Life

Ask Fiona: My mother moved closer to us and we are finding that it's hard work

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a woman whose mother has become high-maintenance since moving closer

You need to have an honest chat with your mum about the family living arrangements

WHEN my father died, I encouraged my mother to move nearer to me so that I could keep an eye on her. She surprised me by agreeing immediately and found a small flat nearby.

However, since moving she has spent nearly all her time at my house. I suppose she was and still is lonely, but I had no idea it would be so difficult.

She does little to help but criticises everything I do. She finds fault with my home, my family, the food I provide and how I prepare it. She expects me to run all sorts of errands for her, even though I have a family and a busy part-time job.

She also moans constantly about how lonely she is. When I suggested she should get out more, she accused me of trying to get rid of her. My husband has started to work longer days just to stay away from her, and my children do all they can to avoid her too.

I do love her, but I can't cope with this much longer. Why has she become so difficult?

SC

FIONA SAYS: If she wasn't this way before the death of your father, the most likely cause is that she is missing him badly. It's also possible that she may have received inadequate grief counselling at the time. Strangely, missing her husband may also explain why she seems to resent you and target you for criticism. You have a loving relationship, a happy family and a career, all things that she no longer has.

Whatever the reasons, though, she can't be allowed to carry on like this. It's already placing pressure on your family and if it continues, it might affect your relationship with your husband. So please find a way to talk with her quietly and explain that her rudeness and constant criticism is unfair. Tell her that you love her and still want to see her, but that this behaviour must stop.

It's not clear from your letter how long ago your father died but your mother is clearly still emotional and a bit brittle, so it's important that you stay calm and don't be confrontational. Hopefully, this will be enough to get her adjust her behaviour but if she carries on being critical, you must be prepared to simply walk away. Stop whatever you're doing and go to another room. Keep doing this and the point should get home.

Explain also that asking her to get out more was not to get rid of her, but to help her get over the loneliness that she admits to feeling. To this end, encourage her to look for ways to make new friends locally. This could be through joining a club or society, taking up a sport of other physical activity or starting a course to learn a new skill. You don't mention how old she is but the University of the Third Age (u3a.org.uk) is a great way to continue learning and meet new people at the same time. If she wants a greater challenge, she might even consider a local part-time job or some kind of volunteering.

Help her as much as you can through this process, perhaps even suggesting some counselling with Cruse Bereavement Care (cruse.org.uk), and I'm sure she'll soon start to get back to old self.

MY FIANCE'S MOTHER HAS SUDDENLY TURNED AGAINST ME

My fiance was in a nasty accident a few months back. He was lucky to survive and after a few surgeries and many weeks of physio, things are starting to look up.

However, his mother's attitude to me has changed dramatically. She cuts me out of most conversations and makes it clear that she doesn't want me around. She's even been bloody rude on a few occasions, but despite this I have tried to stay friendly for the sake of my fiance.

I don't want to dump this problem on him as he needs to concentrate on his recovery, but what else can I do? I wish I knew what I'd done to upset her.

RH

FIONA SAYS: If your relationship was fine before the accident, I suspect you've done nothing to upset her, except perhaps be the next thing to take her son away. That may seem extreme and a bit irrational, but she has probably been badly shaken and her fear of losing him is making her see you as a threat.

So please, let go of the idea that you have done something wrong and certainly don't stop being yourself just to win her around. Give her more time to see that you love her son and that, no matter what, you intend to stay with him. As his recovery continues, and you stick by him, she should relax and no longer see you as a threat.

SHOULD I TELL MY FRIEND HER NEW BOYFRIEND IS BAD NEWS?

I don't trust my best friend's new boyfriend. She's been going out with him for two months and, when I first met him, he got my hackles up. I've since found out through the wife of someone he works with that he sleeps around.

Apparently, he boasts a lot in the pub about how many girlfriends he's got. This just confirms my first instincts about him, and I am worried that my friend will be hurt badly when she finds out. Should I just tell her anyway to get this over with?

MT

FIONA SAYS: Your wish to protect your friend is understandable, but I think you need to be wary of saying very much until you've got more proof that he is cheating on her. All you have now is a rumour that's been filtered through at least two other people.

Besides, his no doubt alcohol-fuelled boasts could be nothing more than bravado; tall tales to impress his mates in the pub. Do you really want to risk your friendship on this basis? Because if you get this wrong, she may not forgive you.

Have you considered confronting him and asking whether the rumours you're hearing about him are true? I appreciate that might be difficult as you probably don't see him without her being around but it might be worth trying. You don't need to be aggressive – just say that you're worried for your friend as you've heard rumours and very much hope they're not true.

As for saying something to your friend though, it may be better for now to let her be happy in this new relationship, at least until you've got something more solid to go on.

MY LAST BOYFRIEND LEFT SUDDENLY - WILL I EVER TRUST ANYONE AGAIN?

Two years ago, my long-term boyfriend left me. We'd been together for almost 10 years and I'd always thought that, one day, we'd marry. I suggested to him that I thought it was time we considered starting a family, and he packed his stuff and moved out within a week.

I was shocked and felt badly hurt. It took me a long time to feel like going out with anyone again but, since Christmas I have started dating again. The problem is, if it looks like getting serious, I get cold feet and back away. What's wrong with me? Shouldn't I be happy that someone wants to be with me?

GH

FIONA SAYS: You were deeply hurt when your boyfriend left you, so it is not surprising that you are wary of new relationships. However, if you've only been dating since Christmas maybe you're trying to do too much too soon.

If you're finding yourself trying to avoid a serious relationship for now, maybe it's your subconscious telling you that you need more time? You were in a relationship for 10 years – maybe now's the time to feel free and have a bit of fun without any serious commitment. There's no reason why you shouldn't develop new friendships – even relationships; just make it clear that you're not interested in anything serious.

In time, I suspect you'll find a relationship will develop into something serious without you even realising it until you're in it. That's how it happens to most people.

:: If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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