My daughter started going out with a man two years ago. She's now 17, but though she's moved out to live with him locally, she returns at weekends to get her washing done and reconnect with the family. Unfortunately the boyfriend comes too. He is from a very unstable background, has little education, he smokes, takes a bottle of wine up to their bedroom and is rude to our sons. My husband's very ill and has scant time for the way the two lovers carry on. How can I resolve this situation without making it worse?
I'm so glad you wrote just before the new year. Because that's a wonderful time to start laying down new rules.
For God's sake don't broach the subject before Christmas or you'll all have a miserable time, but around the end of December surely it's a good moment, at this stage, for a frank talk?
Get her on her own and say to her: "Look, it's the beginning of a new year, and I think it's time for you to start making up your mind as to where exactly you're living. If you want to live at home, that's absolutely lovely and we'd really like it, but quite honestly, we can't accommodate the two of you. It gets too claustrophobic and your father's ill, and everything is extra difficult. But of course if you want to live out that's fine, too, and perhaps we could help you with a new washing machine and contribute to setting you up properly so you can get on your feet?"
It would be hard for her to balk at either very generous suggestion. If she says she likes the status quo, you can simply say that it's been wonderful up till now, but she's growing up, the boys are growing up and your husband's ill, and it's a kind of neither-fish-nor-fowl arrangement which is starting not to work. Explain that you want to clarify things before things start getting unpleasant rather than after, and say that you can see how things might be coming to a head, what with her boyfriend obviously not getting on with her brothers and your husband being so sickly. Explain that it is all starting to become stressful for you, feeling you are treading on eggshells, and that it's time to make a proper plan.
If she says she wants to discuss it with the ghastly boyfriend, say that he is nothing to do with it. This is entirely between you and her. And only at the last resort – and I mean the very last resort – should you criticise her boyfriend at all, because any mention of him or his behaviour is the tinderbox that will set the whole thing alight.
It's the house's fault for not being big enough. It's your husband's fault for being so frail and sensitive. It's your fault for not being able to cope with the situation. It's your sons' fault for being over-sensitive. Blame anyone you like, but never point the finger of blame at the boyfriend. He will then only use your criticism to alienate her from you completely.
Remember your aim. Not to be honest. No, to get her either living at home or out, but still friendly. I'm afraid this is the only way.
Try tough love
You kindly label her visits "reconnecting with family", but actually they are the most blatant abuse of your hospitality. Your daughter's behavior shows her immaturity; many 17-year-olds are still at school but show greater responsibility. I suggest that you tell her bluntly that this intolerable situation cannot continue, and that she must stop playing at adulthood and start doing it for real. Tell her that she is not to come home for a month. Come mid-January, you will be prepared calmly to discuss conditions of her visits. Tough love for a tough dilemma.
Sally, by email
Make it his problem
Start by telling her that you dread the thought of doing anything that might drive her away, but you do have some difficulties over her boyfriend's behaviour. Say it makes you very sad to feel so torn between her, her father and your other children. Then list the things that upset you and ask her if it is possible for her to speak to her boyfriend about them. If she gets very distressed, just hug her and tell her to leave it for now. This would give her space to think about what you have said.
Julie, by email
Next week's dilemma
My boyfriend has broken up with me recently. We had a great relationship, we loved each other's company and made each other truly happy but he just didn't know whether I was "the one". He wants to stay friends and he keeps saying he needs to keep in touch with me as he misses me, and keeps calling and texting. He says he regrets it but has done nothing to try to get back with me. I want to cut him off completely as it's so difficult for me to move on if he is there all the time but am finding it hard to do so. I shouldn't hope he will one day come back to me, should I? What are the odds?
What would you advise Angela to do?