad he was to see my daughter was a little girl with blonde hair and pale skin, and how much he loves it when kids who wear glasses take off their glasses. My danger senses were tingling every time I interacted with him. I don’t feel comfortable with my kids hanging out around Carl.

Unfortunately, Carl lives with Lucy’s family and Lucy can’t play at our house because it isn’t very accessible for children in wheelchairs. My wife and I tried talking to Lucy’s mom but she just dismissed it as Carl having autism. I would love some advice on how to keep my kids safe without taking away my daughter’s ability to hang out with her friend.

—A Fearful Father

Dear Fearful Father,

If I could, I’d send you the Whoopi Goldberg “You in danger, girl” GIF right now. Look, maybe Carl is a harmless dude, and apologies to Carl if so, but if your danger senses were tingling when it comes to your child being safe with this person, you must trust your gut. Because if there’s even a chance that Carl did something harmful to your daughter, you’d never be able to forgive yourself for ignoring it.

It sounds like your daughter has formed a beautiful friendship with Lucy. Can you accompany her to Lucy’s house so that she is not at risk of being alone with Carl? You can let them think you’re just an overprotective dad who doesn’t let his third-grader go on unsupervised playdates. Or can the two play outside at your house? Or would it be too difficult to provide some basic accommodations for Lucy’s wheelchair, given how beneficial this friendship could be for your daughter? How about taking the two girls to the park or to other activities that aren’t located in your homes? There are lots of creative ways to maintain a valuable friendship while also honoring your instincts and keeping your daughter safe.


Classic Prudie

We have close family friends with a beautiful and charming 19-year-old daughter. She is like a niece to us. My husband has made her uncomfortable twice by remarking, “Mmm! Look at Kelly!” when she’s entered a room dressed up for an outing or work. (The “Mmm!” being the sort of sound one makes in appreciation of a delicious-looking food, for example.) Her discomfort was clear—she turned red and exited the room both times. He now is following her on Instagram and “likes” EVERY single post she puts up.