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

BLOG box-of-chocolates-602314_640.jpg

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

bullying father.jpg

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. 






I worry a lot and some days almost everyone and everything can get me going.  If I am feeling a bit down and my husband or children are late my imagination takes over about all the problems they could have encountered on the way home.  If my cleaning lady doesn’t arrive on the dot as she usually does I decide she’s found another job and didn’t want to tell me to my face.  If I don’t hear from a friend for a while, I think he or she might be fed up with me or upset by something I said when we last met.  I also worry when I come back to work from my holiday that there will be someone new at my desk and I’ll be out of the door.

 The key thing is that the majority of people who know me, sometimes quite well, don’t have any idea that I am such a wreck.  I keep it all inside and just occasionally confide in my husband what I am really thinking.  He has a very positive outlook on life and tries to jolly me out of my anxieties but occasionally I can tell he is fed up with me going on again that there is a disaster waiting around the corner. 

 I often think it all goes back to me feeling I had to walk on eggshells at home as I never knew what mood my mother would be in.  Is that a possibility?  Also could you give me some helpful hints on how to manage this anxiety?  I definitely don’t want to see a psychiatrist.


You are obviously worried about lots of things that might go wrong but you are not alone.  

Some people are natural worriers but it seems yours stems from growing up with a moody unpredictable mother and as a result you can feel tense about other people in your life. You also sound as if you lack confidence.  Yet despite all of this you have got a job that you enjoy, you have friends, got married and created a family that you love. These are all things to congratulate yourself about, but they are also what you fear losing.  

You are doing well to manage your feelings so that your friends and family are not aware of what is happening under the surface yet you also realise that it is time to tackle your worries. Having a caring husband is very helpful and he will need to support you on your journey, but fear cannot be jollied away.  It needs to be carefully considered.

If you wish to try this on your own there are several steps that you can take. Start with the obvious ones such as having as good a sleep, diet and exercise pattern as you can. Teach yourself some calming breathing techniques and learn how to do systematic muscle relaxation. There are several guides to these in the web. Practice these as often as you can.

You can then start to make a note of your worries and when they occur. Is there a pattern to these? Can you rate the strength of them say on a five point scale? Can you also rate how reasonable/likely each one of them is? Can you think of other alternative thoughts such as if a friend does not reply to an email immediately could there be different reason other than them being fed up with you? Perhaps they are busy.

Try combining all of these techniques when you start to feel worried. Breathe, relax and ask yourself if the thought is likely to be true. Give it time and you will find that you can slowly face your fears and relax as they fade.

You might like to talk some of this over with a trusted friend or join an on-line peer support group.

There are a number of useful books such as in the Overcoming series:


It's Always All About Her



I have a great job making documentaries.  I also have two gorgeous twin girls who are fantastic acrobats and so far have won every competition they’ve gone in for. 

But is my mother the slightest bit interested? Absolutely not.  When I visit her of course I ask what she’s been doing and who she has seen and she drones on for ages telling me in minute detail about anything from a  TV programme to her experience in the local supermarket. 

 She very rarely asks about me or the children so I try to keep her up to date instead. But she is not the slightest bit interested. She doesn’t question a word I say or make a warm comment.  Instead she pretends to suddenly remember another dull anecdote that I have to listen to.  

She needs to be the centre of attention no matter what.  She wants every conversations to be about her.

I realised over time that she is jealous of the work I do and hearing about it makes her feel inadequate. My twins aren’t bothered if she doesn’t talk to them.  Like many children they are excited when something good happens or they win another competition but less keen to talk about it to someone who doesn’t listen. Recently I’ve tried just listening to her and not saying much and cutting my visits down to about thirty minutes. I manage it but I often burst with rage when we leave that she is so disengaged with her own family.  

 Should I ignore what she does or tell the children what an awful person their grandmother really is?



It is both tedious and infuriating to listen to someone talk incessantly about themselves. If it was anyone other than family you would probably not bother to go and see her. Not only does your mother need to be centre stage her patent lack of interest in you and your daughters is extremely hurtful.  It is not surprising that you react as you do when you leave her company.  

You are correct that her behaviour stems in part from jealousy, probably because of her own lack of achievements or dissatisfaction with her life. But it’s also possible that she boasts about you and her granddaughters to her friends and neighbours but will not congratulate you or share how proud you are.

 You have started to change things which is a good idea because she is unlikely to alter her behaviour. Your girls are at an age where they do not seem to mind her lack attention but this may change as they get older. We recommend that when they start complaining about her that you give them honest answers.  Don’t bring up your own painful experiences but use what they say to help them understand a little of what she is like. In other words let them find their own way with her. They have not grown up immersed in her toxic care so will not suffer as you have.

 When you visit make a mental list of ways to interrupt her flow of words by, for example, offering to make a cup of tea or point out an interesting bird in the garden.  Meanwhile keep your own expectations of her realistic and enjoy your daughters.

Unending Rows



My father seeks arguments. Say one small thing that he disagrees with and he immediately builds it up into something explosive.    

His rows go right across the spectrum from politics to veganism and his views are the only ones that count.  My opinions are deliberately held to wind him up.  When I try to explain they are just what I believe in, he becomes even more furious.    

He spouts very old-fashioned views at great length and is incandescent if I mention that I have heard them before. Nor does he care if my wife and children are with me.  It upsets them enormously when he shouts at me, but I feel very sorry for my mother having to live with such a monster so feel obliged to visit her at least.  I’ve tried to get her out on her own for tea, but she is a home body and prefers me to come to her.  
I tried my best to find something we had in common and for a while some years ago we went out sailing together.  He’s enjoyed it as a young man and I’d had lots of training and take part in several races, which I suppose he didn’t like.  After a few attempts It became impossible as he shouted non-stop orders at me, some of which were ridiculous.  

A couple of years ago I finally lost my temper with him, something I really try not to do because it is pointless.  I aim to keep to topics that are safe and we were talking about the best time to plant a particular shrub, a soft subject if ever there was one.  He kept saying autumn while I said it was spring.  I knew I was correct as I’d looked it up on-line the previous day.  I refused to give in and just blurted out that I was fed up with him thinking he was always right and it was about time he listened to me. 

We didn’t speak for a year, which upset my mother enormously.  It all eventually calmed down but I now feel another row is building up, this time about Brexit.  Can I have some hints on how to cope? 

 Our Comments

You’ve made a clear and accurate assessment of your father’s character and style of communication. He wants an audience and believes your role is to listen and agree with him. He is unlikely to change.  When you tried to get him to see your point of view it only lead to an argument.  So think carefully about how you can support your mother and manage time with your father. You could, for  example,  phone her more often, send her emails or texts and even try an old-fashioned letter if you think she’d like that.  Perhaps when you visit you could try to do joint tasks with her, that wouldn’t interest your father. His behaviour sounds so upsetting that it also might be a good idea to cut right down on your children coming along too.  

It is a good plan to try to stick to neutral topics of conversation but you need to go one step further and work out how to avoid getting into any discussion at all with him. We recommend you don’t offer a different opinion or insist that you are correct. Instead change the subject, or say something bland like: ‘I See’  or ‘interesting’ or ‘possibly’. Keep your own ideas and views for your family and friends who appreciate you. And finally steer well clear of talking about Brexit!



My Child is Behaving Like My Horrid Mother

 I am devastated.  My late mother was a perfect example of a horrid mother.  She crushed my sister and brother but although I suffered inside I stood up to her and have had a good life.  I have been married for over thirty years and have a wonderful daughter who I am very close to.  However, my younger son treats me just like my mother treated my siblings.  I don’t know what I have done wrong, nor does my daughter but he is breaking both my and my wife’s heart.  I find myself walking on eggshells just as I did as a child.  

Initially we thought it was a teenage thing but he is now thirty and married with twin girls. He is very close to his inlaws but we rarely see him.  On the rare occasions he comes round, his wife is always ‘busy.’  He only told us the date of their wedding a week before it happened. I couldn’t go because I was working in the States and he subsequently told me he was ‘disgusted’ I didn’t change my plans.  Nor did we know they were expecting twins until the day his wife went was in labour.  He did though ask for some financial help for them to buy a small house and I gave him a six figure sum.  It upsets us that we have never been invited there.  He also flies into a rage about the smallest thing.  One year his birthday card arrived a day late and when we bought two presents each for the children instead of the prescribed one, he was incandescent that we had ‘disobeyed’ his order.  He then ignored us for months.  My wife has often offered to babysit but he turns her down.     

Last Christmas he told us on 22ndDecember that he was spending it with his in-laws in the country and has made no suggestions for popping round since.  We are devastated.  His sister, who he is almost equally unpleasant to, has tried to suggest she and he sought some therapy but he mocked her.  If I spoke to his in-laws or wife I know we will never see him again. Has he perhaps inherited my mother’s genes? Please help me.  


How sad that you had a horrid mother and now your son is behaving in a similar unpleasant way, particularly as you don’t know why. Until you understand the situation better it will be hard to work out how to  move forward.  

Unfortunately in some families there are patterns of unpleasant behaviour that run from one generation to the next.  Sometimes the cycle can be broken by  kindness but some personality issues develop by themselves.   

It sounds as if your son’s behaviour problems began when he was a teenager It may help for you and your wife to think about his development and note when they occurred and the most effective ways you managed him.  You could also talk to your  daughter and others you are close to help you pinpoint any unresolved arguments or resentments as this will increase the change of you understanding what may be happening. 

It sounds as if his wife is also part of the problem as she obviously wants to keep her distance.  This may be a reaction to what your son has told her about her  but she may also just not like you.    

As things are quite tense at the moment it might be worth keeping lines of communication open from a distance. You could ask your son if he would like you to send your presents to his daughters or if he’d like to pop by and collect them.  Try to keep to his boundaries at the moment but then gradually make a gentle attempt to  discuss what has upset him and your wish to be part of his family unit.  You might prefer to try this through an intermediary, or by email, whichever way you think is least likely to alienate or anger him. It will take time so don’t rush it or set your expectations too high. 







My Very Angry Parent


I came across your website unexpectedly and found your suggestions on coping with a horrid parent riveting.  I wish I had seen it decades ago.   

What I remember most of my late mother is her appalling endlessly raging bad temper.  It’s so sad, but that’s how I think of her.  From the time I was a small child until my late forties when she died she shouted at me for misdemeanours  that most people would consider were inconsequential or a normal part of a child growing up.  Forgetting my homework was one, looking scruffy was another, as was leaving a used drinking glass on the kitchen work surface.    

It went on from there and included not studying law at university because she found it fascinating – I didn’t so in her eyes I let her down and she always raged when she didn’t get her own way.  I teach history instead.  At the other end of the scale despite my age she continued to criticise my clothes.   

I have never married as I couldn’t bear to risk having someone else harangue me in the way she did.  As I was her only child and my father died when I was twenty I took responsibility for her welfare as she aged and contracted various ailments.  That too infuriated her as she couldn’t bear to be vulnerable.  It was only a small consolation that she also shouted at the cleaning lady and a very nice neighbour for asking how she was feeling.   

I am now 48  and when I look back it seems that anger was the only emotion she could express and I suspect that she blocked herself from feeling other more vulnerable emotions like feeling sad, anxious or disappointed. For myself I wonder whether it’s possible to overcome such an unhappy start to life and find some personal happiness?



Many people struggle to accept what they are feeling and some find the experience so unpleasant that they deny them, both to themselves and to others. But strong feelings have a way of re-emerging and if we try to mask them they may appear in a different form. So you are probably right that your mother could not accept or admit to her wider range of emotions. Perhaps her resentment about this led her to appear angry and she took it out on you as her only child. If it interests you to do so, think back over your mother’s life and maybe see some events that would have been hard for her to manage and consider how else she could have reacted. This is not to excuse her but to enable you get more perspective on her as a person which will also help you believe that none of her fury was your fault. 

It is not easy to live with so much pain and there are no quick solutions, but there is no reason why you cannot start to move forward in your life now that your mother has died. You could try making some plans about how you would like your future life to develop. Think about what you have achieved so far: your education, professional life as a teacher, friendships and hobbies. Note what has given you most satisfaction and what else would you like to do. Make a list and be as broad and creative as you can. Take ownership and control for yourself without thinking whether or not your mother would approve.    It’s time to do what you want and make the most of your freedom.

Also think whether some counselling might help you on your way?