Life

Ask Fiona: How can I have a better relationship with my kids after divorce?

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers advice to a divorced dad, a wife who wants another baby and a mum who's worried about her son

It's natural that you should want a normal relationship with your adult children
Fiona Caine

WHEN my wife and I divorced, it was a pretty messy business and a lot of bad things were said. I am largely over the worst of it now and happily settled with someone else – as is my ex-wife.

I'm really upset though, that the relationship with my children is not as good as it should be. They are now 22 and 24 and I know I put them through a lot.

I'm sure they blame me for breaking up the family home because, since they've left home, they've both had a string of failed relationships and my son still refuses to talk to me. He's living in a depressing neighbourhood and people have told me that he looks miserable most of the time. My daughter has a demanding job and works very long hours, so when I do eventually talk to her (which isn't often) she's usually very tired and wants to end the conversation quickly.

I hate what the split up has done to my family and, while I wouldn't want to get back together with my ex-wife, I wish I could go back to the way we used to be with my children.

It seems so unfair – she and I both had affairs, but I'm the one that seems to have been blamed for everything. Surely she should accept some of the responsibility for what happened; yet she seems to have a much better relationship with our children than I do.

RS

FIONA SAYS: Presumably, from what you're saying, your children lived with your ex-wife until they left home? In which case, they probably only ever heard their mother's side of the story. As things between you and her were acrimonious, I rather imagine they heard some difficult things said about you, which could have coloured their thinking.

On top of that, have your children left what they would have thought of as their home voluntarily, or is it anything to do with their mother's new partner? What I'm trying to say here is, there are numerous possible reasons why your children might be feeling resentful and upset with you. While some of it might be down to the way you behaved at the time, it could also be a lot to do with how their lives panned out subsequently.

I know your son is refusing to talk to you and that your daughter doesn't give you a lot of time, but I really think you need to find a way to talk to them about the divorce. It doesn't sound as if you're ever really had a chance to sit them down and talk properly.

How you do this might depend on what would motivate them, but it might be easier if you started with an email or a letter asking for a get-together, perhaps over a drink or a meal.

Your children are still quite young and haven't had a lot of life experience yet, so probably won't appreciate how relationships which seem stable can fall apart. They do need to know how much you regret how what has happened has affected them.

It may seem obvious, but they also need to understand they are not to blame. I know it's never easy to re-live past hurts, especially when some of the feelings are still a bit raw, but please don't give up. Try not to be judgmental and avoid blaming your ex-wife but, instead, concentrate on explaining how you felt and why you needed to separate from their mother.

Explain to them how unhappy this situation is making you (and them too, by all accounts) and suggest seeing more of each other in the future. If you can't do this face-to-face with them, then put it all in a letter or email. Don't expect an immediate response, as they may need time to mull it over.

If they will still not engage with you, then all you can really do is to make sure they know you will always be there for them if they need you. Hopefully they will eventually come around but, sadly, there are no guarantees.

I WANT ANOTHER CHILD, BUT MY HUSBAND SAYS WE CAN'T AFFORD IT

MY husband and I have a four-year-old son. I would like another child, but my husband doesn't want to, because he thinks we can't afford it. I've tried to persuade him that something as trivial as money shouldn't affect an important decision like this, but he won't budge.

I've thought about stopping contraception and just getting pregnant anyway, but I think he's guessed that I'm thinking of that. It's clear he doesn't trust me anymore.

JM

FIONA SAYS: If you're seriously considering trapping him into having another child, then isn't he right not to trust you? There is a worrying lack of trust, understanding and communication developing between the two of you and I think you need to address this quickly, before it becomes a wedge, driving you apart.

The simple truth is, there is no room for compromise on this question; you either want a child or you don't.

No child deserves a reluctant parent, so you and your husband need to sit down and talk properly. By that, I mean you need to discuss your financial situation, you need to look at how you budget for the money you have and where you could make savings. You then need to look at the financial implications of a second child and what that would mean in terms of you not working for a period, childcare etc.

If this proves you can't afford a second child, then you're either going to have to find drastic ways to cut your budget or accept the situation. If it proves you could afford one, then you're going to have to get your husband to explain his reluctance to do so. If it's because he never wants another, then you can either accept it or consider leaving him and finding someone else.

If, however, he simply wants to delay things for now, then you might feel it's better to respect his wishes. So please, get talking! You've already managed to hurt each other and, if you let this issue linger, it will drive you further apart.

I'VE FALLEN FOR MY PARENTS' FRIEND

I'm 17 – the same age as my mum was when she had me, which means a lot of their friends are in their late 20s and early 30s. One new friend is a guy of – I think – 29, and he visits them often. I've fallen for him big time. When I tried to tell him how I feel, he said he was flattered, but thought I should be going out with someone who was more my own age.

Why can't he see that I am serious about this and that the age difference shouldn't matter?

CV

FIONA SAYS: While I completely agree with you that a 12-year age gap really shouldn't matter, what matters to him is that he sees himself as a peer with your parents, and not with you.

To him, you're the 'younger generation' and he's probably unwilling to jeopardise the friendship he obviously values that he has with your parents. Not wishing to be hard on you, you should also consider that he may not be attracted to you and might even be using the age gap as an excuse to let you down gently.

If you continue to try to push for a relationship with this man, I think you're going to get hurt, so please, take his advice and try to move on. If he's still friends with your parents when you're a few years older and you still feel the same way, that might be the time to revisit the idea.

For now, though, respect the fact that he's not interested and look for love elsewhere.

WHY WON'T MY SON SETTLE DOWN?

MY son has never settled down anywhere and works as an air steward travelling long-haul all over the world. He's moved countless times since he left home, but I thought he'd settle when he got married seven years ago. Far from it – he and his wife have moved four times since they married – the last time was 18 months ago, and they're already thinking about where to go next. They've got two children now and I don't think it's good for them to keep being uprooted. Do you think he has a problem?

JM

FIONA SAYS: I don't know if your son has a problem, because I don't know enough of his circumstances. If he's buying and selling property for profit, for example, this could be a conscious business choice. If he's buying and selling at a loss each time, then he's being very foolish and yes, there's a problem. If he doesn't own property and chooses to live an uncomplicated life in rental properties, then that's a worthy choice, even if you don't understand it. However, if he keeps moving because he's running away from responsibilities then, again, there's a problem.

If he has a happy and successful relationship with his wife and she feels the same as he does, then maybe his commitment is to people, not things. Whatever his reasons, while you (and I) would find it a huge wrench to keep moving, perhaps he and his family enjoy it. Unless one of the family has indicated to you that they're unhappy, I'd be wary about interfering. Once the children are settled in school, though, regular moves might become a problem.

If you're going to say something, I'd suggest you wait until you see how it affects your grandchildren, as you'll then have a much stronger reason to intervene.

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