Ask Denise anything 2012!
Have you got a problem you would 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 style of helpful and caring advice…
My husband’s ex-wife will leave us bankrupt”
My husband always paid maintenance to his ex, since they separated over her adultery. She married her lover and has another child by him. He did see his daughters every other weekend and for two weeks in the summer. Since we married he has had access problems so in 2010 he took her to court but the judge said she could do whatever she wished. Despite being paid directly, she went to the CSA. They were supposed to start taking a direct debit but didn’t and it left my husband with three months of arrears. They say he owes £1,000, because he didn’t pay for three months when, in fact, he was paying her directly! He went the Complaints Resolution Team but they warned that they would go to his employer despite the arrears actually being their fault. Now £389 has been taken out of his wages! They are also going to take £403 a month for the next six months by which time this family will be destitute. He has high blood pressure and if he gets too ill to work he won’t be able to pay maintenance and I won’t be able to pay our mortgage! Jane
I’m so sorry to hear of the difficulties you’re having and, sad to say, I’ve had many similar letters. Your husband should contact the MP at his constituency surgery and give him all of the facts. What is happening is very wrong and your MP can step in and help you and your family, so please do see him or her without any delay. You can also find further advice about what action you need to take next at direct.gov.uk/en/Parents/ChildMaintenance – this will also explain how you go about going to the Ombudsman. If the CSA is found guilty of the maladministration you could receive compensation and your MP can apply to the Ombudsman on your behalf. I would be very glad to hear how you get on and I hope you get a speedy resolution to this. I have heard too many times from a lot of good parents like your husband, who try to meet their responsibilities but still get hounded, while others, who don’t even try, seem to just get away scot-free. I would also suggest that he contacts Families Need Fathers (fnf.org.uk, 0300 0300 363). The arrangements over access seem extraordinarily unfair and should really be readdressed in court. His children are being used as weapons by their mother, and that is a very, very wrong thing to do.
“Should I tell my daughter the truth?”
My daughter’s father left before she was born and visited us only twice until 18 months ago, when she was six. After that he got back in touch and came to see her eight more times. During those visits I refused to tell her that he was her father as I wanted to make sure he wasn’t going to disappear again. Unfortunately he did – for almost a year. Two weeks ago he got in touch to ask if he could come and visit her again, but I’ve said no. From what he has let slip, he contacts us when he doesn’t have a girlfriend to spend time with. My daughter, now seven and a half, always mentions not having a dad and sometimes gets upset that her brother sees his dad weekly. Is she old enough to handle meeting her father and then have him disappear again? I don’t want her to get hurt
but there’s only so long I can make excuses for him not being present. So far the excuse I’ve come up with is that he is looking after his sick mum. I hate lying to her but I really can’t decide whether the truth will be less painful. Helen
I understand your dilemma. In an ideal world we’d be able to edit an unsatisfactory father out of the picture. Sadly, this isn’t an ideal world. Sooner or later, you are going to have to be truthful and I think sooner is best. At this stage you can limit how much you tell. For instance, I wouldn’t tell her that he is unreliable and that once he has been to see her he may not appear again for a long while or never. I’d simply say he lives quite a distance away and has a busy life so his visits may be sporadic. The important thing is that she has one parent she can always absolutely rely on to be a constant presence in her life and to be truthful with her. That means that downright lying is out although, as I’ve said, you can be gentle with the truth. I understand your fears that he may let her down but my experience is that, where there is one constant and loving parent, a child will be alright, however remiss the other parent may be. So be gently honest with her to preserve your position as the reliable parent and, if you need more reassurance, Young Minds (www.youngminds.org.uk / 0808 802 5544) are experts on all things psychological concerning children and young people and will be happy to hear from you.
Drugs have ruined my son’s life – and I blame myself”
My 28-year-old son is a drug addict. He’s been taking cannabis since about the age of ten. Gradually he was smoking more and more. Then he started acting weird and saying there were spies after him and hearing voices. One day he started calling me names and
saying I wasn’t his mother, calling me a witch. In the end I asked him to go and stay at his dad’s house. Although he has agreed to seek help, I saw him recently and he looked like a zombie staring into to the distance. I worry he has progressed to harder drugs as,
although he is working, he never has any money. I try to broach the “drug” subject with him but he is always on the defensive. I am at a loss. It’s very upsetting to see your son going down a very rocky road and feel helpless to do anything about it. Words can’t describe how guilty I feel and how I wish I’d been a better mum. Is there anything I can do to bring back the boy that he used to be? Pauline
I understand how distraught you are but please believe me when I tell you that your mothering was not to blame. You are one of many good parents who have found themselves dealing with this nightmare of cannabis-induced psychosis. I hope those who say cannabis is a comparatively harmless recreational drug will read your letter and think again. The good news is that there is help available when your son is ready to accept it. Don’t address the problem directly but let him know how much he is loved and that your door is open whenever he is ready to talk. Don’t underestimate the good effects of his upbringing and your influence. One day they may overcome those other influences that are dragging him down. Frank (talktofrank.com, 0800 77 66 00) will give him information and support and Drugsline (drugsline.org, 0808 1 606 606) will help both you and him if you contact them. Adfam (adfam.org.uk) and Family Lives (familylives.org.uk, 0808 800 2222) are there for parents and will have heard your story many times before. Keep the bond alive between you and let him know you are always there for him. Nightmares end so don’t give up hope and by sharing your experience you are also helping others.
“Our old friendship is under threat from her new man”
I have had a friend for more than 20 years but, when I lost my husband four years ago, I didn’t think that she was there for me. Her son died ten years ago and I was there for her, even though she had a husband. Over the next 12 years, we made a point of going on holiday together. However, since she divorced, she met someone new and when she and I were on holiday two years ago, he came to surprise us. Then, last year, he was very abusive to me. My friend apologised but since then she doesn’t call and makes excuses why we can never meet up, but I miss her. On my 60th birthday, she sent my card and present and texted to say she couldn’t come and see me, adding she just doesn’t have the time any more. I was hurt and replied by saying I understood she had a new person in her life, but that I thought our 20 year friendship deserved more respect. Since then I’ve received no reply. What should I do? Val
It’s always sad when an old friendship falters, but I’m afraid that the closeness you once shared just couldn’t last once your friend had a new man who so clearly resented sharing holidays with you. It would have been better if you and she could have had the occasional weekend away together without him, but that would have needed his goodwill and perhaps that wasn’t there. I suspect that far from wanting to cut you out of her life, she is now torn between an old friendship and causing trouble in her new relationship. As a result, although it will be hard for you, it’s probably better if you let the heat die out of this situation, but don’t sever all links with her. Keep up birthday and Christmas cards, whether or not she replies. What you’re demonstrating is that she’s still in your thoughts but you’re not going to pressure her. In time, the breach may be healed, but you should not sit around waiting for that to happen. You have a loving heart and need friends. The National Council for the Divorced, Separated & Widowed hold many good social gatherings around the country for women and men like you.
“Why can’t I stop hurting myself?”
Some years ago I lost my beautiful daughter to cancer. She was still in her teens. After her death I set up a Trust to do all I could to prevent cancer in others. I am no longer a part of it, but have given almost a quarter of my life to ensure it was established and secure. Today, I’m happy to say that it’s working well. I’ve had to cope with a lot of other very sad and difficult things over time and for the past 18 months I have been chewing the inside of my mouth and bottom lip to the point where I feel like screaming. The inside of my lips are getting more and more sore the longer this goes on. My GP referred me to a hypnotherapist and later to a clinical psychologist to no avail; the problem just gets worse and worse. I am absolutely exhausted and embarrassed by what has become such a physical affliction. Josie
I too have lost a child to cancer so I understand how you feel. What you have achieved in the charity is something of which you can be very proud. I think it’s possible that now the charity is so successful and you are freer, your subconscious is allowing your grief to rise to the surface. When my first husband died I found that same relief in holding my hands under scalding water. While I felt that pain it shut out other pain and I now understand much more about self-harming as a reaction to life stresses. A psychiatrist helped me then and grief counselling might help you now. Candis’ Dr Crawley suggests you ask your GP to help with the physical discomfort while you take steps to alleviate your grief. She explains that chlorhexidine mouth washes will prevent infection, Bonjela will treat any lesions and steroid lozenges can promote healing. If any sores become infected you’ll need antibiotics. I’m wondering if it might help to find
a substitute action for the chewing, which, in a way is bringing you relief by filling your mind with physical pain so that it shuts out other things. You couldn’t have founded that charity unless you had courage, determination and intelligence. Now you need to bring those qualities to bear on this habit of biting your mouth. Decide what you want to do when the urge occurs – any action that will make you leave your mouth alone. Perhaps you could have an object you could put into your mouth that would prevent chewing until you had gained control of the impulse. Once left alone, it will heal very quickly and so reduce the temptation to worry at it any more.
“Why do I keep falling for the wrong man?”
I was married for 34 years when I found out my husband had been having an affair. We divorced and he has since married his lover. I then took in a young male lodger. He was 28 years younger than me but we developed a friendship and ended up in a relationship. He stayed with me until 18 months ago when I found out he was internet dating and I asked him to leave. I have since lived alone and have found it hard to move on as the younger man has moved just up the road and maintains constant contact with me, even though he now has a girlfriend. I’m afraid of starting a new relationship, as I seem to pick the wrong men who end up lying and cheating. Can you advise me please? Anne
This is such a common feeling that I addressed it in my new book, The A-Z of Love, Sex and Exasperation, where I say, “You’ve had several disastrous relationships, and now you’re convinced you’re jinxed. ‘It’s me,’ you say. ‘I attract them.’ Is there any truth in that? Well, maybe a smidgen. If you become accustomed to a pattern you can begin to accept it as the norm, and even subconsciously seek it out. So the first disaster is a shock and accidental, but when the next one comes, you’re almost expecting it. This, you think, is what happens to you; it’s your fate.
“Once you start thinking like that you’ve become a victim. Getting out of victim mode is not as difficult as it might seem. You first have to accept that you were not responsible for what happened, however many times it was repeated. Probably your only crime was in not getting out the minute things started to go wrong. You have to re-programme yourself not to expect trouble, and to react forcefully if you meet it. You need to believe that, although you may encounter frogs or witches along the way, you are entitled to a prince or princess, and you’ll put up with nothing less.”
I wrote that because I really believe it. In your case, the fact the younger man wants to remain friends shows how likeable you are, but you must decide whether or not maintaining the friendship is good for you. What is vital is that you get out into life again and make new friends of both sexes. Have a look at the National Council for the Divorced, Separated and Widowed website (ncds.org.uk) or ring them on 07041 478 120. They hold social events all over the country and you’ll make new friends there. Don’t let bad experiences put you off the good things that lie ahead.
“I’m worried about my unborn child”
I feel I’m going through the most stressful pregnancy I’ve experienced so far. I fell pregnant unexpectedly, and because of the treatment I’d recently had for another medical condition, the doctors quickly listed all the things that could affect the development of my unborn baby. I was told at the time that I should consider a late termination if my ultrasounds showed any serious abnormalities, the idea of which filled both my husband and I with utter dread. Thankfully, these ultrasounds have been clear, but I just can’t shake my worries after the consultants said they were not able to rule out any neurological or developmental delays only showing up after the baby is born. I’m an older mother – I’m in my 40s – and this is my third child, so of course I’m worried about that too during a time when I should be really happy about having what is actually a most dearly wanted child. Gemma
Almost 27,000 babies were born to mothers over the age of 40 in the last year for which figures are available, so being in your 40s does not mark you out as a lone figure. There is risk in any pregnancy but the unfortunate thing now is that, in this age of lawsuits, consultants and other medical staff feel they have to make known to you every mishap that can occur to you and your baby so that you cannot later claim you were kept in the dark. This can cause anxiety in mothers-to-be who might not have thought of such things otherwise. The most important thing is for you to know in your heart that, although it is probable that your baby will be born safely and without complications, you and your husband can cope with any eventuality and that there will be plenty of help available if you should need it. If you feel totally overwhelmed with doubt, ask to talk to the doctors caring for you, and don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions. I know from my first career in a busy hospital that consultants appreciate patients who want to understand the implications of their condition. Websites Babyworld (babyworld.co.uk) and BabyCentre (babycentre.co.uk) can offer help with anxiety in pregnancy and your midwife will also be happy to allay your fears. I found comfort in remembering that every second a baby is born safely and happily somewhere in the world, even though often conditions are far from favourable and medical supervision may be unavailable, so the odds are on your side as you have all the best expertise of the NHS at your disposal.
“I’ve completely lost that loving feeling”
The last few years have been difficult with house moves, job changes and family illness. Things are better now but I find I have completely lost any feeling for my husband, sexually and in every other way. I don’t dislike him, he does nothing wrong but I simply have no feelings for him. In a way, it would be easier if I could come up with a good reason for disliking him. I know he is unhappy that we no longer make love but he doesn’t argue and, in a way, that makes me feel even more resentful. At times I fantasise about leaving and just living life for myself, but we have two children and financially separation would be a disaster. I would talk to someone, but I’d feel a fool to say I’d just gone off him when he’s a thoroughly nice and decent man who I once loved very much. I feel trapped and the thought of another 40 years of feeling like this is frightening. Janine
First of all, you’re not trapped. Financial difficulties can be overcome and wounds of separation heal eventually. It’s important to get rid of that feeling of entrapment before you set about improving this situation. My own instinct is that you have, after some very bad years, simply shut down your feelings. You neither like nor dislike your husband because, over time, you have not allowed yourself to feel anything. This is not uncommon after a period of stress and it is the mind’s way of protecting itself from further pain. It may also be that, subconsciously, you blame your husband for some of the difficulties and issues you have endured. When you fantasise it’s naturally about a new life without responsibilities, but it’s important to remind yourself that such a life does not exist. You could also be suffering from a stress-induced depression and I would suggest you talk frankly to your doctor about both what you’ve been through and how you are feeling, to see what help he or she can give. I’d also encourage you to talk to Relate (relate.org.uk) or Marriage Care (marriage.org.uk) and begin to explore what your real feelings are. It may also help your husband to understand why and how you are feeling if he comes along too. He may be as bewildered as you are and the act of talking about the issue openly and frankly may be the spur you both need. And, if as you fear, the love has died, the sessions will help you with a separation. But if, as I suspect, it’s only in hiding, a good counsellor can help you rediscover it.
“My friends partner acts inappropriately”
My friend has been a single mum for three years and has two lovely children, aged five and three. She has now met someone new and he seems nice in many respects. There is one problem though – he is always saying and doing inappropriate things that are borderline sexual, highly embarrassing and at times distressing to see. He thinks it’s OK to talk graphically about going to the loo, pulling the kids’ pants down in public or giving them wedgies even if they say not to, and comments on very personal things to adults, including me. My friend has had a struggle in the last few years and usually doesn’t react well to criticism, but I feel l should say something – especially as my own children are now saying this man is a bit odd. Emma
Oh how I wish there was an easy answer to this problem. Say something and you may
lose a friend and leave her without your support. Say nothing and, if things do go wrong, you will feel guilty. You first have to decide whether or not you are judging too harshly. What one person deems crude, another may consider simply harmless fun. Talking it through with other neutral observers may help you come to a just conclusion. Then you have to decide whether his treatment of the children is meant well but is coming across as clumsy or thoughtless. Pulling down pants or forcing wedgies
on a protesting child is borderline cruel in my mind. When he says anything to you which you find inappropriate, don’t laugh or turn away. Quietly say, “That’s enough of that thank you.” Unless he’s very thickskinned, he’ll soon get the message. With your own children, I would be honest. Emphasise his good points but don’t be afraid to say there are things he does which you don’t agree with. If, after consulting other friends and family, you decide you do need to speak to your friend directly, I would take the same approach. Emphasise his good points but tell her your fears. Don’t tell her what to do or expect immediate answers from her – leave her to consider the matter in her own time. Hopefully she’ll think over what you have brought to light and make changes for the sake of herself and her children.
“Holidaying alone scares me”
When my husband was alive we had some lovely holidays together and I have some wonderful memories. But I haven’t plucked up the courage to go on holiday since he died and now, as yet another year begins, I feel in need of a break. All my close friends still have partners and although one of them offered me the chance to go with them last summer, I don’t want to intrude. I’ve heard people talk about singles holidays, but I can remember that if ever there was someone on their own on holiday where we were I used to feel rather sorry for them. Quite apart from that, my husband always saw to the arrangements and shepherded me through things like airports. I’m not sure I could manage on my own and the thought of staying in a countryside hotel by myself, the only thing I think I could manage, doesn’t appeal. How can I build up the courage to go it alone or should I simply settle for staying safe at home? Annie
I think a break away would do you the world of good and happily there are lots of holidays available to choose from now, especially for people who are new to single travelling. Your local travel agent will have lots of brochures so why not pick up a few to look at in the comfort of your own home? There are energetic holidays, art and intellectual getaways and others designed simply to enjoy plenty of sun, sea and sand – so you’ll be spoilt for choice! Plus there’s usually an organiser on hand who sees you through things like the airports and customs and arranges all those details you say you are scared of. You might also like to consider Saga holidays, escorted tours or perhaps a river cruise. My husband and I went on one last year and had a wonderful time. There were a few single people on the trip, but there was such a lovely and sociable atmosphere that they were quite naturally included in everything. Some of the people we met were on their second or even their third cruise, so they must have found it a welcoming experience!
“I need a life too!”
My husband left me when my daughter was very young. He married again quickly and has more children with his new wife. I was on my own for several years, needing time to get over the shock of it all and adjust. More recently I have met a lovely man but my daughter, who is now 11, doesn’t want me to have a friendship let alone a relationship with anyone. I understand that she is used to having all my attention, but she doesn’t seem to understand that I am entitled to a life too. How should I deal with this situation? I have approached my GP but he couldn’t help and my parents aren’t giving me any support. It’s making life miserable for us both. Nia
Denise says :
You are not only entitled to a life, you must have one as much for your daughter’s sake as your own. But the way to solve this problem is to see it from her point of view. Not only has she had your undivided attention, she regards your house as her territory. If he comes in will he take it from her, monopolise you, be horrid to her? You can’t blame her for thinking like this and it’s also possible that she has felt pushed out of her father’s life by his new family. Now she thinks it might happen again. You have to calm these fears but must also be firm about your rights. If you give up this man you would be bound to feel she had spoilt your life and that might show. When she grew up she would realise what she had done and perhaps feel guilty about leaving you alone to pursue her own life. I suggest you reassure her of her place in your affections and your home, but explain that you need friends just as she does. Emphasise that at this stage he is only a friend and make sure that when you are with him she is doing something nice, not just shoved on to anyone who will babysit. Make sure you have lots of time with her alone. For instance, not all of every weekend should be spent with him, although gradually he can join you and her on outings. Ask her advice on things as this will make her feel more grown up. The main thing is to take this slowly, however much in love you may be. You have been alone a long time and are bound to be thrilled at this new romance, but play it cool for her sake. If he is as nice as he seems he will understand and co-operate. Keep her in the loop about all you do and don’t tell her fibs… ever. Discuss how, one day, she will leave you to make her own life although you’ll always be joined in love. And, even in temptation, don’t ever say, “You’re a little girl and I will do what I want.” You are a team. Your happiness depends on your taking her with you and, if you proceed slowly but firmly, you can.
To read more from our Agony Aunt, Denise Robertson look to any issue of Candis Magazine. If you are not already a member of Candis, then find out more about subscribing here.