Ask Denise anything!

Have you got a problem you’d like to get off your chest? Resident Candis agony aunt Denise Robertson can help. From money worries to family matters, Denise offers readers her unique brand of caring advice…

Check out some of the advice she has given over the year…

December 2011

My ex is nasty to me and our children”

I have two daughters, aged 15 and nine, by my ex-husband and I’m happy for them to see him, but he is so nasty to them and me that they don’t want to go. He has a court order saying that they have to go. The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) became involved after six years of hassle, but because my ex had warned the girls to not say anything nasty about him, the report seemed to be more against me than him! My new husband has two daughters by his ex. Because she was messing him around over contact, he took her to court for the right to see them, but the judges told his ex that she could pretty much do what she wanted! Now my husband has even more difficulty in seeing them, and they aren’t even allowed to spend time with us this Christmas. Why is it that a nasty man gets a court order and a good one doesn’t? I am so stressed – is there anything I can do to help?Louise

Denise says:

I wish I could tell you that there was a simple answer to this, because that would benefit everyone, especially all the children. Unfortunately, the family courts can be difficult to negotiate and you will need a solicitor you can trust. In your case, I think family mediation might help and your solicitor can arrange for you to have that. A trained and impartial observer would then be able to see how your ex-husband behaves. If he refused to take part in mediation, that could count against him. And at 15, your elder daughter could apply to be heard by the court, which will sometimes take into account the views of children over 12. The court’s almost unbreakable rule is that, except where there is a compelling reason like violence, a child is better off staying in contact with both parents. I agree with this in principle, but if your daughter can give details of her father’s behaviour, particularly if he has threatened her not to speak out, that could make a difference. In your husband’s case, I suggest he contacts Families Need Fathers. They have huge experience of cases like his and can advise on how he can get his parental rights. Stopping his children from seeing him at Christmas seems petty and I understand his resentment. Try to stay calm through all this. I know it’s hard when you are being unfairly treated, but to get the right result for your children, you need to put your energy into ensuring fair play.

November 2011

“I have not been happy in my marriage for years and for the last six have been seeing a married man.”

But our employer found out, so we parted ways. We agreed not to contact each other but I couldn’t accept it and sent texts saying he didn’t care for me as he let me go so easily. Then he texted that he’d taken some paracetamol. I know it was a threat as he’s said this before, but I’d had enough and after drinking some wine I took 20. He wanted to call an ambulance but I forbade him. He spent 12 hours not knowing if I was dead or alive. He has since turned his back on me. He keeps on about the seriousness of what I did, asking me to apologise. I need help – I can’t bear it. Susan

Denise says:

I feel sorry for you both but I also feel sorry for your partners and the children involved – their world is rocking too. You and your lover have been living in a dream world for years without getting to grips with the situation, which is that you have unhappy marriages. Resorting to tablets was a cry for help. You behaved badly in trying to punish him for the pain you felt but he prompted this by taking tablets first. So his asking you to apologise is therefore misplaced. You both need to wake up to the seriousness of the situation, get help and work out whether or not you can have a life together. This would involve pain for your partners but would be better than the half-life they have now, living with people whose affections lie elsewhere. Please contact Relate (, together or, if he is unwilling, alone. With their help you can begin to unravel this unhappy situation. Your husband deserves a wife who can give him 100 per cent, so find out whether or not there is any mileage left in your marriage. Your lover’s wife deserves fair play too. And before either of you resort to tablets again, think of the consequences for those you might have left behind.

October 2011

“I’m desperate to have another child”

Three years ago I had a stillborn baby. Two months after that my husband was made redundant. He got another job but was then involved in a major car accident, his heart stopped twice and he spent six weeks in hospital. We have a five year old who is my life, but I need more. Though previously I fell pregnant with ease, we have since tried for another baby to no avail. They say it’s stress that prevents pregnancy. Can I still be grieving over the miscarriage? We have now decided to adopt, so why 
do I still hate pregnant women? I know we have made the right decision as I’m 40 and my biological clock is ticking, but 
I still want both. We are a strong family and my husband is happy whatever we do. I feel empty and cheated, so how do I stop feeling this way? Lorraine

Denise says:

I’m not surprised you feel as you do. You are suffering from bereavement, shock and justifiable anger at the way life has behaved. You seem to think three years is long enough to recover, but the fact is you had to shelve the pain of losing your baby in order to stand by your husband, then almost lost him twice. The legal ramifications 
of his case are still ongoing and in 
all that time you’ve had a yearning for another baby with the monthly disappointment of not conceiving. 
I know your biological clock is ticking but I still think you need to get your breath back before making decisions. If you didn’t have counselling after the stillbirth, talk to SANDS (020 7436 5881). They help families after stillbirth or neonatal death. Then talk to Infertility Network UK (0800 008 744). They can help you assess your chances of conceiving, if this hasn’t already been done, and also discuss adoption with you. You need a clear idea of your feelings before you talk about adoption with the people who can make it happen. Believe me, I understand your desire for a child but in fairness to everyone involved you need to assemble a clear picture of your goal before you embark on anything. You have been through a period of intense stress. Now you have a chance to take matters in hand, clear your head of the debris of the last three years and sort out the life you want. Getting a little help along the way will make that process much easier.

September 2011

“My daughter keeps telling keeps telling huge fibs”

My four-year-old daughter is a lovely child who adores her nine-year-old brother, but I’m worried she seems addicted to telling lies. I don’t just mean little fibs or fairytales – sometimes they’re quite serious things like, “Nanny was on the phone and she doesn’t want you to come round.” She tells her friends things about us that are simply untrue, and it’s embarrassing when other mothers congratulate or commiserate with me over something that has never happened. I’m really worried about what will happen when she goes to school. Lydia


Most children lie at some stage and it doesn’t mean they’re destined for a life of dishonesty. Making things up is a normal part of development and I think they also get a kick out of relaying information – even if it’s false – and getting a reaction. Sometimes the lies are a sign of emotional disturbance in a child – “I have a poorly tummy,” can really be a cry for help. And other fibs can be a means of getting their own way – the day she told you Nanny didn’t want you to visit, was she wanting to go elsewhere? Remember, very small children can’t really distinguish between fact and fantasy, so when a child says there’s a lion in the wardrobe it’s because they think there might be one there. At nearly five, she can begin to tell what’s true and what’s not. When she fibs, patiently explain that you know what she says isn’t true and telling untruths is not good. Try to avoid situations where a child feels they must lie because telling the truth would get them into trouble. If it doesn’t clear up, contact Young Minds (0808 802 5544,

August 2011

“Ever since my husband and I married I have been eager to live in one particular neighbourhood.”

The houses in this area are quite pricey and my husband has worked hours and hours of overtime to make it possible for us to buy where we are now. However, although we moved in five months ago and I have tried to settle in and make friends, I find myself hating living here. How can I tell him all his hard work was for nothing and that I want to move house again? I feel isolated and so alone and just know I will never settle here.” Jade


Your husband wants you to be happy, that’s why he worked so hard for you to be in a position to buy in the area you now live. That means he will understand if you really can’t feel happy in your current home. However, I don’t really think five months is long enough to know whether or not it is the place for you. I imagine the first weeks were taken up with unpacking boxes and settling in, so you’ve really only had a few weeks to make new contacts. I would go along to your local library and find out what is going on in the neighbourhood. Make a real effort to join any groups that are available and take your fancy – that’s a good way of making friends with the locals. If at the end of the first year in the area there has been no improvement, at least you can say you really tried. My guess is that if you head out and meet people you will find you really have found the house of your dreams. If I’m wrong then I am sure the husband who worked so hard for you will understand why you need

July 2011

“I have no one around that I can open up to.”

I have a good friend but she works full time, has a family and is about to become a grandma. After divorce,
I came away with very little to show for 30 years of my life. I have two children – a married son and a daughter who lives overseas. I have one grandson and I know I am better off than many people. I have no health problems but I just cannot seem to turn my life around. The town I live in is small. If you weren’t born here, you don’t belong. After being married to a bully, I’ve lost my confidence. I was made redundant and that isn’t helping as one day seems to merge into another. I am so lonely and cannot tell my children as they have enough to cope with. I have tried college courses but am too shy to go and have got voluntary stuff to do, but will I pluck up the courage to go?” Joan


The bad news is your life isn’t great at the moment. The good news is that there is nothing that can’t be put right. You need three things – renewed confidence, new friends and a social life. Out of those three things, a new life can be built, one that will be happier than you have known in the last few years. Friendship and getting out will restore confidence, as will voluntary work. The National Council for Divorced, Separated and Widowed Phoenix ( is designed to help people in your situation. They have regular social gatherings where you can make friends who’ll understand how you feel because it happened to them. Call 07041 478 120 and make a start. They have branches in most areas and you can also become a member.

June 2011

“My son’s health is such a weighty issue”

My son is 23 years old and had always been fit and active. He played a lot of sport, enjoyed going to the gym and jogging. But since he met his girlfriend, that has stopped. They moved in together a year ago and in that time he has gained three stone. His girlfriend had been overweight when they met but she has gained so much weight that she’s now obese. She isn’t speaking to her mum now after they rowed over her weight gain. They both have desk jobs, travel everywhere by car and if they have a night out it’s to a restaurant. They have both stopped seeing all their old friends and the only time they are apart is when they are at work. I tell my son I’m worried but he laughs and tells me he’s young and healthy. I have seen the amount of food they eat and it’s frightening. I’m worried because diabetes runs in both families. Lorraine


I totally understand your fears, but there’s little you can do now and causing a breach by nagging would make it worse. You’ve told them your fears and now you have to trust their intelligence will reassert itself once the ‘honeymoon’ cools down. They enjoy each other’s company and feasting is part of it. Soon they will not be able to fasten a seat belt or climb stairs without having to rest halfway. Clothes will be a problem and their joints will ache. If they want children, there will be fertility issues. Hopefully their doctor will have a quiet word. Don’t turn this into a situation where they won’t diet because it would be ‘giving in’.

May 2011

“Cannabis is destroying my teenage son’s life.”

“Our 19-year-old son had always been an easy child to raise until recently. He got in with a bad crowd when he left school and enrolled at a nearby college. We thought the late nights and occasional moodiness were due to the transition from school to a more informal atmosphere at college. However, he became increasingly uncommunicative and downright bad-tempered. Now he says he is hooked on cannabis and is in debt, which is part of the reason why his very nice girlfriend left him. He is distraught and wants things back to normal but we don’t know where to start, and I’m terrified that if it all comes out it will ruin his future.” Paula


If your son wants to get free of cannabis he can, but you will all need some support in order to do this. Contact FRANK, the organisation especially for drug users and their families, on 0800 77 66 00. They will answer all your questions about cannabis use and its effects and point you in the direction of support and help. Your son can talk to them too, and it’s really important that he does enter into whatever is arranged by the organisation of his own accord.

He should also talk to his own doctor who should understand and help. Many parents have gone through what you are going through now, and with the proper kind of help you can sort this out and consign the whole episode to history. I’m not necessarily suggesting it will be easy or quick. There may be setbacks along the way, but you will get there in the end, I promise, and life will go back to normal.

April 2011

“I feel so frightened.”

I’ve recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and I’m struggling to come to terms with what feels like the end of life as I know it. We have recently bought a bigger house, but this requires us both to work and I’m terrified of what the future may hold. How long will it be before I am unable to work or run my home? Will this mean we will never be able to have the family we planned? My husband is being wonderful but I know he must be feeling afraid too. Jacqui


Of course you are shocked, and I’m not going to pretend that multiple sclerosis isn’t a serious medical condition. But the future may not be as bleak as you fear. It is difficult to predict how the condition will affect any one person. Most sufferers will be able to continue to walk and function at their work for many years following their diagnosis. Less than five per cent are believed to have a severe progressive form of MS while 10-20 per cent have a benign form with very slow or no progression of their symptoms. Recent studies have shown that about seven out of ten people with multiple sclerosis are still alive 25 years after their diagnosis, and I know there is ongoing research seeking better treatments and even a cure. You need to let your doctor know about your fears and ask for his assessment of your condition and what effect it is likely to have on your ability to bear children in the future. I would also recommend contacting the MS Trust on 0800 032 38 39. They will be able to offer you sound advice, support and information. And don’t underestimate the power of the human mind to deal with life’s obstacles. Once you’ve overcome the shock, I’m pretty sure you will be able to cope and the people treating you will be there to lend a helping hand.

March 2011

“She’ll think I don’t care!”

When my son and his partner separated, I tried very hard not to take sides, but he was so upset and lonely that naturally my sympathies were with him. His partner has taken this badly and has forbidden me from seeing my granddaughter. She is three years old and the light of my life. I worry that she will think I have just forgotten her and don’t love her any more. This is breaking my heart but
I know her mother is a very strong character and means what she says. She’s my only grandchild and I feel desperate that I may never see her again. I feel I’m being punished for standing by my son. Hannah


I’m so sorry this has happened. Of course you feel desperate but take heart – your son will have access to his child and you will be able to see her then and keep that lovely bond you share. Access can be arranged by mutual discussion between the parents but, if necessary, he can get a legal access order, which the mother will have to obey. It will be sad if it has to be done this way, but a child needs contact with all their family and the child’s interests are safeguarded by the court. In the meantime, why not write to your daughter-in-law and tell her how you feel? Don’t apportion blame. Instead, just tell her you love your granddaughter very much and hope you can see her occasionally. She may have acted in the heat of the moment and now regrets it. If not, then your son can make sure you still enjoy your granddaughter. I’d also contact the Grandparents’ Association on 0845 434 9585 or They will have heard your sad story many times, I’m afraid, and can offer you support and advice.

February 2011

‘Am I being churlish?’

Compared with what other people suffer, my problem seems slight. I grew up in a happy family with loving parents, a sister and two brothers. Although our parents are sadly no longer with us, we’re still a united family. The trouble is, I’ve always felt they valued my sister more than me. I never went short of anything but it seemed her needs always came first. I know she was better at making her wishes known while I was inclined to be more self-sufficient, but time and again they did things for her that they didn’t do for me. For instance, they paid for the whole of her wedding and only part-paid for mine. I know I shouldn’t care but I do and things keep coming up in my mind. I’ve tried discussing it with my sister but she just laughs and tells me not to be silly. She also points out that I have achieved far more in my life and have more than her. I know this is true but it doesn’t help that feeling of being second best. Hilary


You’d be surprised at the number of siblings who think themselves less loved. I used to be one of them but now realise my parents regarded me as the one who could always fend for herself. My sister seemed weaker and less self-assertive and they felt they needed to protect her. It didn’t mean they loved me any less. You put your finger on it when you said you had achieved more, as your parents knew you would. I think you may be a little depressed too and so inclined to hang on to the past. Talk to your doctor. He may be able to arrange counselling to help you to see things as they are and know that you were loved.

January 2011

Why am I so unhappy?

I am in my 60s and semi-retired, my children are all healthy and settled and I own my own home, so why do I still sit and cry like a teenager? I’ve known a man for many years and we have only ever been good friends. However, recently he has met another lady and although I know he is entitled to do so, I just feel so upset. Even just thinking about it makes me cry. Why do I feel like this and what I can do to stop it? Eleanor


Of course you’re crying. Something good has gone out of your life and if you weren’t sad about it there’d be something wrong. What has age got to do with the need for love and companionship? But eventually your tears will dry and life will reassert itself and you’ll want to be happy again. There is an organisation called the National Council for the Divorced, Separated and Widowed – it’s for men and women who are alone through divorce or bereavement. It provides happy social contact and, although pairing people up is not the main aim, romances do occur. But more importantly there is friendship and support there. Why not have a look at their website,, and see if there’s a branch near you or call them on 07041 478 120.

Alternatively ask at your local reference library about groups meeting in your area. Going along to something that interests you – for instance a book club or debating society – is not only enjoyable, it’s an excellent way of making new friends. Let me know how you get on. Whatever you do, I promise you this pain will pass and don’t be afraid of tears. They are a wonderful safety valve and they do dry up with time.

To read more from our Agony Aunt, Denise Robertson look to any issue of Candis Magazine. If you’re not already a member of Candis, then find out more about subscribing here.


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