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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 33

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.


"My mother insists on spending"

The following message was received by, and although this came too late for inclusion in December, it is an issue which appears not just at Christmas but for someone every day of the year...

"I am inspired to contact you regarding a slightly thorny issue regarding my
upcoming birthday. If anyone out there does have helpful experience,
your organisation is likely to be it.
My mother, who is a very low-income pensioner, is, as always, insisting
on getting me a gift. However, I am acutely conscious of her very tight budget, and there is very little that I need or could not provide for myself anyway.
And I won't just request something for the sake of it.

Do you have any suggestion(s) of how I could avoid her over-extending just for me, but without it seeming like an obvious rebuttal, or crushing her feelings by making her feel totally inadequate?"

Several thoughts spring to mind

  • What a very considerate son, not wanting to hurt your mum or let her overspend

  • What a loving mum still wanting to treat her son to a birthday gift

  • How tricky a subject to broach without denting her pride or leaving her feeling rejected.

There is no rule in life that says we must watch what our parent spends, but there is a time when an adult son or daughter begins to feel an increasing responsibility towards a parent who might be less physically, mentally or financially able. Looking at our ageing parents, we feel concerned and responsible for them and want to - how shall I put it - take over for them.

Well, in a way we are taking over. Our capabilities are at a peak as our parents' are failing. But the difficulty comes when we do too much, too soon. The ageing parent may still be perfectly able to manage the finances, stretched though they may be, even if they are immobilised through arthritis. They could be perfectly capable of cleaning their house or still enjoy their garden, even though they have hearing problems or forgetful episodes.

This is where it gets tricky. How much do we do for mum or dad without them feeling they are being seen as 'past it' ? One of the debilitating things in old age is to realise that others are assuming you are not able to cope any more. The feeling of being redundant is tough at any age, but when we are younger there is always the hope that something will turn up. In old age it is too late for that. Redundancy, or being seen as increasingly helpless, can lead to depression and an inevitable decline in spirit and subsequently in general health.

One of the sources of pride for an old person is that they can still give pleasure to their children occasionally. A birthday is important, not just for the son or daughter. But it is a landmark for a mother. The memory of giving birth is there for the rest of her life – the super-human effort and the total, utter joy and beauty of the moment her baby is placed in her arms for the first time, stays with her in detail. On your birthday she will remember- every year.

You sound like such a caring son. Talk with your mother about how she likes to celebrate important occasions. There are several things that could be done.

  • See if you can offer to share your birthday with her as a joint 'big occasion'.

  • Be with her either in person or on the 'phone and reminisce, or take her out to celebrate your joint day.

  • Enjoying a 'joint' birthday will give you the chance to share the cost without embarrassing her.

  • Perhaps she will give you some clues as to what she likes to receive as gifts. If she says she isn't much bothered by them, that will give you a perfect lead into saying "Me too, so let's just do something together instead."

    Alternatively you could just tell her you are concerned how limited her funds are and would much prefer a card and a chat, a meal together, or if she is still fit and able, for her to cook your favourite cake/biscuit/supper, you get the idea I'm sure. She will hear that you are considerate of her circumstances, be reassured that you still want her to acknowledge and share your birthday, but will be given ideas of how to do it in a way that is meaningful for both and is affordable for her.

    She will feel she is still appreciated for her unique mothering skills. No hint of rejection, no whiff of redundancy.


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

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



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