Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor in private practice after 20yrs with Relate, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for her to respond in the column.
IT COULD BE YOU (Two features for September)
Grandmother as helper
I am a 57 year old grandmother. Unfortunately two of my children have had a child with special needs.
I now find I have to provide very regular support to my children whereas I was hoping to wind down to a carefree retirement; I love my children and my grandchildren but feel a bit resentful and trapped.
As with so many problems communication is the key to getting the right balance.
Your children have a very long haul ahead of them and life coping with a child who needs extra help and support. Whether it is emotional, physical, or both, it is exhausting and draining. They certainly need all the help they can get and must be feeling pretty trapped at times too. It is wonderful that they can ask you for, and that you give them, help.
Expectations need to be clarified on both sides. It is one thing to ask for help, but another to check what the hoped-for helper is prepared to do. Conversely, it is one thing to say you will help, but another to be clear about what you can manage and to be able to say if things get too much for you.
Only you can decide what you can do and therefore it is up to you to raise this with your children. So many of us are living a longer fitter life. Some people might still be blessed with plenty of strength and energy at your age but others are already feeling that a lot of physical work is too tiring.
Think carefully before you talk with them. Consider what you can manage without draining your energy. What are the tasks that you find too difficult? Do you feel you are being taken for granted? Are other feelings contributing to your feelings of resentment and being trapped? Perhaps you could look at some of the relevant websites which support families with a child requiring special care. You might be able to pick up a few ideas of how to help differently. Without more information on the children I can’t suggest specific ones, but if you ‘Google’ their conditions you will find them quite easily.
We all have hopes for our later years and form plans of how we might spend our retirement. Not everyone gets to realise these plans and like every other life stage, our lives are always open to more change than we expected.
It is sad that your grandchildren have to live their lives with limitations and that their parents have got the heavy responsibility of high level caring for much of the rest of their own lives. Sad, too, that your dream of having fit and able-bodied grandchildren to love and entertain has not worked out as you hoped. But our parenting responsibilities never stop once they begin, merely change in nature. We are there if our children have any problems. We support them wherever possible and listen to their worries. When grandchildren are born we look forward to playing a significant role in their lives. You can still do that.
But it is not possible for all grandparents to take a hands-on role. It is vital that in our later years we learn to accept what limitations we have, that we are happy in how we spend our retirement and that we do not feel we are insignificant or taken for granted. We still need to be treated as individuals with our own aims and agendas.
That is why it is important for you to talk with your family. I don’t pick up that you want to stop helping out altogether but expectations on both sides need to be clarified and a better balance worked out. To hold on to how things are right now will only tire you further and build up your feelings of resentment. Your children will probably be so caught-up in their own hectic pressures, understandably, that they haven’t a clue about yours – until you explain.
Communication is vital.
These websites might give you general information:
www.carers.org Information, advice and support for carers.
www.carersuk.org Information, advice and support.
www.carersinformation.org.uk Resources to support informal carers
Can't please everyone
About a year ago, my 17yr old daughter asked if her boyfriend could move in. He wasn't getting on with his parents, who were themselves arguing. I reluctantly agreed. Things haven't gone smoothly. They argue a lot and my 20 yr old son wants them gone. I don't feel that I can ask the boyfriend to move out again, because I know that my daughter will go with him. If they had their own home that would be okay, but he would simply return home to his parents and my daughter would be very unhappy/not feel safe there.
As a result of their arguing and my not asking the boyfriend to move out, my son is moving out. He can't stand being at home any more. Quite frankly, I dread being home too. I feel that there has been too much damage done to convince my son to stay, even until he and his girlfriend move in together in a few months. My son tells me that although he understands, I haven’t been overly hard on either of them due to being a lone parent, and thinks that this is why I haven't put my foot down in this situation. What could I do to appease everyone, retain a relationship with both children and still keep a hold of my own sanity?
Emotionally drained single mother.
Your daughter is now 18 and your son 20 yrs old. You must have been doing something right to have them wanting to stay – and for a boyfriend to seek shelter from his warring parents in your home. So you need to keep the knowledge in your mind that you have done a good job of raising your children in difficult circumstances.
In trying to be accommodating to all these young adults you have ended up losing one of your own earlier than he intended or you wished. The cuckoo in the nest has managed to displace him through his argumentative treatment of his sister. I can understand why he has gone. In the grand scale of things it isn’t too disruptive for him as he was planning to move in with his girlfriend soon anyway, but it is a pretty strong protest and he is probably hoping you will recognize that.
The message that should give you a clue as to what to do about this unfortunate situation is that you, like your son, can’t stand being at home any more. What next? You move out too and give the home over to your daughter and bad tempered boyfriend while she sorts out her unhealthy relationship?
I don’t think so. He needs to go back to his own unhappy home before he drives a further wedge between you all. Yes it is likely that your daughter will follow him there but there are already large fault lines in their relationship and perhaps those will bring home to her the unsuitability of this young man faster when they haven’t got the comfort of you and your hard won home to calm down in.
Even if this does not bring your son home again he will at least see that you have done the right thing in demonstrating that you care for your own family first. The boyfriend is not just disrupting your home by the constant rowing, he is upsetting the balance you have had as a family and is hurting your daughter into the bargain. You owe him nothing. At the very least he is showing extreme bad manners, conducting arguments in someone else’s home.
Talk to your son and your daughter, alone or together, but without the boyfriend. Make sure that they know how much you love them and care about their lives. Explain your intentions and give your reasons. Be clear that you are doing it for the sake of you all. It might not seem that way to your daughter but she will realise eventually – perhaps when she moves on, to someone who respects her and her family more.
You can write to Maggi at email@example.com for her to respond in the column.