DEAR KELLY: My friend hates her dad. I don’t know what to do to help her. She doesn’t want to talk about why she hates him, and gets mad when I ask. I want to be a good friend, but I don’t know what to say that will make her feel better. I’ve met her dad and he doesn’t seem as bad as she says he is, but I don’t tell her that because I think she would be mad. She tells me every day at school how much she hates him and I don’t know why. Please help me know what to say. I want to be a good friend, but I don’t know why she has so much hate and anger at her dad.
DEAR TR: Family dynamics are tricky. What you hear or what you think can be very different than what is happening behind closed doors. Sometimes it’s as simple as communication issues or struggling with house rules, and other times it is very serious and the pain runs deep. If your friend is tight-lipped about what is going on, besides venting her anger and rage, there may be more than one issue that needs to be addressed. Your friend could have other feelings about her father such as sadness, shame or confusion about things, but anger is the easiest way to express the feelings if they seem overwhelming or cause her stress.
It’s compassionate of you to want to help, but this situation seems to call for adult intervention. Go talk with your school counselor, nurse or teacher and share your concerns. They can check in with your friend to see what is going on at home and decide what is the best course of action to help her.
There can be many reasons your friend and her dad have such a troubled relationship. But this extends beyond your job as a friend. Your job is so support your friend and be there if she is hurting, not to help her work through her anger with her dad. That job should be left to the professional.
When she tells you she hates him, reply with, “I’m sorry to hear that. I hope you talk with someone who can help like our school counselor or Mrs. So-and-So (a teacher at school), because it must be so hard to have such strong feeling about him. I’m here if you need a hug or a shoulder but I really do hope you talk with an adult who can help you and your dad figure out this whole thing. No matter how big or small the problem is, someone can help. I hope you know that you aren’t alone.”
Moving from childhood to being a teenager can be a minefield when it comes to navigating a parent/child relationship. It’s not easy and there are so many variables that can make the journey even harder such as divorce, grief, blended families, alcoholism and issues such as depression or mental health. Your friend is clearly hurting and the anger she feels toward her dad could be affecting important things such as her grades, health, mood or relationship with others.
Encouraging her to talk with your school counselor is so vital to giving her a safe place to process this anger (regardless of why she has it). She needs to figure out her feelings so it doesn’t cause her to make impulsive decisions that could affect her life forever. And if she needs support because things aren’t OK at home, the school counselor can help her get that as well.
Your awareness that something isn’t right between your friend and her dad is very astute and you are being a good friend having concerns about this. Go talk with an adult who can help you get your friend the help she needs to figure out what is going on at home so she can move forward and no longer carry around so much anger in her heart.