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Relationships   

                           December 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 maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


IT COULD BE YOU...

I need some help with my step-daughter

Dear Maggi
I need some help with my step-daughter. She is 17 years old and has had a troubled life.

Her father is with a man who is a convicted paedophile. As a child she witnessed her father’s drug taking and was even given drugs to keep her asleep while he gave gay parties where drugs were taken. When she was 12 yrs old and staying with him, he was arrested for possession of drugs and his partner for having child pornography on his computer.

As her mother’s partner I supported her through this time and as things calmed down she was allowed to resume visits providing his partner was not present, but with her mum there to supervise. On the last visit we found that he had given my step-daughter cannabis. We reported this to the police on our return home and he was arrested. We went to Court and took out a non-molestation order to protect her.

Now she is seventeen and we are having problems with her. She is refusing to go to college as I hoped and she won’t get a job. I know I’ve handled this badly by getting angry and three weeks ago I left the family home, even though my partner and I still love each other very much. I feel as though she has driven a wedge between us because she’s said she doesn’t want me in the home. I could have done this better. She just doesn’t like me any more even though we got on so well. She was such a sweet child.

She did have a boyfriend for 3 years but he cheated on her repeatedly and she kept taking him back in spite of my warnings about him. Getting angry with her was a big mistake I wish she would allow me to put things right, but she doesn’t respond to my emails or speak to me and doesn’t want her mum to see me either. How can I reach out to help her understand that I want the best for her and care very much what happens to her?

She has declined the offer of help through social services and I think we all need help now to get us back to where we were. Social services have told us that she will have problems as she matures due to what she has experienced. I know teenagers resent parents of the opposite sex for some reason and that I have to change the way I react to her, but I don’t know how to take the first step to sorting this out.

Maggi Replies:-

Reading this letter makes me feel so sad for the young woman and for her family. What a dreadful start she has had in life. Not only has her father deserted the family but he has continued to expose her to pornography and drug taking and just as seriously, has assaulted her by administering drugs to keep her asleep in his house while things were going on there - and he has openly given her drugs to take.

It is no wonder that she finds it hard to believe in herself enough to go to college or trust men, or even think she is worth taking any interest in or trouble over. I fear that the Social Services who have helped you in the past could be right. This poor young person has been treated to badly that she will have a great deal of trouble finding a healthy and peaceful way of life, there is very little you can do about that. You cannot make her feel better, nor make the memories and experiences go away, but you can try your hardest to be consistent, fair and caring towards her and hope that in time she will find ways of letting go of some of the malignant influences she has been subjected to. With luck, and unconditional love from her mum and you, she could mature well, but it will be a rocky road.

It is not as you put it that she resents ‘parents of the opposite sex’. It is that she is so damaged by what has happened to her that she trusts no-one. It sounds as though her mum is the only person she sees as exclusively hers. This isn’t healthy but is an indicator of how she needs to cling onto the one safe familiar parent. The adult world is not a kind place to her and she will harbour a lot of fear and anger beneath what is probably a rather stroppy hard shell of protection.

What you can do for her though is to model how to be genuinely sorry, how to make up with your partner and how to remain solidly supportive of her and her daughter come what may. The daughter cannot dictate who is allowed in her mum’s house as her mum’s partner, but she can be listened to and her wishes taken into consideration, within reason. If, for instance, she refuses to talk to you or be in the same room as you it is something you need to accept. This will be really very difficult as it can make everyone so uncomfortable. But there does need to be a move towards her acceptance of her mum having personal choice. She doesn’t have any power to say who mum sees and who she doesn’t. This will all take time.

To go back and start trying to persuade her to return to college etc will be a non-starter. She will instantly resist. But to go back having found some way of letting her know how much you regret shouting at her and how much you care about her and her mother is a delicate but necessary healing step. Providing it is what her mum wants too, of course.

You say she was a sweet child. That will not be lost, just buried underneath all of the anger that comes bubbling to the surface. Keep that memory of her in your mind and address yourself to that part of her if and when you have a chance to talk. Keep any discussion short and keep it focussed on the positive things that she has in her life. Try hard to avoid any criticism of her behaviour and if stuck reminisce about some event that showed her in a happier light, saying why it makes you smile or is good to recall.

This situation requires such a lot of patience and understanding and strength. Steering oneself away from the irritation that will get stirred up now and then takes concentration and control. So for you and your partner it is a testing time. Lean on each other and support each other. Talk to Social Services if anyone is available, ask their advice, or go to Relate to talk with a family counsellor. They are highly skilled in supporting all members of a family and in helping individuals cope with the aftermath of all kinds of family crisis.

Take good care of your relationship with the girl’s mother and she will learn from that. In time I would hope that she will feel good that her mum is happy and with a good man. It will be a model for her to aspire to, even though it will be tough for her to achieve. If you are able to be secure as a couple, she will see what that gives you and will benefit from being near it.

Good luck. It is a long journey for you all.



You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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