If you have a problem, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Zelda reads all your letters but regrets that she cannot answer them all personally
I want my children to forgive me
I was raised by an unloving mother who allowed my elder brother to punch me throughout my childhood until he left for university when I was 17. I had to defend myself as my father was away on business for weeks at a time and had no say. Consequently, as a mother, I was also abusive and angry. There was a lot of pressure on me while I was bringing up my kids, as I was constantly trying to gain my own parents’ love. I never felt a bond with my children until my youngest daughter was born. Eventually, I had counselling and, finally, in my 40s, I saw a therapist who helped me. I recognised how badly I had treated my children, apologised to them and tried to explain my abusive behaviour. I tried to be a good mother, but by then the trust was lost. I am now in my 70s and feel that I will never have a proper relationship with them. I used to get on reasonably well with my youngest daughter, but she is now married to her second husband who is very controlling and has turned her against me. My husband and I had some problems in our marriage over the years, but these improved after we had counselling together and I was finally able to express my feelings. However, he now has cancer. I feel so sad for my children and my lack of closeness with them, but I have reached the point where I am aware that I can’t change things.
This is such a sad letter. It is awful that your mother didn’t protect you from your brother. In failing to do this, she was abusive herself – as was your father, who must have known. I can only imagine that they in turn were perhaps abused as children. Sometimes people who have been abused perpetuate the abuse because they had no role models to show them love and it is all they have known. You probably found it difficult to bond with your children because you were numb from such a terrible childhood. It is incredibly brave to have admitted to your children how badly you treated them and I am very glad that you saw a therapist who helped you. Explaining your childhood to your children was absolutely the right thing to do and it is very hard for you that they have not been able to forgive you. But I realise it is complicated. I hope that they may soften, but you are absolutely right, acceptance is the best way forward. Accepting that we cannot change the past is healthier emotionally than constantly trying and being rejected. Continue to offer support and love to your children and let your younger daughter know that you are there for her – but contact Refuge (refuge.org.uk) for advice if her husband is dangerous or coercive. Meanwhile, be kind to yourself and perhaps return to therapy for support with all you have going on. Macmillan Cancer Support (macmillan.org.uk) will help you too.
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How can I avoid my annoying neighbour?
I am not sure what to do about my neighbour. She means well, but whenever I bump into her she just talks about herself. She never asks about me, but just goes on and on about her work and how difficult her colleagues are. What really annoys me is that if I try to discuss my own worries about my difficult teenage son, she gives me obvious advice as though it is something I would never have thought of. She doesn’t have children of her own and is some years younger than me. I don’t want to be unkind as I think she is just unhappy. But how can I avoid these long conversations without appearing rude?
Yes, it is funny how some people who don’t have children can be full of warm and compassionate advice. Yet others seem to think that all children are the same and parents only need to be more disciplined or less anxious. If only! You sound like a nice person, as you are trying to see the good in her and recognise that she is unhappy. As she is your neighbour you need to keep on good terms with her, so this is tricky. You may need to be more assertive and have a proper conversation with her to avoid lots of others. So say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m busy today, but shall we catch up with a coffee in a couple of weeks?’ and stall her a bit. You could also try saying, ‘Don’t worry about my son, you have enough on your plate, but you sound unhappy.’ Say that you are not really sure how to help her, but ask whether she has ever considered counselling or life coaching.