ETCETERA / ANgST: Expert advice on your problems

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The Independent Culture
Write to Angst, The Sunday Review, The Independent on Sunday, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.

I am a single parent and I am having a dreadful time with my 11-year-old daughter who is being unbelievably horrid. She calls me the worst mother in the world and if I suggest she go and have a bath, for example, she tells me to f***ing go and run it myself. Then if I try to step back and behave in an adult way she tells me I'm behaving like a nice psychiatrist. Most of the time I end up arguing with her and I find myself degenerating to child level myself and often being out-argued by my daughter. I am distraught.

Sometimes parents cannot win, however hard they try. It is natural for children to test the limits, if they are to know what is acceptable. If your daughter sees you not coping she will feel unsafe. She sounds angry, and from her point of view with good reason. At 11 she may feel strongly about not having a father, and as a single parent you may often have related to her more like an equal, which can be confusing. But don't be too hard on yourself. Parenting can be much harder without a partner to defuse some of the intensity of the relationship. Be firm about what is acceptable behaviour. Tell her that you will discuss bathing, or whatever, when she has calmed down and in her time, and then remove yourself from the situation. Only if you can begin to care for yourself will you be available to care for her.

Hugh Jenkins, Institute of Family Therapy, 43 New Cavendish Street, London W1M 7RG. Tel: 071-935 1651.

I have a relationship with a black woman and I would like us to get married, but since we started talking about this she has been having a hard time with some of her black friends. They are saying it's not on to be with a white man and that they don't want me to come along when there's a black event. It is very upsetting as I thought I got on fine with my partner's friends, as she does with mine. It worries me that this will affect her feelings for me. When I ask, she says they are not changed by what is going on, but I am afraid she may turn against me.

Almost everybody in a long-term relationship has to deal with the differences between them and what these mean, but when you come from different ethnic backgrounds those differences can be more pronounced. On top of this you cannot relate to your woman friend's experience of being black or how powerful the feeling of her black friends' disapproval may be. Mixed-race relationships certainly can and do work but I believe you are right to recognise that this may be a problem. Although your woman friend says she is not concerned about her friends views just now, it is possible if you marry and hit a hard patch that she might think back to them. A lot depends on how important her ethnicity is to her. You need to talk through the issue very thoroughly and discuss what the challenges of being a mixed-race couple may be, how you feel about them and whether your relationship is strong enough to withstand them.

Bernard Lang, One plus One, 12 New Burlington Street, London W1X 1FF. Tel: 071-734 2020.

I have been married for a year to someone whose previous relationship had come to an end before we met. Her two daughters live with their father and his partner. My previous marriage was childless, and we have just had a baby son. I didn't meet my wife's daughters often before we married, and now my wife is insisting they visit her in our home and that I try to be another father to them. I get very angry. They seem nice girls, but I don't want our happiness disturbed by reminders of the past. It is causing friction between us and my wife says she can't carry on if I can't accept her daughters.

It's always difficult in new partnerships to accept the other's past, especially the feelings of jealousy and insecurity that arise. Your wife is recovering from your son's birth, you are learning to be a father, and it's a stressful time for both of you. Maybe your wife feels that in rejecting her daughters, you are rejecting a part of her. Could you compromise by offering to meet your step-daughters on neutral ground - the home of a relative, for example - until you feel more certain? It's important to convey to your wife that you're willing to work to accept her daughters, whilst maintaining your own priority, creating your new family together. With good will it should work out in time.

Mary North, counsellor, 32 Bolehill Road, Wirksworth, Derby DE4 4GQ. Tel: 0629 824258.

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