Hello, Mum. What were you doing when I was a child?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Bring out the violins] Gather ye rosebuds and let's all hear it for Mum . . . hip, hip . . . What is it about Mother's Day that makes everyone go quite so goofy? I've never had such a sentimental response to a problem as for that of Karen.

Her dilemma was that having been pretty much neglected as a child, and cared for only by nannies and au pairs, she was trying to distance herself from her mother, who'd spent Karen's childhood gadding about as a model and socialite. But her mother had been upset when Karen hadn't turned up for the family Christmas, and Karen's sister had told her that the least she could do now was to send her a Mother's Day card. So - should she? Even though it would be an emotional lie?

It was all very difficult. After all, she might be able to close her eyes, grit her teeth, bung a card in the postbox and put it all down to simple good manners, 'polite, at the very least. Life is too short,' as Don Lafferty, of Horsham, remarked. But should she really sacrifice her own hurt feelings in order to assuage those of her mother? Could she, indeed?

I think it unlikely. Which is why the advice of the majority of readers was so useless. In a sickly choir that would have warmed the cockles of the heart of every Victorian parlour poet, they all delivered their glib chorus of mother-loving platitudes: 'Forgive your mother'; 'Give her the benefit of the doubt'; 'Send flowers, and visit, creating a happy family relationship'; 'Bury the past'; 'Put resentment behind you' . . . and so on.

But it isn't as easy as this. After all, if Karen were able to carry out any of these well-meaning instructions, she'd have already done so; none of us enjoys feeling bitter and twisted, after all. Telling Karen to 'transform hurt into something creative,' as one kindly reader suggested, is about as helpful as telling a depressive to cheer up.

The problem is that Karen can't forgive, and feels the only way out is by keeping away, both physically and emotionally.

But I felt that Betty Lane, of Cardiff, was getting warmer when she wrote: 'Karen says she wants to act as she really feels towards her mother. But feelings are rarely as simple as love or hate, more often a disturbing shift from one to the other. Can she be so so sure that her mother lacked concern for her in those early days? Karen doesn't know what it cost her mother in emotional terms to leave her.'

So perhaps she should have it out and ask? No, said Helen Jackman, of Edenbridge, Kent, who argued the merits of keeping the peace and staying silent: 'Many times I said that all I felt towards my mother was a sense of duty, but when she died all these negative thoughts immediately evaporated. How thankful I was that I had never told her how I was feeling. It would have been unforgivably hurtful and, I now realise, not true. As there is no mention that her mother is making excessive demands on Karen, she has nothing to gain from estrangement and possibly a great deal to lose.'

But if Helen had aired her feelings in a blame-free way earlier, I wonder whether she might not have been in a position to have felt all these affectionate feelings when her mother was alive? After all, when you put the lid on bad feelings, you put the lid on good feelings as well.

I'm with with Isaac Romanov, of Chelsea, whose mother travelled the world with his father in the Diplomatic Corps, leaving him with nannies, boarding schools and 'aunts'. He argued that Karen's mother's capering about was probably her way of working and providing a good lifestyle for Karen and her sister. 'But what may have appeared glamorous to Karen may not have always been that way for the mother. A job is a job]' So he advised having it out. Blaming her mother by withdrawing from her 'damages Karen and distresses the mother, who probably doesn't even know why. If after discussing this issue with her mother Karen still feels that any explanation is unsatisfactory, she can sever the connection knowing that she did at least attempt it. But she may indeed cross a barrier and become much, much closer.'

And Jean Posford, of Woodbridge, Suffolk, who spoke from personal experience, wrote: 'The Mother's Day card is really a side issue, but I think this year Karen should send one - it doesn't have to be sentimental - and then make up her mind to broach the subject. Even if her mother says: 'Yes, I was pretty selfish but I never meant to hurt you', it would be an acknowledgement of her feelings.' '

This is the answer that comes nearest to solving Karen's problem. But were I Karen, I'd still balk at writing that card.

Sending such a greeting would only confuse the issue and give Karen's mother, after she'd missed her daughter at Christmas, a bafflingly contradictory message. Before Mother's Day, if possible, Karen should drop round, say hello, and without any blame at all, describe how she feels about her childhood. Only then - and after quite a few discussions, most likely - can she decide whether she wants to send a card this year, next year or never.

An honest discussion, even if hurtful and painful, is far more flattering for a loving mother than a mawkish card sent out of bitter duty.

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