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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 25

It could be you.... 

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.


Am I losing my son to his girlfriend?

Sue, not her real name, has written to tell me of her problems with her son and his long-term girlfriend. It is a reminder of how far we have to travel emotionally in our adult lives.

She says, "Our middle son is twenty-one and at university. He comes home mainly every other weekend, and his girlfriend goes up to visit him at university when he doesn't come to us. So they see each other nearly every other weekend.

"In vacations he spends most of his time at his girlfriend's flat, which is in the same town where we live. They have been together for four years. Her parents are divorced and both are remarried, and she is determined to remain close to her mother.

"After a long and fruitful discussion about we, his parents, needing to remain part of his life, we eventually accepted that we would not be seeing so much of him. But then we found out from a friend that he had been back to stay with his girlfriend without letting us know. Our relationship with him deteriorated as a result.

"Recently, I asked him what plans he had for his girlfriend's upcoming birthday. He said he would be staying at her flat. I suggested taking them out for a meal the night before her birthday so she could spend time with her mother on the actual day. He accepted, said that would be great and would check it out.

"The day before this was supposed to happen, he sent a text to say that now the other mum was taking them out tomorrow night instead. When I called, I told him how hurt and rejected I felt. He didn't see that there was a problem and said that I was just giving him grief, even when I explained that the meal was an opportunity to see him as well as to celebrate the girlfriend's birthday.

"He asked what he could have done, so I suggested that he could have reminded his girlfriend of the existing arrangement and maybe she could see her mum another time. He agreed and I thanked him, but when I began to suggest the time we should meet, he changed his mind and said he couldn't cancel. I reminded him that the original arrangements were with us but that he had felt that it was ok to cancel.

I feel very upset and fear this could be a pattern for the future, bearing in mind the old adage - 'a daughter is a daughter for all her life, but a son's a son until he finds a wife'.

Maggi Says:

Yes Sue, your son has been less than courteous, as you say, in letting you down, but he is caught between two people he loves and is still finding his way in terms of using his powers of negotiation, communication, understanding and empathy. Sometimes it is just too hard for a young person to 'walk a mile in our shoes'. As parents we try hard to make sense of what motivates our offspring, to see things from their perspective. Perhaps we do this more readily because we have been where they are now, but they have not been - and won't be for many years, where we are!

It sounds as if there are lots of strands to this situation.

1. Your son is at university, and in the process of separating himself from the parental home.

2. You, his mother, are missing him, wishing he were at home more.

3. His long-term girlfriend happens to live in the same area and that's where your son seems to want to spend his time.

4. He still visits home, but less than you would like.

5. As parents, you are good communicators and are used to being his central support.

6. His girlfriend's parents are divorced and remarried and she tries to be inclusive of her mother.

7. The girlfriend has a strong bond with her mother that could lead to a conflict of loyalties, just as a  strong bond between mother and son can lead to a conflict of loyalties.

Maybe your son has been trapped by his own attempts to keep everyone he cares about happy. This rebounded on him and when he realised it he panicked, showed his frustration and expressed himself clumsily on the 'phone. It takes some time and a few hard lessons to get the hang of dealing with the unexpected, e.g. his girlfriend making other arrangements.

He could have handled this situation differently, but it is better for both people involved in a conversation to work out how each can reach the other.

It sounds as though you, Sue, have been able in the past to talk very openly with him, and this is a very important foundation to have. Used gently and sparingly, it is always the strong point of family relationships.

What can you do now?

  • Acknowledge how hard it is for your son trying to please everyone all at once

  • Though you are inevitably hurt by being dropped at the last minute, let your son know you want to avoid either party being in the same situation again

  • Work out together how this might be handled better in the future

  • Let your son know you understand that this event was naturally centred around his girlfriend and it felt important to include her mother

Your son has a life that is separate from the family now. He will always be a part of it I am sure, but essentially he will be making decisions influenced more by his new life than his old. What sounds hard is that for you it feels as if you are losing him. One of the tough things for parents is the letting go of our boy or girl and getting used to the man or woman that they are becoming. Yet paradoxically, it is only by letting go of the child that we can enjoy the love and presence of the adult they have become.

If you have been the 'good enough' parent - and I don't doubt from what you write that you are, your adult son will be there, using everything you have given him throughout his childhood, even though it may take time for him to make his journey and get the balance right.

PS A wise friend once told me, many years ago, that to celebrate her own birthday she took presents to her mother as thanks for bringing her into the world, acknowledging all the hard work and dedication that it involves. It made me think rather differently about my own birthday expectations.


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

To view previous articles in this series - see the Relationship Counselling & Advice Index



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