Ask Fiona: My new partner doesn't want to be a step-dad
Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine answers another set of reader dilemmas...
I WAS in a toxic marriage for 23 years, and altogether was with my abusive husband for 27 years. I ended the marriage by having an affair with a man I fell in love with, and then left to start a new life.
I had three children from the marriage, who are now 25, 23 and 16. The older two are married and my oldest son has two children of his own. My partner has two children (14 and 19) who he supports and who both live with their (separate) mothers.
My partner and I lived with my eldest son for a year, but with pressure at his family home, we got our own place in July last year. Due to my ex’s situation, my younger son had to move in with us before Christmas and it’s been very difficult, as he’s used to having too much freedom. As a result, he and my partner are having issues – so much so that my partner doesn’t want my son here.
My ex doesn’t give any support financially, even though I was only asking for a small sum for expenses, and my partner feels guilty that he now has no room for his daughter to visit. We could work towards affording a bigger place, but the reality is my partner doesn’t want the responsibility of being a step-dad. I guess he feels this is not his child, so it’s not his problem.
My partner is an alcoholic and he’s recently lost his job. He’s been out of work for two weeks and I’ve been by his side encouraging him, as he some really good job prospects. I love my son and I love my man; I’ve never felt so close with someone before, but how do I keep my relationship happy? He’s never lived full-time with a child before, so am I asking too much of him?
How do you walk away when you’ve really found love with someone who is an amazing lover and friend? After being unloved for so many years, to find it and then have it all crashing down is devastating.
FIONA SAYS: Anyone who enters a relationship with someone who has children must realise that the children will inevitably have needs that come first. Much as you love your partner, you cannot abandon your son, especially as it seems this is what his father (your ex) has done. Devastating though it may be to walk away from this relationship, your son sounds to be in danger of going off the rails and needs some support and structure in his life. If your partner cannot cope with having your son around then, sadly, he’s the one who will have to go, not your son.
Before you get to that stage though, family counselling might be helpful. Your son has been allowed a lot of freedom by his father to behave in ways your new partner doesn’t find acceptable. While your son needs to learn boundaries and acceptable behaviour, your partner needs to learn that young people are bound to test the limits – it’s part of growing up. I’d encourage you to contact Relate (relate.org.uk) because while you may think of this as a service providing counselling support for couples, it also provides family counselling.
It’s challenging for everyone to form a new family and getting counselling support may be what is needed to help everyone settle. Your son may well be playing up because he feels lost and unsettled by you and your ex-husband separating, so counselling might help him to express his anxieties. It can be hard to adapt, but that is what all three of you must do if your new relationship is to succeed.
Finally, I am concerned to read that your partner is an alcoholic who has lost his job and has two children by two different women. Please be sure you go further into this relationship with your eyes wide open, and that he really is as great as you say.
WE BUY LOTS OF GIFTS FOR OUR DAUGHTER – SO WHY IS SHE SO UNGRATEFUL?
I AM feeling so fed up with my daughter and her husband, as they seem to be just so ungrateful. My husband and I have bought them lots of gifts since they got married last year – some of them have been quite expensive too. Although they always thanked us in the beginning, over the last few months or so, they seem to have stopped.
Last month I bought them a new coffee table, because my daughter mentioned that their old one had got damaged. When I went round there, I could see her husband hasn’t even put it in the sitting room yet – nor has she said anything about it.
My husband says we should stop buying them things, but that just seems mean as we can afford it and they can’t. My daughter is an only child and we’ve always bought things for her – but surely a ‘thank you’ isn’t too much to ask?
FIONA SAYS: You say you’re fed up with your daughter, but have you not wondered why she and her husband have stopped saying thank-you? Have you not wondered why the new coffee table hasn’t been put in the lounge? While I agree with you that it’s common courtesy to expect people to show appreciation for gifts, I can’t help but wonder if this young couple are feeling just a bit overloaded.
Buying them ‘stuff’ might feel like you’re trying to buy their affection and keep them beholden to you, when they should be striking out in life as an independent couple. There may be young people who are happy to live off the largesse of their parents, but many more want to make their own way. Further, you may be giving them things that are your taste, but really aren’t theirs. You aren’t giving them the money to go out and buy a new coffee table – you are giving them something they may not even like.
Your daughter has grown up with this and may feel more used to it than her husband, but by giving them so much, it may even be causing difficulties in her marriage. Have you considered how her husband may feel? It could be he thinks you’re implying he is inadequate, as he’s not able to provide these things and cannot afford to reciprocate your gifts.
Have you never been given a really expensive gift that you don’t really like?
It is hard to show enthusiasm, and hard to tell the giver you don’t like it, without risking them taking offence. Most people end up saying nothing, and that could be what is happening here.
I believe your husband is right to suggest you ease back on the giving. Why don’t you ask your daughter if she’d like you to change that coffee table for another one, and use it as an opportunity to chat with her about your gifts? Perhaps she and her husband would be more comfortable if you could ease back to giving for birthdays and Christmas only in future.
If you are seriously trying to dispose of your surplus money for tax reasons, then why not talk to an independent financial advisor. You might be able to put money into something like an ISA or a pension scheme in her name – but please talk to her and her husband before doing so. I’m sure the last thing you want is to create a rift between them.
CAN I STOP MY BIRTH MOTHER FINDING ME?
EVERY so often, there seems to be a show on TV about people happily tracking down their birth parents after adoption. They always show everyone living happily ever after. I, on the other hand, live in dread of my natural mother ever finding me.
I have such superb adoptive parents that the last thing I want to do is rock the boat or hurt them. Is there any way I can block any attempts to find me?
FIONA SAYS: I don’t think you are unique; there are many people who feel like you. The Adoption Contact Register at the General Register Office is the place to start.
It’s not a tracing service – which is the normal route people go down when they want to find their birth relatives – it is simply a register. If your birth was registered at the General Register Office (if you were born in England or Wales) and you’re over 18, then you can register your preferences.
For a connection to be made between people, you both need to be on the Adoption Contact Register, where you can register that you do not want to be contacted. Although they will notify you of any birth relatives who have applied for contact, those relatives won’t be told of your no contact wish.
If your birth relatives use an intermediary tracing agency though – as I said, the normal route people use to try and find birth relative – then that agency will be told you don’t want contact. The agency might still approach you though, just to make sure you still feel the same way. There have been tales of social media being used to track people, but unless you’re using your birth name and details, this seems unlikely in your case.
MY CHEATING EX HAS MOVED IN NEARBY
BEFORE I married five years ago, I had a serious boyfriend who dumped me for someone else. At the time, I was devastated. But I moved on and now I am very happy and in love with my husband.
The ex-boyfriend, though, married the woman he left me for, and having not seen him all this time, they have moved into a house just around the corner. I’ve seen them around a bit, and he waves but has never spoken. I feel very shaken and wonder if I can cope having him live so nearby. I keep having dreams about him and I have suggested to my husband that we think about moving, but when he asks why, I can’t bring myself to explain.
FIONA SAYS: I wonder why you feel so bad about this. If anyone should feel embarrassed and awkward it is him, not you. In fact, that is probably why all he has done is wave and smile – he is probably too ashamed to talk to you! Moving is a drastic solution: you are happily in love with your husband, and your ex seems happy with his wife, so why turn your life upside down?
If you’re afraid that you’ll still find him attractive and think you won’t be able to control yourself, then I suggest that next time you see him, you start a conversation. I bet you find that once you face up to the reality of the man, he isn’t nearly such a threat as you seem to find him at present and that the dreams will soon pass.
If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to email@example.com 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.