I am secretly engaged to my boyfriend of two years and I am getting into a panic about introducing him to my parents. I’ve kept our relationship secret because my father is a snob, while my mother goes along with him for the sake of a quiet life.  My boyfriend is what they would call lower class because he didn’t go to a private school, his parents have modest jobs and they rent rather than own their home. My parents on the other hand have a detached house with a drive in Kent.  My father went to a snooty private school, is now a QC, while my mother is a lady who lunches and does charity work.   

I admire my boyfriend hugely because he is the first in his family to go to university – he got a first in engineering and has a job working for a large company.  

None of that will count for my father.  I couldn’t bear living with his snobbishness and left home as soon as I could.  I teach at a nursery school which they think is pretty poor show and my father keeps asking why I want to wipe children’s noses all morning.   

Despite this deep down I want them to accept my boyfriend and me for who we are.  Any ideas how I can go about it?




First of all congratulations on getting engaged to someone you love and admire, despite having grown up immersed in your father’s snobbish attitudes.   As your father has not recognised your training or profession either it’s unlikely that he will accept you or your fiancé for who you are and what you both stand for.   Keeping your boyfriend and parents apart must mean you knew your parents wouldn’t change their attitudes.  It’s a shame but not surprising you find yourself in this difficult position.

We recommend that you open up about the problem and share  your views and concerns about your parents with your fiancé and how they are their likely to respond when they meet him. At the same time reassure him of your love and future plans together.  Then work out a strategy for how to introduce him to your parents. You have several options and go for the one that is likely to cause least upset.   You could, for example,  work towards announcing your engagement by gradually letting them know that he exists and subsequently that you are getting close.  Or you can go head on and tell them you are engaged.

 Whatever plan you make, you know they are not going to be thrilled and so steel yourself to any criticism.  Hopefully they will at least behave well in front of your fiancé.  If they don’t you have every right not to allow them to be offensive and calmly leave, start to distance yourself from them and feel proud that you have decided to live your life your way.







 My horrid mother did a good job in making me feel insecure. (I am being sarcastic )  I never knew what mood she would be in and always felt I was walking on egg shells at home.  One word out of place and she wouldn’t speak to me sometimes for several days.  She also let rip if I wore something she didn’t like and has always harshly criticised my shape and looks. 

I learnt from my painful experiences to hold back my emotions with friends because I told myself it would help save me from getting hurt if the relationship fell apart. But in my late twenties I fell in love and I married three years later.  He is a good man, at least I think so, but so hard working that he is often distracted and I don’t see much of him.  The problem is I am beginning to feel very insecure.  I’ve opened my heart to him and I know if the marriage was to fail I just couldn’t cope.  I have asked him to cut down a little with work and he’s said it’s difficult to do while the country is in chaos and good jobs are difficult to find. I wonder if I worrying unnecessarily and he loves me dearly. More upsetting is the realisation that  the nervous wary little girl still exists deep inside me.    


It can be very hard for anyone to develop into a confident adult when their mother has been so  undermining. Those who do grow up with a horrid parent are often driven by a powerful d need to secure that parent’s love and attention.   Mostly without success.  This huge wish for total love and acceptance can then be transferred to others. It is not realistic as friends and lovers cannot step in to a parent’s shoes.  

As a young adult living away from your mother you should be able to decide who you want to be and start to grow towards that. The more you gain satisfaction from your work, interests and friends the stronger your belief in yourself will become. On the other hand if you transfer all your hopes for complete fulfilment onto one other person, in your case your husband, the harder it will be for him to fulfil the role you have given him. This could be what is making you anxious. 

 Even if the legacy you have from your mother is making you feel insecure in your marriage, take a step back and think hard about whether your husband's behaviour is reasonable. If you still feel like a needy child you should try to find other realistic ways to increase your belief in yourself. It will take time and is not easy but it will help your relationship if you are both feel love for each other. 

Is My Father Really Sorry?


My Dad has always been disappointed with me.  I’m not sporty and have had no interest in watching football.  Nor am I particularly ambitious.  He was the opposite and so competitive he would even train for Fathers’ Race on my school’s sports day . It also gave him an opportunity to mock me for not winning a single medal.  In fact I can’t remember a day when he didn’t try to humiliate me for one thing or another.  It took me years to find myself but I am now content.  I work as an art teacher at a small country school and have a partner but no children, which is fine by me. 

 I haven’t seen my father for at least a decade but he has recently written to me to say he is very ill and would like me to visit so he can apologise for being so harsh when I was a child.  Part of me feels I ought to go and see him, especially as his illness may be terminal.  But I also know he could manipulate the situation to make me feel somehow guilty and end up staying to look after him.  Something that no doubt would save him paying for a carer.  My gentle mother passed away some years ago and my sister lives abroad and also wants nothing to do with him.   What should I do? 

You are right to tread carefully.  You know your father well and your fear that he may manipulate you into becoming his carer is realistic. If on the other hand he genuinely wishes to apologise and you want to hear what he has to say,  think through how to set the scene and only meet him on your terms.    

We suggest that you reply accepting his offer of making amends and say that you would like to talk over coffee or lunch at a set time and in a neutral and possibly public place, perhaps half way between where you both live . This assumes he is fit enough to travel.  Tell him in advance that you are sorry to hear about his illness and you trust that given his organisational skills he has already made plans for his care and support.  

If he accepts your idea prepare yourself well by anticipating what he may say to make you feel guilty and how you will deal with it.  Practice saying a firm ‘no’ in your head and have an excuse to leave the room to give yourself space to think. 


If he doesn't accept your offer and suggests a plan that either doesn't suit you, or sounds like a trap then keep clear. After his behaviour throughout your life you don't have any obligations, and you will have shown willingness to literally meet him halfway. 






Same old, same old, Mother. 



I feel I am living a recurrent nightmare. But one that is even more disturbing and upsetting.   When I was growing up my mother always blew hot and cold.  She could be charming in front of friends and occasionally to me but, whenever she felt like it, thoroughly nasty when we were alone.  Tiny things, or nothing at all could trigger an outburst and I never knew where I was with her.  

We roll on fifteen years or so and she is now treating my small son and daughter in the same way.   At times she puts one of them on her knee, reads them stories and cuddles them.  The next she is shut off and snaps if they ask her anything.  She can also be very critical telling them they look dirty, or that my daughter doesn’t look nice in her dress and my son is a cry baby. Alternatively she zooms in on one, is full of praise and ignores the other.  And vice versa.  

 I see the confusion and disappointment on their little faces as if they are asking themselves: ‘Who is this woman?’ and don’t know how to respond to her. 

 It is breaking my heart.  I want to protect them but also feel they should have a relationship with their grandmother.  My husband’s parents have both passed away, which makes it even more important?  What should I do?



It must be very difficult to see your children looking puzzled and confused.  Not least because it will bring back painful memories for you too. But do remember that unlike you, they are not living full time with a mother who is unkind and unpredictable.  Your consistent love and tender care will have given them the strong base that children need to thrive.  

 However you are right that your priority is to protect them.  If your mother is nasty with her own grandchildren, why should you let them suffer?  In fact there are no shoulds when it comes to being exposed to mean relatives.  It is sad that your children are unable to know their other grandparents, but there are ways in which you can help them understand what that relationship might have been like. 

You can, for example, show them photos of their father’s parents, describe what they were like, ask their father to tell them stories about when he was a boy and if you knew them too, pass on your own tales. If you have other older relatives you could arrange to visit them informally as proxy grandparents. Think about what you would be looking for to help your children understand older people and if you thought it might help, visit elderly neighbours or old people’s homes. 

As far as your mother is concerned we suggest that you try to help your children’s understand their grandmother by gently talking about her so that they have the words that can express their feelings. You can also ask them what they think of her and if they have very questions, but don’t let your chat  last too long.  If you feel that you have to visit your mother occasionally, be sure to prepare the children in advance and afterwards have a family ‘debrief’ session and find out if they think she has been unkind.



Father's Day




My father has always been rather obsessed with Father’s Day.  He enjoyed being spoilt every year and my mother, brother and I always had to come up with some outing for him.  While our mother was also expected to make an elaborate meal. He refused to go to a restaurant, even when she was paying, as he felt that my mother was taking the easy route to avoid spending hours over a hot stove.   

A year ago however he left my mother for someone much younger. He’s also withdrawn from my brother and I offering lots of excuses why he can’t see us.  He did however ring me a few weeks ago asking if I could look for a book he thought he’d left in the family home.  At the end of our conversation he said: ‘Now you won’t forget my father’s day card will you son?’   Adding ‘Do send it to the office.’  I saw right through him.  He wasn’t at all interested in finding a book. He just wants our approval of his abominable behaviour to our mum and to prove to his colleagues that we were happy with his former young secretary who has become his new partner. 

Neither of us want to send him a gushing card that tells him he is ‘the best dad in the world,’ or even a plain one.   But we don’t want to make things any more difficult for mum. I know he will blame her for putting pressure on us, as he’s blamed her for everything that went wrong with their marriage.  When I spoke to her about it she said she didn’t want to get involved and it was up to us to decide.   


Your father sounds needy and obviously wants his decisions endorsed.  But you and your brother don’t have to play his game. You can each make your own minds up about how you want to continue your relationship with him.   It is understandable that his recent departure still feels raw so try to take a step back, think through the situation and not make hasty decisions. However difficult your family breakdown is for you, sadly it happens often and over time things can, to some extent, heal.   

What is unlikely to change is your father’s attitude and behaviour and that needs to be managed as carefully as you can for all your sakes.   Our advice is to be the person you want to be, and if you choose to send your father a card for this weekend then go ahead. Think about what you might have done if he hadn’t demanded one. Perhaps you would have chosen an innocuous card that just says: ’Happy Father’s Day’ and sent it to his new address.  There is no need to change your plan and pander to his ego by sending a gushing card to his office. 

The fact that he is keeping you all at a distance at the moment gives you time to decide how you want to communicate with him from now on. It is so important to balance protecting yourselves from your father’s entitled manner with being as good a son as you can be.

My Mother V My Wife



 I am torn between my wife of 14 years and my mother.  My mother needs lots of attention, especially since she was widowed three years ago. She likes to speak to me every day and see me at least once a week.  She always has small d-i-y jobs for me to do and wants to be updated on the family. She also gives me lots of advice.  At least I call it advice but my wife calls it ‘gross interference’.    

I agree my mother went a bit overboard about the school we chose for our 11-year-old and wrote us a letter on why she felt it wasn’t at all suitable.  I was happy to change schools to save any bad feeling but my wife was very upset, insisted it was nothing to do with our mother and refused to budge.  

There’s also been rows when she takes our son away for the weekend.  These trips sometimes extend to Mondays and he misses school. My wife thinks she is trying to brainwash wash him, but I think it’s rather generous of her.   I suppose I tend to give in because when I tried to stand up for myself as a child she would scream and shout, call me all sort of names and not speak to me for days.  I didn’t give in to her about my wife, however even though she told me she didn’t like her.  I knew she was the right one for me and didn’t listen, so my mother didn’t come to the wedding, which really upset me.  I am used to her being difficult but my wife is exasperated by her and thinks I should break off all connection.  I can’t because my mother can’t help being who she is and am upset that my wife doesn’t support me.   I now fear I’m near the point when I have to choose between them both. I am also asking myself if I have chosen someone very similar to my mother?




You are obviously caught between the two key people in your life, which must be very difficult particularly when you are unlikely to please both of them at the same time.  It also seems their positions are becoming increasingly polarised as they try to get you on their side.  We advise you to try to avoid it getting any worse.       

Your wife should be the most important person in your life and we recommend that you reassure her that she is your number one priority and that you will work out how to manage your mother, however daunting it may initially feel. 

You both need to listen and support each other and in particular you should help her  understand your difficult position. Take time to discuss what you went through with your mother when you were a child and how she still makes you feel. Your wife did not grow up with a mother like yours and may not understand her motives or how frozen someone can become when a horrid parent makes unreasonable demands.   

It might be possible to avoid severing contact with your mother and instead have a relationship with her on both your and your wife’s terms. You can still visit her but work out in advance how far you want to respond to her demands. It might also help if you found a handyman who could take over her small jobs from you.   

You and your wife additionally need to decide on boundaries that your mother must recognise in relation to your children.  If it is against the school rules for them to miss school you must tell your mother the trips away are inappropriate during the school term.  Moreover it really is you and you wife’s joint decision as to how you raise your children and your mother should not be involved.   

Remember above all you are not that scared little boy anymore but a responsible husband and father. 


Dealing with My Mother's Dementia




My elderly mother has dementia.  It’s not bad enough that she doesn’t know her three daughters, of which I am the youngest, but she can’t or won’t understand why she needs a carer.  As a result she is very unpleasant to them and three have left after a very short time.  

My older sisters are ruling out putting her in a home. Instead they want to work out a rota where each of us take turns in caring for her.  My mother has never liked me, partly because she wanted a son.  It’s not my fault that I’m not male but she has always treated me badly.   I also have two small children while my sisters’s kids are teenagers and can more easily be left to their own devices.  All three of us work but my sisters are freelance, and can take time out, whereas I can’t.  Nor do I want to.  I can’t forgive her for making my childhood miserable and know that if I spend the day with her she will still manage to crush me.  I also would not want to bathe her and get her into bed.  On the other hand I know I will feel guilty being the only one who didn’t help out.  I’ve talked to my sisters, who sort of understand how awful she was to me, but got on with her reasonably well – she certainly liked them.  Instead they feel I should brush my past unhappiness away and get on with the job in hand. 

I would appreciate your advice.   


What a difficult situation you have with your mother, but do remember you can say ‘no’.  The fact is that, even if she was kind and loving, your young family and your job mean you are not in a position to offer the same amount of help as your sisters. It is rare in families that each adult child is able to offer equal amounts of time, so you should not feel guilty. Instead think about what you can do to help and be firm when you tell your sisters.    

They also may not yet fully realise the enormous effort needed to care full time for an elderly person. The fact that so many carers have left already should be a red flag to all of you.  As your mother’s dementia progresses it is highly likely that you will need to get more professional help.   

It is important, however, that the situation you face isn’t about how your mother  singled you out as the object of her disappointment and anger, and we advise you don’t bring that up in any discussion with your sisters.   

They had a very different experience growing up and may well not understand how deeply the hurt and your mother’s lack of love for you has penetrated and it will be difficult for them to understand your position. Instead deal with the circumstances you face in your own time and in your own way. Your young family need you and through them you will hopefully share the love and tenderness you longed for as a child.


My Father's One Way Rants

I am so angry I could burst.  Talking to my father has always been a one way rant.  He’s never been interested in what I have to say whatever the topic. He doesn’t even stop talking long enough to allow me to break into the conversation. It’s worse than ever at the moment what with Brexit, political correctness and LGBT issues. I find it humiliating to stand or sit while all this is going on. I should say that I am over 40 years old and disagree with him on most issues.  It’s been the same as far back as I can remember. When I was a teenager I used to fight to be heard but my efforts always ended in a huge row with him shouting that I should respect my elders and know my place.  He still tells me off as if I was a little boy without letting me  explain myself.  My wife rarely comes with me to see him because she feels uncomfortable for both of us. I’ve also tried to talk to my mother but she doesn’t want to get involved. I suspect she is frightened of him. I am an only child and can tell he’s disappointed in me although I think his behaviour wouldn’t change whatever I did. Occasionally I have tried to suggest that we have an adult to adult discussion so I can get my view across too. His response has been to tell me bluntly that he’s my father and I’m his son and I should listen to him not the other way around. What an earth shall I do? 


Your father must be so infuriating.  No wonder your wife is reluctant to come with you and your mother doesn’t want to get involved.  He sounds rather frightening too and your attempts to stand up to him must take a lot of courage. 

However, as you have found, your age has not affected his behaviour.  Instead he uses the fact that he is your father to be overbearing and won’t allow your relationship to become one of two adults.

There could be many reasons for this and you may find some clues to his bullying by delving into his background. Meanwhile don’t let his disappointment in what you have achieved get you down. Instead reassure yourself that you deserve far more appreciation and recognition than he gives you and that it is not your fault that he takes so little interest in your life. Your options to try to change him are limited. As he won’t share a conversation you could consider writing to him and explaining what sort of relationship you’d like the two of you to have and that his current behaviour is alienating you to the point that you need to step away from coming to see him. Alternatively if you do visit it might help if you think of a few neutral topics of conversation that are less likely to inflame him. You could also try changing the subject when he starts ranting and if that doesn’t work leave the room.

If you wish to continue to have a relationship with him, remember you really do not owe him anything, so don’t be afraid to set reasonable boundaries.


My Horrid Mother-in-law


Horrid Mother-in-laws may be a well-used resource for comedians, but mine isn’t the least bit amusing.   From the time my husband introduced me to her twelve years ago, when we were already secretly engaged, she’s relentlessly criticised and tried to undermine me.   I come from a warm and close family and it’s been a real shock just how awful a mother can be.  The irony is she works as a counsellor for Relate and spends her days advising couples how to behave.  She is also a trustee of two family-based charities, a member of several women’s groups and seems to have lots of friends. 

Despite this her coldness towards me is never ending. The crunch came last month at my eldest daughter’s 10th birthday when she decided to mock my behaviour as a mother in front of all four of our children.  My husband faced up to her, no easy task, and told her she was not to behave like that again.  He also spoke to his father who just shrugged his shoulders and said: ‘You know what she is like.’ We both feel we would have no contact with her at all if it weren’t for the children, but it’s a difficult step to take because family life is so important to me.  Before we make up our mind can you  explain why someone can appear to be so positive and helpful at work and with friends but be the opposite with their own  family.  It just doesn’t make sense.   



You are right, it is not at all funny to have an unkind mother-in-law. There are many different reasons why she can maintain a pleasant and helpful front in public and yet be so mean to her own family.   

It is surprisingly common to find a horrid parent working in a caring capacity such as nursing and teaching. It is hard to understand their hypocrisy but somehow they maintain a pleasant front in public but switch it off as soon as they close their front door. Sometimes their work offers them an opportunity to present a nicer part of themselves at least for a while, enjoy the chance to be looked up to as  an ‘expert’ and receive the appreciation they believe they deserve.   Perhaps as a Relate counsellor your mother-in-law can  provide some help and support to others even if she is doesn’t use the same advice for herself. Unfortunately there are also some controlling and bullying individuals who  work in these fields.

You quote your father-in-law saying: ‘You know what she is like’ , probably because he accepts she is not going to change. Among the options to consider is  testing the water by stepping back and seeing her less often and for shorter periods.  

Luckily you have your own loving and warm family and a supportive husband which are invaluable in situations like yours. Remember too that however cold your mother-in-law is to you, your husband has had to cope with her behaviour all his life and the impact may be worse for him.  So try to be objective as possible, don’t take it personally and relish your wonderful family. 

Will I Turn Into My Mother?


My little girl arrived a few days before Prince Harry’s and I followed Meghan Markle’s pregnancy right from the start because I too was pregnant with my first baby at 37.   

My daughter is very sweet and my husband, like Harry, is over the moon.

But I am beset with worry.  My own mother went out of her way to be spiteful and degraded me at every opportunity.  I have been left feeling self-conscious and not worth much and adult life has been hard. I made up my mind in my late teens that I would never have a child because I don’t know what genes I have inherited from my mother and don’t want to risk being as awful to my child as she was to me.  

But my husband loves children, just like Harry. We’ve been together for 10 years and married for two.  Slowly but gradually he tried to bring me round.  He felt not having a child  would be something I’d always regret, told me I am nothing like my mother and said he would always be there to support me. In the end I agreed.  I do love my little Suzy.  I am, to my surprise, happy to feed her and it makes me smile how eager she is to eat.  But the tiredness is lowering and makes me worry.   


Congratulations on the birth of your baby.  It is understandable that you are worried, not least because of the overwhelming tiredness that most new parents feel. Your body has been through so much and babies need plenty of time and attention. Together with your experience of having an unloving mother it is not surprising that you have many concerns about how you will be as a parent yourself.   You have, however,  made a great start, love  your baby and enjoy looking after her.  This should help reassure you that you are not like your mother. 


The fact that you have considered whether or not you should have children since you were young and have talked it over with your husband suggests that you will be very careful about how you look after little Suzy. It means you are  self-aware and will take care to avoid being unkind like your mother. Your  close and tender relationship with your baby and your determination will carry you through. 

You mention the possibility of having inherited some of your mother’s genes but this is impossible to know. There will be times when you feel sorely challenged by your baby as all parents are. You won’t always get it right but there is a world of difference between a loving parent who gets cross and a manipulative, critical cold parent, which you clearly are not. 

You are fortunate to have a supportive husband who is also delighted with  Suzy so work together to share the trials and joys of parenthood.







My Sneaky Mother


I am so distressed and angry.  My eldest daughter aged eleven has just revealed that my mother has told her she is her favourite grandchild and that she is going to rewrite her will and leave all her money to her.  

She asked her to promise not to tell me about their ‘secret’, but it made my daughter feel so  uncomfortable that she initially asked me if we could talk about the tricky subject of keeping secrets and whether you should or shouldn’t tell anyone when you are worried about them.  This gently led her to divulge what my mother had said.  

I think what tipped her into confiding in me was that my mother added that I had been a terrible daughter and a huge disappointment to her.  My daughter and I get on very well plus  has seen for herself how difficult my mother is.  I also know she admires me for holding down a professional job and, as she puts is, ‘always being there’ for her and her two younger sisters.   

I don’t want any of my mother’s money for myself but I think trying to get my daughter as a joint conspirator against me is appalling.   As is her intention that the other two girls miss out.  

I have rung my mother’s solicitor who is aware of the issue and been very helpful.  She had various dealings with my mother when my father died and knows how problematical she can be.  

Up until now I have been dutiful, felt my children should see their grandmother fairly regularly and take them round once a fortnight.  I am now in two minds whether to stop taking them to see her at all.  



Your mother has behaved appallingly by persuading your daughter to keep such a highly-loaded secret. There are several significant issues and we believe you should think through each one to plan what to do. 


We recommend you put your daughter’s situation first.  You have clearly done a great job building a good relationship with her and given her an understanding of her grandmother’s difficult behaviour.  Ask her if she wants to talk more about secrets, what she thinks about unfairness and if your mother goes ahead what impact it will eventually have on her sisters. You could also make her feel less responsible by telling her that bequests are an adult concern which you, your mother and solicitor will deal with.  Of course your mother might change her mind in the future but this is not necessarily a helpful thing to tell your daughter,  and something you could get round it by saying: ‘let’s wait and see’.


The harder problem is how to handle your mother. If you let her know your daughter told you all about the conspiracy she might become very nasty to her.    It’s also true that however unfair it seems,  it’s up to your mother to choose  who she leaves her money to.  Your real challenge is whether or not to let the children continue to visit their grandmother.  To stop the visits would punish her but you would then risk behaving as she does.  But you do need to protect your girls.


You could reduce the number of times you see her but be very vigilant that they are not alone with her. After a visit you could have an informal ‘debrief’ with the girls in case there were any conversations that worried them.  You might also tell your mother that as the girls get older you are taking full responsibility for explaining every aspect of becoming an adult.



Money is my Dad's Weapon

I have never been materialistic like my dad who can’t talk about anything without turning it into some kind of financial deal. It’s partly why I chose to be a chiropractor and not join his property business.  When I married five years ago my wife who is a nurse and I had trouble affording to rent a flat let alone buying something.  My father told us renting was a waste of money and offered to help us buy a small flat. He also made it clear the money was a loan which he expected to be paid back with interest.  After a great deal of discussion we decided to accept his offer.  It’s been a nightmare ever since because he believes he now owns us.  He comes over whenever he wants to without warning and demands to know what we are doing and our plans for the future.  

He criticises us for taking even a modest holiday when we could be saving money and keeps saying he has a deal pending which may mean he will need us to pay him back.  I think they are empty threats and that he is using his wealth to control us.  He was very cross with us for having a third child saying we should know better.  It’s been the last straw for my wife who now can’t bear him coming over and interfering. She wants us to sell the flat, give him back his money and rent a home we can afford.  It will not be a surprise to know that he has been divorced twice, that my two younger brothers live in fear of him and I am not very good at standing up for myself either.   Can you help at all please.  




You probably suspected that your father would only give you money if there were strings attached, which you are sadly experiencing.  Your option is either to try and find a middle path or, as your wife suggests, cut yourself loose from any financial arrangement.  If you decide on the latter option you will have the stress of finding a new suitable place to live and moving in.  On the other hand you would have the enormous advantage of being independent.  

If you chose the middle path it could mean you suggested a date to end the  financial arrangement and in the meantime pay your father a certain amount each month until the loan plus interest has been repaid. This may cause you some financial stress and of course does not rule out the likelihood of your father continuing to interfere in your life.  

Whatever you and your wife decide about his loan, you need to stand up to him at last. Even if he has no further hold over you he may still feel able to make personal comments and criticisms that are both undermining and disrespectful. Your wife and children do not need to endure his insults so perhaps whatever you decide you can think about ways your intimate family and possibly your brothers can distance yourselves from him.  For example you could visit him less often and communicate electronically.  Also when you do meet up prepare yourself in advance that if he becomes unpleasant you will shut down the conversation or walk out of the room. 

Should I Re-connect With My Father?


I stopped talking to my father fifteen years ago. I was thirty and I could clearly see that his aim was to undermine me and make me feel inadequate. 

I moved countries and got on with my life. Occasionally I would feel a little guilty but then I would go through a couple of things he did and said and how my mother was too scared to stop him and the feeling would disappear.   


I have never missed him as a person but I have felt sad that I didn’t have a father to share the good things that have happened to me.  I am the managing director of my own travel goods company, employ over fifty people and have sales all round the world.  I also have a wife who cares about me and three small children. 

A few months ago I heard in a roundabout way from a distant cousin who knows one of my wife’s friends that my mother had passed away.  I was surprisingly affected particularly as my father didn’t contact me, even though he could find me quite easily.  He must be nearly 80 now, an old man with no one to look after him. My younger sister tragically died a few years ago in a car accident.  I thought perhaps I’d write him a letter of reconciliation and see where we go from there.  I don’t like him as a person but to be honest I don’t want to feel guilty when he too passes away.  I realise it is a risk and can bring up all sorts of bad memories.  My wife who knows a lot about my past, thinks I should just let things be.  Can you help?  


How sad that your mother died without you knowing anything about it or being able to go to her funeral. There may have been many reasons why your father didn’t let you know but it does sound rather punishing. It is not surprising her death has affected you deeply particularly as you have not seen your mother for a long time and presumably she never met your wife or saw her grandchildren. It is possible that your feel guilty about this and it has become part of why you are thinking about reconnecting with your father?

Think carefully and don’t rush before you make a move. Allow yourself to grieve for the loss of your mother. Perhaps you would like to mark her death in some way by visiting her resting place, or to connect with another family member who knew her well. We advise however that you separate these feelings from those you feel about your relationship with your father.

When you process your grief you may feel clearer about what if anything you would like to do about contacting your father. If you decide to get in touch do so gradually and without any firm goals. It might be a good idea to start by sending a card of condolence with a short note rather a letter of reconciliation and see what happens. He may or may not get in touch and you will have the option of taking it further.

You are right that it is highly likely to bring up old memories so accept that and be prepared to process them as best you can.

Dreading Mother's Day

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I dread Mothers’ Day every year. My mother starts nagging me about sending her a card weeks before the date and asks for chocolates too. It is totally ridiculous and I know her script by heart. ‘You won’t forget my card, will you,’ is how she begins. ‘All my friends get beautiful cards from their daughters, while I feel ashamed of the ones you send me as they always have a rather dreary design on the front. As for the chocolates. Is it really too much to ask you to spend a little more and buy me a selection in a decent-sized box. Surely it’s not much to ask after all the years I had to look after you.’

The reality is she has been a rotten spiteful mother and it’s hard to remember anything genuinely loving that she did for me. Instead it’s been criticisms all the way which, now I’m forty, is not going to make me want to try harder to please her. In fact it works the other way round. I stopped buying chocolates a few years ago but every year I find myself feeling both foolish and irritable when I walk into a card shop to look for something with words that are as non-committal as possible. I once sent her a card by email and I still haven’t heard the end of it. She hated it because she couldn’t easily show it to her few friends.

What on earth do I do?

Our comments

You are certainly not the only one who feels sad and frustrated about handling Mothers’ Day. Because your mother anticipates the day so strongly you must feel you are taking part in a charade and feel obliged to send a card with messages you don’t mean. It is possible that one reason you are irritated is because you feel caught up in your mother’s attempts to manipulate you. It might help if instead you think about how you would like to manage this complicated day.

It is impossible to satisfy a difficult mother, so trying to please her and be true to your own values is not going to work. If you decide to go ahead and mark the day by buying a card along with a modest box of chocolates, try thinking of yourself as a dutiful daughter who gives so much to make her feel it is her day but no more. You’ve sort of done this before but perhaps this time you can do it as willingly as possible but without joining her game. However, your gesture will never match her unrealistic needs. Stay strong about whatever you choose, expect some backlash but don’t let it undermine you.

Essentially the day should be about how you decide to cope and has nothing to do with how she and her friends react. You are right that her behaviour is so bad she doesn’t even deserve a card, but if you decide you want to send her something think of Mothers’ Day as just one day out of 365 and that your behaviour makes you the better person.

My Bullying Father

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I fear my father has ruined my life. He was a tough man and I was terrified of him throughout my childhood and teenage years. I dealt with it by trying to please him. I did whatever he wanted me to do to the best of my ability.

As the eldest and only male child he decided he wanted me to work in his button factory as he was insistent the surname of the owner should stay unchanged when he passed away. I couldn’t have been less interested in buttons but when I was 16 he demanded I left school and became his apprentice. I gathered my courage and tried to persuade him to let me stay and do my A Levels and go to university saying that I felt long term I could be of more help to him and the company. His answer was to explode with rage and ignore me for weeks. So I gave up further education and accepted his demands. My mother was very unhelpful as she was scared of him too and went along with whatever he said.

I worked in the factory for 20 years and watched it slowly decline. He wouldn’t listen to any of my suggestions for modernisation and I eventually gave up. He died recently and nine months later the business went into liquidation. I have since not known what to do with myself. I don’t know who I am or what I want out of life. Is it all too late?


How sad that you have given your life so far to what your father demanded. Following the wishes of a horrid parent can leave people feeling empty and directionless once they have died, especially in your case as his business has also failed. It is a lot to process and understand and understandable that you have many mixed emotions about your life so far and are unclear about your path forwards. However it is absolutely not too late for you to start to live a life that will suit you, bring you satisfaction and hopefully some happiness. There are many ways that you could tackle this.

For a start give yourself time, keep your expectations realistic and don’t give in to feelings of hopelessness or expect miracles. Start to think about things that you like to do, what gives you pleasure and makes you smile. Do you have any hobbies you could develop or a course you could do that might lead to a new career?

An interesting exercise is to take a sheet of paper and write down all the attributes you see in yourself. In your email you have already shown obedience, loyalty, courage and persistence. Now is the time to add to this list as many other characteristics as you can. Build up a map of your own attributes and try and look at them objectively. You will hopefully start to see yourself as others see you and come to recognise your own worth.

When you find you have strong negative feelings about your father try and recall what incidents in your past lead to them. Think about what you would have liked to happen, such as your father listening carefully to what you had to say, or your father treating you with kindness and respect. Try and hold on to those wishes and be the sort of person that you would like your father to have been. See him as a template for how not to be. If he also taught you some useful skills, acknowledge and accept that.

Do try to build up your social connections as well as looking after yourself over the next few months while you are feeling particularly vulnerable.

Abandoned and Unwanted

I gave up having a mother ten years ago because her behaviour was intolerable.  I told her I wanted nothing more to do with her and using very unpleasant words she told me it was a very good idea.


Since then I have married and had two daughters who have never seen their grandmother.  I feel I made the right decision to cut my links with her but at times I feel such pain that she obviously doesn’t care at all about what has happened to me.  I have a younger brother who sees right through her too but doesn’t mind staying in touch with her now and then.  He has told me that she has never once asked after me and I believe him.  I never remember her saying sorry about anything when I was a child.  She was always right and never gave any ground in a discussion.  Life has only been about her.  No wonder my father left her when my brother and I were small.  I see him occasionally but he has remarried and it is obvious his focus is on his new family.


Fortunately  I get on well with my mother-in-law who is warm and loving to my children.  The eldest one now six has asked me several times if I have a mother.  I think it would be too dangerous to let them meet her, because she obviously doesn’t want to know me.  But I don’t want to lie and tell them she is dead.  Can you help please?




How sad that things were so bad with your mother that you felt you had no option but to cut ties. Now you have your own daughters it must seem incredible that your mother let you leave without trying her best for a reconciliation.  You are not the only one this has happened to and it seems their horrid parent cannot accept any responsibility for the damaged relationship.  A denial that is maintained because they are too proud to do anything about it.   Your brother may not have heard your mother express regret but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel sorry.      

It is understandable that you are concerned that your children don’t have a relationship with their grandmother. We agree it wouldn’t be a good idea to tell them that she is dead. Instead try telling them in simple terms that they can understand  that you find it hard to get along with your mother and have decided  not to see her. Perhaps you could use compare it to someone at school they don’t like. There are also plenty of family rifts in children’s literature and fairy tales so it won’t be an entirely new concept for them.  You might also need to doubly reassure your girls that such a situation would NEVER happen with them. As they get older you can go back to the subject and help them understand the complexities of your decision without giving them specific  examples of your painful experiences.


They are lucky that they have a warm loving grandmother on your husband’s side so you can make the most of this to let your children learn about love across generations.