My Mother Brings Out The Worst In Me


My mother brings out the worst in me. However hard I tell myself I will stay calm and dignified within minutes of being with her I am raging inside.  I have never liked her but it took me until my late teens before I realised  quite how illogical, irrational, spiteful and thoroughly nasty she was.  Can you believe a mother who actually enjoys trying to break her daughter’s spirit, destroy her confidence and put her down? 

Once I reached my mid twenties and took up a career as a marketing manager I had gathered enough confidence to stand my ground. But that didn’t work either as when she shouted at me, I couldn’t help but shout back.  If she criticised me I would do the same to her.  I think she enjoyed the battle.  I hated it.  Outside of my home I was a different person, calm, positive, and sociable.  When I go back I transform into a mini her.  The worst thing of all is that I look so much like her and when I look in the mirror I sometimes cringe.   

On the advice of my friends I stopped seeing her for a few years and she made no attempt to reach out to me.   She never would compromise.  Then I heard that my father was very ill. I visited him as often as I could in hospital, trying but not always succeeding in leaving his bedside when my mother turned up.  After he died I decided to give her a second chance.  I tried my best but I couldn’t take her endless criticism.   I haven’t seen her for nearly three years. Unfortunately I feel guilty and just don’t know what to do.   


You have had to struggle to cope with a critical, unpleasant mother, one who regularly twisted your conversations into a battle, since you were a child.  The only way you coped was by disengaging yourself from her.  We believe that has been the correct position to take.  You were a good daughter to your father but this had no affect on your mother who has continued to be thoroughly unpleasant.    


What exactly do you feel guilty about? Do you think that it’s your fault that she’s been such a horrid parent?  As your difficult parent has shown no sign of changing the way she behaves and you have tried everything you can think of to improve your relationship, the next step is to  think about how best to protect yourself from the overwhelming feelings you have when you are together.  

You owe nothing to an unloving parent.  You have physicallymoved away from her.  You now need to think how to block her from invading your mind. We suggest you accept that you have a difficult mother and find love and comfort with friends. You have developed into the person you want to be so keep your sense of self strong and don’t let anyone try to change it.  

It might help thinking of some coping strategies when thoughts of your mother pop into your mind.  You could try visualising a soothing scene like a  woodland or beach and take ten deep breaths to shift your thoughts.  Also when you look in the mirror make sure you smile at your image and say something like: “I may look like you but in every other way I am the opposite”. Perhaps writing down your experiences will help too. Remember above all that you don’t have to justify how you feel about your mother to anyone.  


My Father is so Negative About Me



 My father is a terrible snob and social climber. He is a property developer and when he’s not working, his hobby seems to be making sure he and my mother are following the latest trend.  This includes going to ‘in’ restaurants and ski resorts.  He even changes his car every year to have the model of the moment.   He is also obsessed about body building, goes to an expensive gym where he’s thrilled to see the odd celebrity and wears tight but expensive T-shirts that show his six pack.  

I couldn’t be more different and have no wish to look like Superman’s  understudy.  Nor am I interested in sport. Going back as far as I can remember my father has made it clear that I am a huge disappointment to him.  Even when I was at school I couldn’t see the point of having the most expensive trainers  just because other boys in my class wore them.  I went for comfort.   After my 16th birthday he tried to impress on me that I had to join him in his property company so  he could “make something out of me.”   He was particularly keen to stop me some how or another from being plump and gay. I couldn’t think of anything worse than working for him.  I’ve always been interested in people not things, and especially those who are on the bottom rung of society.  

My decisionto be a prison officer  horrified him.  “Why do you want to spend your time with scum?” he keeps on asking. Or “ Do you want to be a criminal too? That’s about all you are fit for.” 

As it happens I’ve worked up the ranks and just been offered a job as deputy prison officer in a tough prison up north.  As I am not yet 30 it’s a big endorsement for me. My partner is thrilled and wants us to get married.  How do I tell my Dad without putting him in a position where he can denigrate me again? My mother has been brain washed by him to be a ‘yes’ person and wouldn’t or couldn’t help me.  


Well done for successfully getting far away from your father’s orbit by following your own life path and making your own choice of career. It is not easy to do and shows your ability and determination to make your own decisions both professional and personal.  Congratulations on both your promotion and future marriage.  

Sadly your father is unlikely to look positively on any of your achievements.  He is obviously a very dissatisfied man and everything he does is geared to make himself look strong and accomplished. If that wasn’t enough he’s also fought for you and your mother to follow suit.   It is unlikely he will be pleased about your forthcoming nuptials or indeed anyone you choose to marry.   They will never be good enough.   Our advice is rather than wasting any time trying to find a way to avoid him being negative about you you should distance yourself from him.    

If you write to him letting him know your wedding plans you will be able to avoid listening or seeing him be unpleasant.  Don’t expect him to change, but relish the freedom you have achieved, move on and enjoy your life.


My Mother Has Become An Awful Grandmother.


My mother’s behaviour is appalling.  I have two children aged five and seven.  My husband and I are trying to bring them up on a healthy diet and protect them from nastiness in society.  Something I believe my mother is trying to sabotage. She has always been difficult and controlling, but her regular attempts to undermine me and my husband’s roles as parents has gone too far. 

Like many parents today we keep an eye on our children’s sugar intake.  We are careful about the number of sweets,  sugary drinks and ice cream they have and I am pleased to say they accept our restriction.  We also monitor what they see on television and ban gratuitous violence and overt sex.  They are still very young.   

My mother, however, has deliberately gone against our rules.  She gives them a vast amount of sweets and when they are with her lets them watch any amount of television, some of which has been totally inappropriate.  One film caused them both to have nightmares for weeks.   I have asked her several times not to behave like this but she immediately takes offence and claims she is their grandmother and has more experience of bringing up children than I do.  Since she criticised me non stop when I lived at home and gave me an unhappy childhood,  this is indeed ironic.   

My husband now feels we should no longer leave the children with her on their own. He is right but there is something deep inside me that doesn’t want to give up on her.

I also want my children to have a grandmother in their lives and their own special relationship.  What is your advice?



Wanting your children to grow up healthily and protecting them from unnecessary harm are admirable aims.  The fact that they go against your mother’s style and her refusal to compromise means you have to make a choice. Your wish for your children to have a warm, loving relationship with their grandmother is probably based on what you wanted to have with your mother. Instead you were endlessly criticised and unhappy. It is likely that she will treat your children in the same way.  


Allowing them to watch a film that affected them badly means your mother has  broken any trust you may have had for her.  Your husband is right that leaving them on their own with her while they are so young and impressionable is likely to result in the same thing happening again.  

There are however other options for letting your mother be part of your children’s lives.  You can invite her to stay with you, you can stay with the children whenever they visit her or you can meet up for an outing on neutral ground.  

 Be prepared for your mother to insist that she continues to have sole charge of your children and enlist your husband to join you in taking  a firm stand that it won’t happen.

My Ruined Marriages

I am just getting over my second divorce and wonder whether they have been entirely my fault or I just choose the wrong type of men.  I long to be loved, needed and appreciated.  All the things I didn’t get from my mother.  I don’t even know if it’s all gone wrong because I hold back too much, am too independent or much too clingy.  My father left home when I was ten because he couldn’t take my mother’s nagging so I don’t have any memories of a happy home life.  I’ve watched how other couples cope with each other and have tried to copy their behaviour, but it hasn’t worked.  I don’t have children because I just didn’t dare and it’s now too late.   My mother demeaned me at every opportunity and told me more times than I can count that no one would want to marry me.  Perhaps I rushed into two marriages in quick succession just to prove her wrong. 

 But now I think she might be right.  Please help me.  I don’t know how someone can cope in adult life when their mother wanted to crush them to pieces.   



It must be heart breaking to get divorced for the second time. You could be right that you chose the wrong partner, but there could also be other reasons. It is a tough legacy to grow up with a horrid parent and lose your father at an early age and no surprise that you need love, reassurance and approval. Three basic needs that have left you exposed and vulnerable when it comes to new relationships. They have perhaps also prevented you knowing how to create a healthy, long-lasting partnership. 

You have done well to escape from your mother’s clutches.  It is also helpful that you have observed and noted how others manage their marriages. However it is not necessarily a good idea to copy them.   Instead you need to work out what is right for you.  

You suggest that perhaps your marriages haven’t worked because of your choice of men or/and that you are unsure who you really are.  On the positive side we believe they are nothing to do with your ability to have a loving close relationship.  So take no notice of any unkind comments your mother makes.   

Instead give yourself a break after your recent divorce and spend time thinking about yourself.  You are doubtless a unique individual with some admirable qualities. Write them down and absorb what they say about you.  You shuld also think about how you behave whether you really are too clingy, too independent or a combination of the two.   If you’d like to do ask a close friend to help.  We hope this will help you treat yourself more kindly and become more confident of who you are.  It will also help you be more authentic with others.  

It is hard to escape from a crushing horrid parent but if you work on building yourself up, making new friends lean on.  

I Hate Being My Mother's Favourite Child

I have a big dilemma:  I am my mother’s favourite child.  I think it’s because I’m both her only son and youngest child. I know she always wanted boys rather than girls and has become very jealous of her three beautiful daughters - two of whom have now left home – but who  have been loving, kind sisters to me.  

From childhood I always got the biggest slice of cake, despite being the smallest.  When I was a teen she bought me, but only me, the latest iphone and she paid for me to have masses of driving lessons that my sisters had to save up for.  Our father died some years ago and ever since she’s tried to make me man of the house, which I have dodged as much as I can.  It is all very embarrassing but it shows how good natured my sisters have been in that they never blamed me for her behaviour.  I do know however that it upsets them that our mother doesn’t even bother to hide the fact that I am her favourite.   

But now I am really worried.  Just a few weeks ago she called me aside, made me promise I would keep an important secret and told me she was going to leave me most of her money and the family home in her will.  I’ve tried to dissuade her, but she then rubbished my sisters, alleging all sorts of things they had done wrong adding they ‘don’t deserve a penny.’   

It seems like dirty money to me and I really don’t want anything to do with her plan or even her.   Should I break my promise and tell my sisters or wait until she dies and then split what she has left into four?



What an uncomfortable and unfair position you have had to live with and now she has burdened you with an incredibly difficult secret.  Something no doubt is not a surprise.    

Think the issue through carefully.  It’s obvious your manipulative mother wants to divide you from your sisters. You can, however, decide not to have any part of her plan. You may also feel that her secret is not worth keeping.  Not least because it is patently unfair to your siblings and something they don’t deserve.  Once again It might also be something they have already anticipated.  

As, despite your mother’s best efforts, they have been so loving towards you, our view is that it would be better for you to be open with them and discuss how you can share the money fairly on her death. There is a helpful government website that explains how to do this. 

Your mother is unlikely to change her mind so unless you want to have her cut all of you out of her estate, keep your distance and refuse to get drawn into any discussion about her will. 









My Embarrassing Father

I hate being at a social event with my father. He boasts continually about his achievements both academic and at work, even though he has now retired.   

He often says: ‘When I was at Cambridge students were like me so much more hard working and respectful than today’s lot.’ The truth is, that he went to a Polytechnic in Cambridge, twice failed the first year exams and was asked to leave. He also talks about running a ‘vast’ successful furniture business and comes out with several stories about the deals he made and the rich customers who came to ‘his empire.’  In fact he was a salesman in a modest furniture shop.   

I can just about bear it when close family are involved as they know him and take what he says with a several pinches of salt. I find it very stressing when my in-laws are around.  They are very polite and ask him lots of questions and I sometimes feel I want to punch him when I hear one exaggerated untrue tale after another.   

I, on the other hand, am a modest man and work as a nurse in an old age home.  He can’t bear my job as he sees it as demeaning and when he’s had a few drinks and really gets going he makes lots of sarcastic remarks like:  ‘Unlike my son who doesn’t mind wiping old people’s bottoms.’ Even worse is that he has recently set up a website looking back on ‘the good old days’ and full of advice about life based on his own ‘broad and multiple experiences.’  Most of which are made up.  There are several occasions now when I don’t know who to feel most embarrassed for, me or him.        




It is a shame when people feel they have to exaggerate what they have accomplished in order to look good.  It would have been much easier if your father had been honest about being accepted by a Polytechnic, which was considered a good enough achievement in his day.  He could also have said that he found he liked dealing with people more satisfying than being an academic.  If he kept his job for years, he must have been a good salesman, and that should have made him feel proud.  Instead he’s chosen to live in a fantasy world which of course is embarrassing for you. 

You seem to have chosen to follow a modest path and are happy to have a  worthwhile job caring for others.  There may be something in your career choice that echoes your father’s and contributes to his tendency to criticise and demean you.  His desire for recognition has led him to set up his website.  You  don’t have to read it. Or you could see it’s funny side.    

Be firm and proud of your own position and don’t let your father’s attempts to belittle you get under your skin. At your age you don’t have to socialise with him more than is absolutely necessary so steer well clear. Your wife no doubt knows of his tall tales so perhaps one of you could explain this to her parents. 


My Phoney Mum


 My mother is a complete phoney and lies through her teeth when it suits her. 

My husband works for a well-known publishing house.  He also comes from a rather grand family but he himself is both modest and down to earth. One of the things I love about him is that he takes everyone at their own worth and that includes me.  When I tell him I feel very lucky he found me he says he feels exactly the same.  

It is absolutely cringe-making that whenever my mother sees him she takes on a different persona.  She talks ‘posh’ and pretends, for example, that she is an avaricious reader.  The truth is she has invariably just skimmed one or two book reviews.  She usually comes out with nonsense that she couldn’t put it down, was up all night reading it when the truth is that it is quite a heavyweight book that doesn’t even try to be a thriller.  She also makes a song and dance about the author saying she met him or her at a literary festival and found him or her charming, when I know for sure she has never been to one.  My husband saw through this the first time he met her, but finds it quietly amusing.  I however want to sink through the floorboards.     Should I tell her how ridiculous she sounds? 



This is a tricky situation.  Often people who have deep feelings of insecurity and shame cannot face who they actually are and instead portray themselves as they would like to be. And it’s likely that your husband’s background has intensified her sense of inadequacy and caused her behaviour to become more extreme. Tempting as it might be to point out how ridiculous she is being, this will only make her both more defensive and angry. Instead why not try to gently reassure her of some of the things your husband likes about her. The more she feels accepted by him the less she is likely to exaggerate her literary expertise.  

It would also be a good idea for you to accept her for what she is.  Your husband is not put off by her, nor is it affecting your relationship. It means that he does indeed love you and take you for who and what you are and that includes your embarrassing mother.



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.