Dilemmas: My daughter won't love me unless I give her pounds 100 to go shopping

Andrea, a struggling single parent, is upset by her 14-year-old daughter's demands for money: pounds 100 for a shopping trip with rich friends. If she doesn't cough up, the girl says Andrea doesn't love her. Andrea could ask the father, who's never paid upkeep, but she feels so miserable she's had to take time off work with depression.

Andrea's daughter is growing up. Grown-ups want to have money and spend money, but Andrea's daughter has to learn that money doesn't grow on trees. It has to be earned. And Andrea ought to sit her daughter down and show her exactly where the money goes. After all, the poor child probably doesn't know what a gas bill looks like - she probably thinks gas and electricity just come whizzing into the house, like air. Does she have any idea what poll tax is, or how it's spent on street cleaning and libraries? Does she know how much prescription charges are? Does she realises that every time the washing machine is used, more money is going down the drain, along with the dirty water along with the expensive washing powder? Does she realise that baths and heating and all the other things she takes for granted, cost money? If Andrea could ask her advice on her budget and suggest how they cut down, it would also give her daughter much more of a sense of responsibility. "How are we going to find a little bit more money?" is the question to ask, not "How am I going to find money?"

Fourteen-year-old girls are not incapable of earning money, either, and by car-washing, newspaper-delivering, baby-sitting or walking other people's dogs Andrea's daughter could probably scrape up enough of her own cash to spend on clothes and sound systems, with only a small amount added by her mum. Her daughter isn't greedy, just a normal 14-year-old growing up. If she didn't begin to want to be financially autonomous at this age, and wanted to remain dependent on Andrea choosing her clothes from charity shops, then Andrea would indeed have something to worry about.

There are two other factors here. Why on earth has the father never paid a bean towards his daughter's upkeep? And why is it the poor daughter who has to go cap in hand to him? It sounds as if she hasn't had a lot of contact with him, and to have to crawl off to him asking for cash would be incredibly humiliating. It's difficult enough for adults to ask each other for money, but 14-year-old girls are pretty much incapable, unless it's from a close parent. She may feel that by asking her father for money she would risk losing what little affection he has for her, anyway.

No, it's Andrea who, with her ex-partner, conceived the child, and it's Andrea who ought to take the responsibility of meeting the father and having a talk about extra funds. Indeed she should have done this a long time ago, and, if it comes to it, she ought to be consulting a solicitor about this preposterous situation and, if need be, taking him to court.

The other factor is Andrea's unhappiness. It seems that she feels completely powerless about this situation, and retreats into depression, losing yet more money by taking time off work and staying at home crying. She should see her doctor, for a start, and see whether he or she could arrange a visit to a sensible, pragmatic counsellor who specialises in sorting out fairly simple family problems without delving deep into her past.

Andrea needs to take control. Her daughter's wail that her mother doesn't love her is part typical manipulative teenage emotional blackmail, but part, I think, a longing for her mother to pull herself together and be a proper mother, a mother who can make firm decisions, and take more initiative.

what readers say

Encourage your daughter to use money sensibly

Discussing your anxieties with your daughter is crucial. The more involved she is in discussions about budgeting and paying bills, the more aware she will become of your position.

Like her, I am the daughter of a low-income single parent, and although my siblings and I were clothed and fed, there simply wasn't enough for any "extras". We were encouraged therefore to finance our own treats and inessentials with odd jobs and part-time work.

Although I was often jealous of my better-off friends, I am now at an advantage, as my experience of budgeting on a low income is valuable in my life as an impoverished university student.

Don't let your daughter use emotional blackmail on you, and encourage her to become financially aware and independent - she will be grateful in the long run.

R Meek, Hove

Be firm: you can't give her all she is asking for

Your daughter is trying it on. Treat her as a young adult and explain that you cannot possibly give her what she wants, and that the financial pressures are making you ill. But be firm: no means no.

She will (though it won't happen overnight) remember the sacrifices you made over the years. But mostly she will remember the special love between you both; that sort of love never fades.

Sandra Harper, Belfast

Both of you need a bit of help - and love

I do not think it is altogether fair to describe your 14-year-old daughter as "greedy". At this age, she is probably unused to managing money - and has no concept of your struggles to cope.

Give her a fixed allowance, and open a bank or building society account for her. Get your own life better sorted. No one can work non-stop with no breaks - go for a full-time job.

Remember, your daughter is like a fledgeling. You both need love and help.

Gillian Rivaz

Alderney, Channel Isles

Your daughter is a normal teenager - a bit spoilt

I have just suffered two or three awful years of mid-teen revolt (or revoltingness) from my second daughter. At 17 she is still spiky, but gradually becoming much more relaxed and a good companion. Teenage girls can be real bitches ...

Andrea's daughter sounds a little bit spoilt, and is possibly taking advantage of the lone parent situation of her mother. In fact, she's just "trying it on" with demands for money to keep up with her friends and has calculated how to hurt her mother the most. It just shows she's growing up and needs to be independent in some ways. I honestly doubt that her friends really have so much to spend on one shopping trip - it sounds like bravado and showing off among the peer group. Most girls love browsing, trying on clothes in innumerable boutiques, ending up with a small top for pounds 10. This can be good fun, I'm assured.

Suggestions. Andrea explains in a "grown-up" fashion why she can't afford vast sums -tells her about the bills, earnings and so on. Could the girl be given a small clothes allowance (Mother decides how much, and shouldn't be pressured into more than she can afford)? She could be paid small amounts for "extra jobs" such as window cleaning or car cleaning if she's willing, just to give her an idea of finances. She may well refuse - but at least it's been offered.

Basically, Andrea needs her daughter on her side so that they can support each other. She must be firm with her, so that the girl understands the situation.

Her daughter just sounds the normal teenage pain, but this could be hard to handle alone.

J Hunter (Mrs), Southampton

Next week's dilemma

I always thought we had a pretty normal childhood, but my sister has suddenly revealed that our father sexually abused her when she was nine or ten.

Apparently he crept into her room and fiddled with her at night, and she never told anyone. I was around then, and noticed nothing, but who am I to believe, and whose side should I take? My father denies it totally, of course (and is dreadfully upset) as does my mother. My sister just shrugs her shoulders and says she never wants to see either of them again.

What can I do? I feel loyal to both of them, but I'm in such a difficult position.

Judith

Letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send comments to me at the Features Department, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax: 0171-293 2182) by Tuesday morning. And if you have a dilemma of your own that you would like to share, please let me know.

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