Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a man whose ex-wife doesn’t like that their children get on well with their stepmother

MY EX-WIFE RESENTS OUR CHILDREN’S RELATIONSHIP WITH MY NEW PARTNER

I remarried some nine years ago, and my ex-wife and I agreed between us that we would always have a flexible relationship when it came to our children.

They get on so well with my new wife and they seem to be really fond of her, which is great.

However, it seems my first wife resents this and has caused a number of scenes at family gatherings, where she has accused my present wife of trying to steal her children from her. Nothing could be further from the truth!

My daughter had a baby two years ago and, so she could return to work quickly, she asked my wife (who works from home) to look after him for two days a week. My wife was delighted to help out, but the last nine months have been absolute hell for her. She’s had to put up with a barrage of phone calls from my first wife, who calls daily to accuse her of trying to drive a rift between her and her grandson!

It’s made my wife so unhappy that, in the end, we had to tell my daughter we couldn’t continue with the arrangement. That really upset her as it means it’s no longer worth her while going out to work; it makes us feel guilty, but we don’t know what else we can do.

M. G.

FIONA SAYS: HER BEHAVIOUR DOESN’T SOUND REASONABLE

If anyone ought to feel guilty here, it’s your ex-wife! I don’t know what caused the break-up of your first marriage, but it happened – and while it can take someone a while to work through a break-up, nine years is long enough.

You’re not to blame for creating this current satiation, she is, and if she doesn’t realise how difficult she’s making life for her children then she’s not being much of a mother either!

When I started reading your letter, I assumed your children were young, but it rapidly became clear that they are old enough to assert themselves. Your wife has done far more for your daughter than many stepmothers would have willingly done, and you are lucky that your children have such a good relationship with her.

Perhaps it’s time that they stood up to their mother and told her that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable. In fact, it’s far more likely to mean they become alienated from her than anything you or your wife might be doing.

It sounds to me that your ex-wife is a very unhappy lady who hasn’t ever really adjusted to the fact that you’re remarried. This doesn’t, though, give her and excuse to make other people suffer. Were you in a position to suggest it, I’d say encourage her to seek counselling help in order to overcome her resentment. Under the circumstances, though, it might come better from one of your children. Relate (relate.org.uk) or a local family mediation service might be able to help, and you should find a number of these through an internet search engine.

They say that getting over a relationship can take about half as long as the relationship lasted. You don’t indicate how long you were married for previously but, as you’ve now been re-married for nine years, if your first marriage was less than 18 years then your wife definitely needs help.

Why she’s failed to realise that your new wife is not some kind of wicked stepmother but is, instead, someone who cares about her children, who is kind and caring, I cannot say. There are a few obvious things you might consider doing – such as changing your phone number and making sure she doesn’t have the new one or blocking all her calls to your phones. That might not be feasible for you though, if there are young children involved. Whatever you do though, I hope you can find a way to continue to support your children and now grandchildren without your ex blighting the relationship you have with them.

ARE MY CHILDREN TOO YOUNG TO BE TOLD THEIR UNCLE IS DYING?

My brother-in-law has always been very close to my two children, who are now nine and seven. He is a wonderful uncle and they adore him. Sadly, he has terminal cancer and will probably die during the next year.

He wants to tell them that he’s dying but I am very anxious about this, as I think they’re too young to understand what death is about. Should we allow him to tell them or should we ask him to wait?

W. M.

FIONA SAYS: NOT TALKING TO CHILDREN ABOUT DEATH CAN MAKE THEIR ANXIETY WORSE

It may seem a harsh question, but what would you be asking him to wait for?

If the doctors are correct, your children are not going to be very much older before they are faced with the very stark reality of their uncle no longer being around.

That could be very frightening for them and hard for them to adjust to. By talking to them now and helping them to prepare for his death, he will be helping them to come to terms with it.

It is going to be hard for him to explain it to them, and perhaps you should be there too when he talks to them. They are going to have questions – many of which will seem very direct and very hard and I strongly recommend you and your brother-in-law visit the Marie Curie website (mariecurie.org.uk). They have a very comprehensive section on talking to children that explains the best way to go about it. I would really encourage you to read it thoroughly.

You say they are very young to understand what death is about but if it’s not explained to them in language they can understand, they can become very traumatised by it. Using words like “going to sleep” may leave them anxious about going to bed each night. Some children even end up feeling responsible. I’d encourage you to also look at the Barnardo’s website (barbardos.org.uk) leaflet on child bereavement for examples and advice around this.

If they haven’t noticed that he isn’t the same as he used to be already, they soon will – you can’t hide this from them. So although it’s hard, you, he or someone needs to talk to them.

I’M SO EMBARRASSED BY MY LAZY SON

My son is bright but lazy and is one of life’s under-achievers. He was supposed to go to university but was too lazy to study for his A levels and didn’t make the grades.

He’s had a series of menial jobs, including working in a care home and volunteering for charities. He now lives with his girlfriend, who he seems to rely on to keep him, and I cannot tell you how embarrassed this makes me feel.

She doesn’t seem to mind though and never complains – she seems to really love him. He seems content to drift along in life being nice to people but never really making an impact.

I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve failed as a mother and wish there was something I could do to make him realise his potential!

H. P.

FIONA SAYS: WHAT ABOUT ALL OF HIS GOOD QUALITIES?

You see your son as a failure – but I hear a description of a young man who puts relationships with people before financial success. He has a loving relationship with a partner who seems happy to support him – that’s not a sign of a failure either.

I can see that your son’s criteria for a successful life are not the same as yours – but then why would you expect them to be? He is an independently minded adult, who is quite capable of living his life any way that he chooses.

Valuing friendship, love and helping others above monetary gain doesn’t make him (or the mother who raised him) a failure; the world would be a much better place with more people like your son.

Someone who sounds as nice as him may well be making a big impact on the lives of those he cares for, even if it’s not what you might wish for him. So why can’t you be happy for him and value what he has achieved – money really isn’t everything.

MY SEX-OBSESSED BOYFRIEND IS TOO DEMANDING

My boyfriend is totally obsessed with sex and, whenever I see him, the only thing that he wants to do is go to bed. He’s becoming so insistent that I’m starting to resent it and, when I felt ill last week and refused him, all he did was grumble and complain, rather than offer any sympathy.

Although I love him, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to feel positive about him and last night, for the very first time, I refused to let him come around. I wish he could see that he’s being unfair.

T. R.

FIONA SAYS: DO YOU THINK HE’LL EVER CHANGE?

While it’s rare for two people to have the same sexual drive, those who care about and respect each other are normally prepared to compromise. Your boyfriend seems selfish and incapable of considering any needs but his own.

He’s a selfish lover whose only motivation is his own sexual gratification.

You say you love him, but I’m afraid these are not the actions of someone who returns that love. So, sadly, I have to say that unless he becomes less selfish and more caring, I don’t really see much of a future for your relationship – unless you’re willing to completely lose all self-respect.

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to [email protected] for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.