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Planning Retirement Online


                        October 2010

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

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 for her to respond in the column.


Step Daughter-In-Law problems

Dear Maggi.

I married my husband 24 years ago. He has 2 sons from his first marriage.

His younger boy is now married with 3 daughters and I had a good relationship with his wife until recently. She is very controlling in her marriage. She has lied to me and others - about members of my family. My neice baby-sits for them and our younger daughter was a frequent visitor. Only recently she told us of the gossip, which has been going on for a couple of years. I was deeply hurt.

I am helping my own daughters financially until they graduate, perhaps she is jealous. I make triple my husband’s salary. We pooled our resources to fund both his son’s education, They and his daughter-in-law are now in their 30s and I had financially supported one stepson, who chose not to take further education, until he moved in with his girlfriend when he was around 21. Both my step-daughter-in-law and stepsons have 4 sets of parent/step-parents to help them. My daughters just have my husband and I.

My step-daughter-in-law has also pushed away her entire family and her mother-in-law, saying she ‘hates them because they don’t like her’. I told her she shouldn’t do that to her husband’s mum but, influenced by her, he doesn’t talk much to his mum either.

I couldn’t take anymore and my family has decided to pull away from her, her husband and children. We did try to talk to her but she doesn’t like to be confronted especially when she has done something wrong. I feel bad about losing the grandkids but it just isn’t going to work unless she wants to talk. That seems unlikely. We all deleted her from Facebook, which upset her, due to her gossiping.

I am older and don’t want to live looking over my shoulder the rest of my days. Was I wrong to disconnect? She hurt me and the family terribly and I don’t see her changing. She isn’t even trying to work it out or admit to her wrong doings.
I just want peace, to be a good, helpful person, but cannot be around her knowing she has bad feelings towards my family.


Maggi's Reply

Being a step-mum can occasionally be a tightrope walk. The aim is to be accepted and as kind and helpful as possible in the new family configuration. But it is all to easy over balance when trying too hard. Even as an adult, a step-child – or their spouse - can be very wary and critical of the new love interest in their parent’s life.

Although you are way past the stage of being a new member of the family, it is still possible to be thought of as being over helpful. Unfortunately this is sometimes mixed, illogically, with an opposing desire – and that is for you to be as supporting as they see you being with your own children.

Part of the trick is keeping some of your thoughts to yourself. To be as outspoken with step-children as you are with your own can backfire. At the slightest hint of censure the step-family can close ranks. Given the situation you describe with your step-son’s wife it sounds as though there are some undercurrents of resentment somewhere that have not been resolved. Sometimes outwardly controlling behaviour can be due to a feeling of not being ‘in control’ of one’s personal life.

You mention your daughter is, or has been, a frequent visitor to the young family’s home and has heard the criticisms for several years. Sometimes comments can become misconstrued when relayed to a second or third person. It is important to ensure the facts and context are correct before acting.

You say you are older and don’t wish to spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder. It is because you are older that you can use your maturity to deal with gossip. Are you feeling threatened by what has been said - or just offended? Can this woman do actual harm with what she is saying? Is there absolutely no foundation for her comments? And is your only option to cut off all communication, including with your step-son and their young children? What have they done to offend you? The little ones probably know and love you without any of the reservations that come with adulthood. Ask yourself if it is fair that they should lose contact with one of their ‘bank’ of grandparents for reasons they cannot understand.

Whatever her reasons for feeling rejected her own family are in her sights as well. There is no comfort in the fact that you aren’t being singled out - you’re just one of the collective ‘baddies’ - but it does indicate that the problem perhaps lies with the young woman herself. There might be a host of causes for her to be feeling unhappy with her family members. The only way to eliminate some of those is to ask her to explain what is upsetting her. If indeed it is to do with money then it frees you to explain calmly how you feel that each of the immediate family have been supported by you over the years and that now it is now the turn of your own children.

Keep your side of things to yourself but ask what has been troubling her about you and others. Tell her you are concerned over the disruption all this is causing, without accusing her of troublemaking, even if you think that. Telling her what she should and should not do is counter-productive. She had her own parents for that in childhood. But you can ask her to tell you personally if you unwittingly upset her and apologise quickly whenever there is need.

There could be some understandable trigger for her behaviour. Be prepared to listen quietly without interrupting or criticising her. Remember, you are older and it’s said we become wiser. Perhaps that seems so because we’ve learnt to keep quiet about some things when it could make matters worse if we speak out!

You have not mentioned what part your husband plays in this. Is he being supportive of you? It is always easier to face these disputes when you can stand shoulder to shoulder. It also demonstrates to the rest of the family that you are a strong, mutually supportive couple – it gives a positive role model too. Ask him to talk to his son and reassure him that the family is not about to disintegrate. It takes an awful lot to break several decades of family life. But there are troubled periods in every family. That is when a couple needs to work together to ease any worries and settle things down again.

Your husband is where you start to get this underway.

(You have mentioned your Facebook page too, but there are so many implications involved in that way of communicating that there is no room to discuss them here. Perhaps another time, in a future column? I would like to hear about other people’s experiences of Facebook, Bebo, etc. Email to



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

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