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Planning Retirement Online


                           September 2009

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.


My family are emigrating

Dear Maggi

I have been a single person/parent for 30 years and came back home to the UK from South Africa 10 years ago. I am estranged from my youngest son who lives in Cape Town with his wife and child - I am not allowed contact with my grandson as my daughter in law has alienated them from me.

Now my eldest son and his wife are leaving next week, to also live in Cape Town. I cannot let them see my distress and I feel I cannot cope - crying all the time and devastated at this sudden decision, made only a few weeks ago due to the credit crunch. As a pensioner it will be a struggle even to visit them once a year and they will not be able to afford to come back for holidays as they are basically starting again. My G.P. is not sympathetic and will not give me anything to ease the depression. I feel completely overwhelmed as I am very close to my eldest particularly since the rift occurred with my other son. Do you have any advice for me please?

Maggi Replies:

You have spent much of your adult life raising your sons alone and now, just as you have time to spend enjoying grandchildren and a more leisurely pace of life, your remaining close family is moving away. This is giving you a huge amount of heartache and pain and I am not surprised.

A few weeks ago one of my own sons warned me he would be applying for a job in New Zealand and would take his family out there, were he to get the post. Last week he told me that on reflection he would not apply after all. My relief was massive, as although I knew this would mean a much more interesting job and a better salary, plus a wonderful place to bring up his children, I also knew I would be extremely sad to see them go so far away and would feel inconsolable when the time came to bid them farewell.

I can see how this is going to leave you feeling bereft of your family, yet there are things that you can do and that can help you feel less cut off nowadays that would of benefit to you, your sons and to your grandchildren.

What to do?

You explained how close you had become with your elder son, since the estrangement from your younger son. You said you cannot let them see your distress. Why not? Allowing your son to know how deeply you feel about his move will show him just how important he is to you. If we hide all our emotions from our children how are they going to know how much we feel for them? It is a lonely thing to think your parent isn’t affected by anything you do. You will be deeply affected and he needs to know that.

Try to explain to him how hard this is going to be to bear. Make it clear that you accept he has to do whatever he feel is best for his career and family and that you will always love and support him, but ask him for ideas how you might lessen the feeling of distance between you. Do you have a camera on your computer? Ask him to help you set that up with an AIM address – like an email address – so that you can call each other and speak ‘face to face’. This has been a god-send for our family. We often speak to family and friends across the world via our computers.

Perhaps his presence there can help somehow to begin to heal the rift between his younger brother and you. It is so very sad that your grandson is missing out on one of the most important relationships in childhood through no fault of his own. If your older son understands how very much you miss his brother and your grandson, perhaps he could ensure short, affectionate, fun letters from you to your grandson reach their destination safely. Children love getting letters, especially ones that tell them how special they are. But make sure you focus on writing about your own life or memories, or how his daddy was at his age. You can include your tales of South Africa. Always ask what he likes doing or where he has been. Never discuss his mummy’s or daddy’s relationship with you, other than to speak of his daddy with affection when you reminisce. Remember it could be hard for him to reply to you, keep writing.

The sad truth is that we can never expect our children to remain close to us once they are adult. Just as a fledgling bird leaves the nest never to return, children strive to become completely independent of parents, wanting to make their own decisions about what they do, who they share their lives with and where they live. We have done our biological job and must let them get on with their lives. Nor have you lost them. They will still love you. Yet we humans are emotional creatures and want to maintain physical contact and involvement at some level if we can. That gift is a source of deep joy but occasionally, for some, that involvement can lead to friction, jealousy, insecurity, disappointment and sadness.

I’ve often written about the daughter-in-law/mother-in-law relationship. So many times the problem is not who loves the man more – they each love him in different but equally strong ways – but concerns a lack of confidence. And when I think about how strong you must have been to raise your sons alone it is not so surprising that your daughter-in-law might imagine that you would want to ‘keep hold’ of her husband and judge her capabilities against your own hard-won skills. Even if that is far from the case, it might still worry her. Perhaps at some point in the future you will find an opportunity to admire something she does well or let her know directly how glad you are that your son is made happy by her. Then she will know she is neither disapproved of nor considered ‘not good enough’ for your son. (This is never for us to judge as it is a decision made by adults who are selecting partners on their own set of criteria not ours).

Your grief, having been the sole parent for your boys, must be raw at this time. It is probably more healing for you to talk to a counsellor to help you deal with that grief and sadness than to ask your GP for medication although you are probably not sleeping terribly well. Try drinking a herbal tea containing chamomile, lavender and other soothing herbs to aid relaxation, about half an hour before bedtime. Your local chemist, supermarket or healthfood shop will have a selection of these. Try a few until you find one that you like and is effective. Many are. Most surgeries now have counsellors and your GP can put you on a waiting list, although you might find one privately who specializes in working with relationship and grief problems without having to wait.

Do you have a circle of friends here now? If so enjoy more time with them and talk with them the way you would hope they could to you. Friends are a true and constant source of comfort. (see my May column).



You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.
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