My kid just broke my heart into a million pieces with a single sentence

“They said they don’t want to be my friend and I can’t come to their birthday party.”

Hearing these words come out of my three year-old son’s mouth at bathtime was… overwhelming.

As usual when my two boys are in the bath, I was already teetering on the emotional edge, a single misplaced word or act of disobedience from going full-on, nuclear level Angry Dad.

An hour of trying to get dinner into mouths, trying to get clothes off bodies, trying to get legs to move upstairs, trying to get permission to wipe smelly bottoms and trying to get splashy arms to STOP FLOODING THE BLOODY BATHROOM tends to mean that, by the time we’re at the mercifully slightly calmer stage of brushing teeth, I am twitching with pent up rage.

When I’m at that emotional precipice, it often feels like I’m past the point of no return; as if it is then inevitable that I’m going to be yelling unnecessarily within the next few minutes.

So it never ceases to amaze me how one unexpected sentence from Ben, my eldest, can completely kill that feeling in an instant.

My wife and I had noticed that Ben hadn’t quite been himself that evening. Nothing too odd or unusual; just that he seemed a bit more melancholy than usual. He’s a pretty sensitive kid at the best of times, so we just put it down to the mysterious concept of ‘toddler development’.

Then, entirely unprompted, out it came.

As he sat in the bath with his toothbrush in hand, I THINK one of us may have said something like, “You OK, Ben?” – one of those throwaway questions we ask when we’re not even looking at him, as we’re both focused on trying to stop his baby brother from electrocuting/drowning/choking himself.

“They said they don’t want to be my friend and I can’t come to their birthday party.”

In an instant, I went from imminent fury to unconditional love, sympathy, affection, anxiety, concern and about 56 other surprising emotional responses. Before I knew what I was doing, I was leaning over the bath and hugging Ben, so desperate to give him a kiss and a cuddle that I actually soaked my jumper.

My wife and I both immediately began firing off questions, all the while DESPERATELY trying to make it sound like we were both super chilled and that this was no big thing.

We wanted to make it clear that we were in no way panicking that some other children may actually dislike our child. We were not, under any circumstances, using this one comment to map out a vision of his entire teen years spent in horrible, lonely isolation; a social pariah who never left his bedroom.

Me: “Who said that to you?” (Bit too angry, sounding a bit like a gangster instantly set on retribution)

Wife: “You know if you’re nice to people, you’ll always have friends?” (Bit too eager, with definite overtones of “just do whatever it takes to be popular”)

As usual, we had absolutely no bloody idea how to react or what to do. Ben was obviously upset at something someone had said to him at nursery.

We are both sensible enough to know that this will have been a nasty comment made in the heat of the moment. We are also aware it is highly unlikely his pals have all ganged up and made a co-ordinated effort to expel Ben from their social group. These are three year-olds, for God’s sake. We’re not in Mean Girls territory just yet.

But that’s the thing. Once I had gone through the most loving bedtime routine I think I’ve ever done – so many cuddles and reminders of how loved he is that I think Ben might have been a tad freaked out – I realised that this is just the beginning, isn’t it?

I thought this type of panic over my child’s ability to make friends and be – dare I say it – reasonably popular wouldn’t come until he was at secondary school. Now I realise that last night was the kick-off of another low-level parental anxiety that is going to be with me for the next fifteen years. Which is JUST what I need.

I can almost hear those of you with teenage children muttering, “Just you wait, mate…”

This article first featured in our Lemon-Aid newsletter, the email full of parenting tips and relatable stories of parenthood. Sign up now at lemonaidparenting.co.uk

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