Life

Ask Fiona: My teenage step-children are putting a strain on us

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine answers another set of reader dilemmas...

Sometimes giving teenagers choices helps them to be less antagonistic
By Fiona Caine, PA

WHEN I married my husband, I always thought taking on two step-children would be tough – and I’m sad to say I’ve been proven right. They’re both teenagers and come to visit us every weekend, and each time it’s the same. We go to enormous lengths to make them welcome – cinemas, meals and trips etc – but all they seem to want to do is sit in front of the television or play computer games.

I don’t mind doing this to help my husband keep a close connection with them, but what really gets to me is that our entire weekend is given over to them and we never have any time for ourselves. What with travelling to pick them up from their mother, cooking meals for them, planning excursions, it’s exhausting. By the end of the weekend, I’m worn out, and what upsets me more is we never get any thanks.

They don’t help to tidy up and their rooms are always left in a complete mess. They barely seem to talk to us and most of the time they are so grumpy, it’s impossible to talk to them. It’s really putting pressure on our relationship and we’re permanently exhausted, especially my husband, who is trying so hard.

He has a round trip of 110 miles every weekend to collect and return them to their mother. He is desperate for them to see this as their second home, but they just seem to treat us as a doss house. Something has to change, but I just can’t see how.

RP

FIONA SAYS: I agree – the current arrangements aren’t helping you or your husband, but equally, his children don’t seem too happy about things either. I suspect your husband is trying desperately to make things right for them, but what he’s not doing is talking to them and finding out what they want from all this.

They sound like typical teenagers to me – they probably have a busy week at school and want to slob at weekends. On top of that, it may well be that they want to spend time with their friends at weekends, and the current arrangements aren’t allowing for this. I’m sure they want to see their father (and you too, potentially) but being teenagers, their friends are really important, and hanging out together is almost certainly something they’re missing.

It sounds to me that a four-way chat is needed, to find some middle-ground and adopt a more flexible approach to these visits. This could possibly mean less frequent visits, or it might mean longer, less frequent stays. I think you also need to think less about ‘entertaining’ them. They would probably enjoy just spending time around the house with you and with each other, rather than an endless string of outings and cinema trips.

So please talk to them more about this – ask if they’d rather play computer games than go on an outing somewhere. Giving them choices and letting them decide what they want to do is important for them to grow and mature anyway, so it’s worth doing for that alone. You’ll probably find that the children will be just as relieved as you are over this.

One final point – if your house is to be treated as their second home, I believe they should be encouraged to take their fair share of domestic chores. At the moment, it sounds like they are being treated as guests, and that’s not what you – or they probably – want. Get them helping with the food preparation, the washing up and be firmer about the way they leave their rooms!

I don’t know whether or not you are in a position to talk to their mother, but if you could involve her too, you might find out more about their wants and needs. You might also like to contact Family Lives (familylives.org.uk) that has a lot of support, advice and information to help stepfamilies.

WHY CAN’T I FIND MR RIGHT?

I AM 36 and divorced with three children. Although they are the most important thing in my life, I would dearly love to have a special person to share things with once more. I have done everything I can to find another meaningful relationship, but nothing has worked.

I have tried dating agencies, lonely hearts columns, penfriends, social clubs, pubs and clubs and even joined the local ladies cricket team because they run excellent social events. In spite of this, I still haven’t met anyone I’d like to settle done with. Most of the men I’ve met are either married or seem to be just interested in sex – sometime, both! Perhaps I’m too old fashioned but that’s not the only thing I want in a relationship, and I feel as though there is a gaping hole in my life.

I’ve become an outgoing, chatty sort of person and whilst I’ve found many new friends and met lots of interesting people, I still haven’t found Mr Right. What am I doing wrong?

UA

FIONA SAYS: I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong at all. Except, perhaps, trying too hard maybe? It’s great that you are being so proactive. But are you making the search for Mr Right the sole purpose of your life? Life is about so much more than that. You’ve already achieved more than many people, so why not see the interesting social life you lead as an end in itself, rather than a means to finding a new man? There are so many lonely people who would be delighted to have a life like yours, and especially would love the confidence you seem to have when it comes to meeting and making new friends.

I certainly don’t think it’s ‘old-fashioned’ to want more from a relationship than simply sex, so stick to your guns on this. No-one should feel pressured to have a sex with someone they’re not interested in having a relationship with. We all have our own standards, so stick to what is right for you.

As to the gaping hole you talk about, why not think about filling it with other things? To be fair, it sounds like you’re already doing a great job here. And I’m not suggesting you give up on the obvious ways of finding a new partner – continue with the dating agencies and the lonely-hearts columns if you like – but perhaps change the emphasis of your search. When we are desperate to find a partner, that desperation shows and often puts people off.

You are an outgoing, chatty person so use those skills to keep making friends, develop a range of new interests and set yourself challenging goals. And maybe try and be more relaxed about things. You never know, if you stop trying so hard you could well find that your chances of meeting someone who’s right for you are that much better.

WHY CAN’T MY HUSBAND AND I TALK OPENLY?

I HAVE been married for nine years but still don’t feel able to talk openly about intimate things to my husband. He’s just as bad as me because his parents were very conservative and strict.

It’s not that I don’t care for him – in fact I love him very much, I just wish we could get over this barrier that exists between us. Whenever I try to talk about our marriage, our children or even our sex life (which isn’t bad) I just clam up and can’t force the words out.

BL

FIONA SAYS: An inability to talk openly with a partner can, in the long term, be very destructive. Small grievances, irritations or fears are locked away to grow and gnaw at the edges of an otherwise happy relationship. If you can talk to each other, you’re more than halfway to solving any problem, however serious or troubling.

You have both grown up with a habit of not talking things through and now (although you don’t say what) something is clearly bothering you. Rather than launching into this, why not firstly try to talk about why it is you can’t talk to each other? Start the ball rolling with a simple: ‘Why do you think we seem unable to talk to each other more easily?’ Once you’ve got a dialogue started with your husband, I’m sure things will get easier, and you’ll be able to talk about your problem.

If you find that things still don’t improve, you may find that counselling would help, and I suggest you contact Relate (relate.org.uk) to help the pair of you to open up.

REGRET NOT GOING WITH MY HUSBAND TO DUBAI

MY husband recently accepted a contract for a job in Dubai that means he’s going to be away for the next 12 months. I could have gone with him, and we discussed this as a possibility, but we decided in the end that we couldn’t afford for me to lose my job.

He left five weeks ago and, from the moment I said goodbye to him at the airport check-in, I’ve regretted that decision. I’ve hated every moment of living alone – it’s so depressing coming back to an empty house. Every noise at night scares me to death and sets my imagination running riot, so I’ve not been sleeping very well either. I miss him so much and don’t think I can cope with much more of this, but I don’t know what to do for the best.

WB

FIONA SAYS: I think there are several possibilities here. First, did you consider asking your employer for a sabbatical? It’s an increasingly popular option for people who want to put their careers on hold for a while and do something different. Obviously, that will depend on your job and may not be viable, but it could be an option worth exploring.

Second, I don’t know what you do, but is there any chance you could do the same thing in Dubai – or at least get a job over there? The experience of working abroad certainly wouldn’t damage your CV and it might open new possibilities for you when you return to this country.

Thirdly, have you considered taking in a lodger or a student, so you wouldn’t have to be on your own in the house? It would be additional income for you, as well – so perhaps you could afford to go and visit your husband a few times while he’s over there.

Whatever you do, I would encourage you to try to find ways to relax – perhaps yoga or meditation might help you. Being more relaxed and sleeping better might help you to feel more confident about yourself and you might find living alone isn’t as bad as you currently think – you might even find you enjoy it! On practical level, speak to your local Crime Prevention Officer to make sure that your house is as a safe as possible.

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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