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Planning Retirement Online


Relationships - 30

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

 


Late divorce: how mother and daughter react

Many older divorced women nowadays do not conform to the stereotype of the deserted wife. But children may not always realise this.

Sally was divorced three years ago after her husband of thirty-five years left her for someone much younger. Sally is a popular person with a large circle of friends and an absorbing job. Contrary to some expectations, she is feeling pleased to be free of her ex-husband as their marriage had not been happy for some time.

For two consecutive years Sally holidayed with her daughter Emily, son-in-law and their two children. She was pleased and surprised to be invited and accepted willingly, but this year she has not been asked. She is aware of a degree of tension in her dealings with her usually open and loving daughter.

Sally is not short of other holiday offers, and though the time spent with the family was lovely, she doesn't feel concerned about not having been asked this year. She simply regards the time spent on family holidays as a bonus to a newly enjoyable life. But she is a little worried about the change in Emily and wonders whether this is due to an unnecessary sense of responsibility or perhaps guilt on the part of her daughter.

Sally decided to confront Emily on this matter, and discovered a number of misunderstandings.

Emily had assumed that her mum must be bereft following dad's departure and would need looking after and cheering up. But she also feared that her mum was in danger of becoming reliant on these family holidays and would expect to be asked every year. Result: she had been feeling guilty and had avoided the subject of holidays.

Maggie says:

This is a wonderful example of how easy it is for us to get things tangled and misunderstood ? and how useful it is to talk when we feel something has changed in a normally good relationship.

Emily was naturally worried about how her mum would cope after the divorce. It is certainly no easy task to adjust to a single life after so many years of marriage. But what she was worrying about may well have got confused with her own feelings of loss about the breaking up of a family structure that ? good or bad - had been there all of her life. She had her own adjusting to do, and perhaps she needed her mother to be with her more for a while during that time without realising it. Maybe it was she who was temporarily a little more dependent on her mum than the other way around.

The breaking up of a family structure has consequences for adult children just as much as for younger ones, and also for the whole family group. This is often missed or misunderstood by people when they work their way through the adjustment period. It is a process that can take a few years ? after all, a family that has grown and developed over decades cannot be changed overnight.

It sounds as though Sally had not taken time to talk with her daughter about her own feelings concerning the ending of her marriage. This is such a delicate thing to do when talking to a child of that marriage. A daughter or son will have a very different set of feelings towards their dad than their mother has. They may not like to hear that the marriage has failed for several years.

Sally will need to take great care not to damage whatever is good about the father-daughter relationship, while trying to reassure her daughter that the divorce was a positive thing and that she is feeling good about the life ahead of her.

She will also need to understand that Emily had made her own personal assumptions based on how she was feeling herself and might even be thinking about her own marriage and the possibility of it failing at some future time. It is clear that Emily had not been able to see that her mum was entering into a full and varied social life and enjoying herself.

If you are a parent in such a situation it is useful to think about the following:

  • Most importantly ? make time to talk to your children

  • Ask them how they are feeling about the situation ? what are their worries and anxieties?

  • Tell them how you are feeling in an honest way, but try not to talk critically or vindictively about their other parent

  • Let them know of your own worries clearly, briefly, and in a way that won't leave them feeling they have to make you feel better

  • Tell them what gives you pleasure now and what you look forward to in the future.

  • Make it clear to your children what you enjoy about being with them but also that you will not expect them to provide all of your social life for you

  • If you do enjoy an active social life, then tell them a little about it. This will reassure them that you are ok

  • Ask them how you can be of help to them, and be clear in what ways you might need their help occasionally

  • Work out together what is acceptable in terms of sharing time, seeing the grandchildren, helping with childcare, visiting, holidaying together

  • Let them know that they are in no way responsible for the following; the ending of your marriage to their other parent (even in adult life this can be a worry to a son or daughter), your health and well being, your social life ? although you hope they will always be a part of it

  • If you are an adult son or daughter in this situation it is useful to think about the following:

  • Most importantly ? talk to your parent

  • Ask them how they are feeling about the situation ? what are their worries and anxieties?

  • Tell them how you are feeling in an honest way

  • Let them know of your own worries clearly, briefly. They may be able to offer you some reassurance or help. Even if they can't it, will be useful for them to know

  • Ask them what they hope might give them pleasure in the future and be prepared to offer ideas if they are still finding things hard ? they might only be able to think of things like being close to you and your children

  • Make it clear to your parent what you enjoy about being with them, but also say that you hope they can develop a new and wider social life

  • Ask them how you can be of help to them, and be clear in what ways you might need their help occasionally

  • Work out together what is acceptable in terms of sharing time, seeing the grandchildren, helping with childcare, visiting, holidaying together

  • Let them know that you will always be concerned for them, ready to help if you can

  • If you feel you want them to be involved in your life, tell them, but be clear about how much


     

 

 

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

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

 



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