Dilemmas: He's your son. And he's a dictator

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Celia found herself in a cleft stick. Her son had broken up with his wife, claiming that there was more to the split than met the eye and that he was not as guilty as he appeared. And because of this, he'd put his foot down about his mother getting in touch either with her daughter-in-law or her parents, for whom she felt great affection. Should she take sides? If so, whose?

Friendships, particularly between women, it seems, take more to break them than a broken marriage, whomever is the guilty party. It was very wrong of her son, readers said, to insist that she sever contact with her daughter-in-law. The friendship was something that had grown like a tree, and now existed without the son's stake to support it.

Elizabeth Niklaus, of London E18, wrote: 'How dare your son dictate to you who you should have contact with or not] Soon he might introduce you to a new daughter-in-law and demand you love her, only to possibly ditch her as well one day and once more dictate to you that you cut off your feelings vis-a-vis his women. It does not work like that.'

In her case, her son's girlfriend got pregnant, and though he left the relationship, she was determined to keep in contact with her first grandchild. 'No way could I be diddled out of the joy.' Now, some years later, after a failed reconciliation, 'I listen to them both, two very angry, hurt young people. I am trying to be fairly neutral. I am Swiss, after all, and refrain from giving advice. I am proud that I am managing to have a good relationship with both parties and that I am allowed to love my granddaughter like a normal, delighted grandma. My husband's advice all along was: 'Stay out of it.' He does, but I am glad I didn't listen to him.'

Since 50 per cent of fathers in broken marriages never see their children, it's hardly surprising that most fathers-in-law offer the same kind of neutral stand to the debate. Nor that most replies came from women.

But Caroline E Cannar, of Cranbrook, Kent, wrote to describe what happened when, 10 years ago, her husband left her and his two young daughters.

She remained in touch with both in-laws. 'Throughout a very difficult time I received constant support, help and kindness from my parents-in-law . . . like baby-sitting, and help with school expenses, and assisting me when bills needed paying.

'Undoubtedly their support has been to the detriment of their relationship with their son and I do regret that has been the case, but also appreciate they had the wisdom and foresight to see that their help needed to be directed to their grandchildren rather than their son.'

And Olwen from Lancaster was reminded of the time when her first husband left her. 'My mother-in-law was deeply embarrassed by her son's behaviour, but naturally wanted to be loyal to him. At the same time, she didn't want to lose the extra daughter she had in me.

'I'd lived closely with their family for some years and all our lives were lightly but genuinely intertwined. So it was decided that we would remain friends. But we agreed we wouldn't discuss their son, and it was understood that their first loyalty was to him.'

They are still in touch; the in-laws are now known as the 'out-laws'; and though Olwen hasn't heard from her first husband for 10 years, she still exchanges Christmas cards and photos of her new family with her first husband's sister. 'It is best', she advises, 'to have a period without contact before establishing the relationship on a new basis.'

Sadly, not all breaks were so civilised. Alexandra wrote that though she had been on very good terms with her daughter-in-law's parents, now that her son had left home, 'telephone calls to the family - where she and my granddaughter are now staying - have resulted in terse communications prior to their rushing out somewhere. We feel isolated in some limbo-land, but feel strongly that we must maintain a link with our granddaughter.

'I've had offers from friends to accompany me to the child's present home for moral support, but am hoping that we can resolve this as mature adults. In the meantime, how can I explain to a 100-year-old great-grandfather, brought up in an age when problems of etiquette had clearer solutions, that his great-granddaughter won't be at his birthday party?'

It says very little of a relationship if it exists simply because of circumstance and not because of affection. But all relationships need working at, and it does seem to be women who do most of the spadework.

When Alice from London W11 broke up with her husband, 'my ex and my father remained on Christmas-card terms (they were often addressed in the handwriting of my ex's new wife, believe it or not]), but my ex-mother-in-law and myself went to enormous lengths to keep in touch. I would go and stay with my new boyfriend and our daughter, and she would stay with us in London. She still seemed like a close relation, and I was beside myself when she died.'

Dear Virginia,

I have four children, two boys and two girls. I wish I could say I loved them all, but I don't. I just hate the third, the youngest girl. I never liked her even when she was a baby; she seemed different from all the others, like a cuckoo in the nest. She is now 12, and although I pretend to care for her, and try to be fair, it is getting less and less easy. The middle son gets on with her, but the two others find her as irritating as I do; my husband has said she would change ever since she was born and she still hasn't. I sometimes lie awake at night praying I could love her, and feeling so guilty. Do any other readers have favourites, or children they dislike?

Yours sincerely, Rachel

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