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Planning Retirement Online



Relationships - March 2018

A Niggling Problem

Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

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

A Niggling Problem

I found your column by happy accident when looking for advice.  It is the best advice column I know. Your replies are most helpful – logical, and easy to read.   

Scanning through the concerns of your writers, I realised I am fortunate in being in a happy place in my 70th year. I have a son, grandchildren, friends, siblings, a dog and a home all of which I love, and I enjoy holidays abroad.

But I’m worried about my son who was divorced after a 10-year marriage to a very controlling woman. He has now entered a similar relationship. She is just divorced, has two teenage girls and is pushing his two children into the background. I decided to have a gentle chat with him to explain why soon after a break-up is not a good time to rush into another relationship. I think he took this on board.

But the lady is pushy and persistent. She seems to be with him more and more, controlling him. He says he has no plans to live with her but seems to go along with whatever she wants even though their interests differ. His friends have been dropped for hers. It irks me to see my grandchildren side-lined - whenever they come to my son, the girlfriend turns up. My son has a great relationship with his children but she says he needs to make them independent and spend less time with them.  

I know it is my son’s life but it is frustrating to see him being manipulated again yet seemingly unable to acknowledge that. I can’t bear the thought of him making another major mistake - it could so harm his children’s childhoods.


I'm so pleased you find my column helpful and that you are generally happy with your rewarding life. However, I am sorry you have this 'niggling' worry.

I don't think this is niggling for you, it sounds as though it is more than that - it's a worry. You are still very much involved with your son and the grandchildren. I'm happy to hear it. Yet being involved means you will, as a loving and caring mother, pick up on whatever under-currents there are for all concerned.

It is never a good idea to go into a new relationship too early after the break-up of a relationship. In the example you give it is the girlfriend who is just out of a marriage. Perhaps it's the same for your son, but if the relationship or marriage has lasted and a couple have children, then it is wise to stay single for a year or so to make individual adjustments, take stock of what has changed personally and clarify what you want next...and just as important, what you don't want.

It’s advised too that young children and teenagers don’t meet a parent’s new partner too early, usually for some months, after their parents have separated. In particular, they should not meet in the child’s home or at least until the parent is sure he wants to live with the new partner. Then the introduction needs to be on neutral, child-friendly ground and only gradually taken further. That’s because it allows children to get used to the idea. Maybe your son needs to know that. When they come to be with Daddy it is their exclusive time with him. It is precious - family time. The girlfriend is not yet family. A parent seldom needs to hide the fact that they are seeing someone else, but it’s kinder not to ask the kids to be with that person for some time - especially in their own space - be that mother’s or father’s home. The first meetings are always better brief and away from home - in a restaurant say, or a park or some place where they can run off and be distracted for a bit if they feel like it - somewhere fun for them.

The young work a kind of narrative in their heads for a very long time that mummy and daddy will eventually be together again after all. That's often not even a conscious thought, but a deep longing for the two people they are bound to inextricably - mum and dad - to be with them. A second person coming into what was mummy's position is confusing and emotionally hard to deal with and not without its repercussions. That person can never be their parent; they already have two parents. An alarm bell should be ringing for your son that his girlfriend is already telling him what his children need and how to parent them.

You are perceptive and careful enough to have approached speaking to your son with some delicacy. None of us wants the 'Interfering mother' label to be pinned to our lapel! But yes, you were right to voice your concern. You add that you "think he took this on board". It might be worth asking him at some point if he's thought of what you said, so that at least you stand a chance of getting feedback - even if it is a warning to keep your distance on this one.

But you have voiced your concern and there is little you can do now but be ready for him, as loving mum and grandmother, if and when he wants to talk. You have left him with things that might not be comfortable to hear but might just fall into place and make sense when he looks differently at his present trajectory.

Ask about his how his old friends are if you know them. By keeping them fresh in his mind you might be an important link between them. But think about the kinds of friendships he has or has had. Have any of them been domineering? Might that be why he has distanced himself? It seems there's still little way to go for your son personally for him to realise he is attracted to dominant people. He'll need to look closely at why he tends to be drawn to them. Why are they his 'comfort zone'? They need not be; if he decides not to tolerate being dominated, it is entirely up to him.

I'm reminded of a poem I used to give to clients who were apparently trapped in a cycle of repetition.

Walking in the street.

I walk down the street
there is a deep hole in the pavement
I fall in
I am lost...I am hopeless
It isn’t my fault
I take forever to find a way out

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the pavement
I pretend I don’t see it
I fall in again
I can’t believe I’m in the same place
But it isn’t my fault
It still takes a long time to get out

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the pavement
I see it is still there
I still fall’s a habit
My eyes are open
I know where I am
It is my fault
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the pavement
I walk round it.

I walk down another street.

There might come a time when you are faced with having to accept your son's girlfriend as his permanent partner if he chooses not to heed your warnings. Perhaps it might be worth trying to think about how you might help all of them integrate and about how you can continue being the supportive, caring and loving mother and grandmother you obviously are. You are one of the vital and stable constants in the children's lives.

To use what has become a cliché, but it's true, whatever the outcome you need to be there for them.

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

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