They’re so messy!

When my stepchildren come to stay they way they leave stuff all over the house infuriates me. I think it’s so bad mannered but I can’t say anything because we do get on quiet well and I don’t want to upset anything. My husband and I argue about it all the time though because I want him to make them tidy up and he won’t. What can I do?

“You see it as untidiness and bad manners. They may see it as feeling at home and, without realising it, be a way of saying “This place is mine!” If it really upsets you the best tactic is to say so, calmly, directly and clearly but without any criticism. So, you don’t say “This is such a mess!” or “You’re so untidy!” What you say is “Could you please pick up your socks and put them in your room? Socks belong in bedrooms! Thanks!”

The other point to consider is picking your battles. In the end, what is more important – that the house is a little untidy when they come to stay, or that they come to stay with a will and you have a good time? There are important issues you may want to put your foot down another time; save the fight for them.

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We’re fighting a losing battle!

Dealing with my teenagers is like trying to herd cats. If one gets what they want, the others complain. If we try to put our foot down one or two or all three of them will have some reason why it shouldn’t apply to them. They’re always coming to us with requests and questions and it feels as if we say the same thing, again and again. They’re good boys and really lovely people. It’s just that it feels as if were fighting a losing battle

It sounds as if you’d benefit from two strategies. One is giving them far more responsibility themselves. With teenagers, it can help to hand over some power and control and tell them to manage it. The other is for you to institute a Family Discussion once a week and tell them to be there or lose out – you won’t repeat things and you won’t debate things that have come up there and been agreed by who’s at the discussion. It’s an excellent way of getting agreements and consensus, on hearing everyone’s point of view and needs and getting them to balance them out. Put your foot down on this one thing – that you’re going to have them – and then you won’t have to fight again.

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Why do they fight?

My eldest son really doesn’t get on with my new partner. They fight over everything – who feeds the dog, where each of them will sit on the sofa, even what cereal to have in the morning. It’s driving me crazy and I can’t understand it specially since he’s always been such a kind, quiet helpful boy. When my husband left us he was a rock to me and his younger sister. He and my partner seemed to get on at first – why is he being like this?

When a new partner is just a date, they do not upset the dynamic of a family. Once they become partners and have a place in your home you need to look at who has to shift around to give them room and what they feel about that. Eldest children often feel they have to take the role of a missing parent, caring for, looking after and over the parent they live with. When a new partner comes along he or she takes over, in effect supplanting the child and pushing them out of the place they have come to assume is their own. Your son feels like a rival and so he and your new partner bicker over all sorts of territorial issues and issues that the head of a family may usually decide.

It’s understandable, so the best way to deal with it is to acknowledge it. Say “It must feel odd to have someone come in and be a responsible adult when you felt you were doing that job. I’m really grateful for how much you did when we were alone. How are we going to sort things out now so you and John don’t argue so much? I really hate it when you quarrel.” Simply bringing the issue out into the open sometimes does the trick. One tactic may be to agree specific responsibilities, and to thank him when he does them, so your son doesn’t feel he has to fight to be recognised as his role is accepted. Another is for your partner to find something such as fishing or football they can do together, so making the lad an ally rather than a rival.

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He says he’ll take our child!

My ex-boyfriend left me soon after our baby was born. He visited now and again but he hated her crying – and she always cried when he held her, because he hardly ever did it and he just wouldn’t try to learn how to do it properly. He wouldn’t get involved with things like feeding her or changing nappies and after a time simply stopped coming. He’s never paid a penny towards her upkeep. Last year I heard he got married and has a little boy. A couple of friends of mine who see him in a group that meets in our local pub say they’ve heard him say he’s going to get my daughter, who is now 5, and bring her up as his own and that he can do this because he’s now a married man with a family while I’m single. Can he take my child?

He has to have Parental Responsibility to be able to have any say in where your daughter lives, or a Residency Order to say your child should live with him. And since you weren’t married when she was conceived or born and this was before December 2003, the only way he would have got Parental Responsibility would have been for you to sign it an agreement with him or for him to have gone to court to win it. If he wanted her to live with him now he either has to apply for a Residency Order, which automatically confers Parental Responsibility, or apply first for the one and then the other. The court would have to decide that your child would be better off if he has Parental Responsibility or Residency. And if he’s had no contact for at least the last 4 years and made no attempt to maintain or see his child it’s inconceivable they would. The courts prefer to leave young children with their mothers unless there’s a very good reason why she can’t cope or is a risk to them. Being single isn’t even an issue. It sounds as if he’s winding someone up – you, his wife, your friends.

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Doesn’t she know how much I love her?

My wife left me to go off with my best friend and to say I feel terrible is an understatement – I feel crushed. Our two children are with me and I’m keeping going for their sake but I just keep going round and round on what I could have done to make her stay – and what I can still do. Doesn’t she know how much I love her? If I could only make her understand it, maybe she’d come back. How can I tell her I love her and the children need her and she has to come back to us.

I’m sure you’ve told her and I’m sure she knows. Sadly, while you may think the force of your own love and need should change another person’s mind if only they could feel it, the truth is that she has her own feelings and needs and that’s what she’s listening to, not yours. You can certainly make it clear that for the moment the door is open and you’d welcome her back but you may have to accept that while you still love her, she has made another choice. You and the children would be far better off dealing with what you’ve got – a home with the three of you who need to make the best of it. And there is a lot that is good and hopeful. You have them and they have you. They are the ones who really need to hear from you how much you love them and that you will be there for them, whatever happens in the future. They also need to know that none of this is their fault and that though Mum and Dad will not be living together, she still loves them as you do, and will be in contact. And you need to shift your focus from the need to make her listen to you and return home to letting her feel she can be in contact with them without your putting pressure on her.

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Should we tell the kids?

I’m divorced and seeing someone new and now he wants to tell my children about us – we met 6 months ago and we really do think this is it. But I’m not sure. It’s not that I don’t think we’re going to last, it’s just that they’ve had so many disappointments in their lives I’d hate to get their hopes up until we’re more sure of the future.

The problem with keeping quiet is that it’s highly unlikely your children are entirely ignorant about your partner’s existence. Whether they have picked up hints from the fact you go out in the evening or whether they already have met, they will have drawn their own conclusions and have their own fantasies about this. You don’t have to announce weddings or shared homes or anything permanent to let them know some changes are happening. Neither should you – as you say, you don’t know where this is going yet. But you should say something. All you have to do is tell them the truth – that you’ve met someone you like who is becoming important to you and you don’t yet know what is going to happen but you’ll keep them informed.

If you don’t, they will go on spinning their own tales out of wishes and dreams but they won’t be able to talk these through with you because they know talking about it is taboo. If anything does go wrong if you say nothing it will leave them even more confused than before and if you announce it’s over they may be furious that you kept them in the dark and then sprang it on them. And if it goes right and eventually you tell them they may be upset you didn’t tell them beforehand – how can they trust you if you won’t trust them? Talk to them as soon as possible.

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It was all a lie

My husband walked out on me two months ago and I feel such a fool. I thought we had the perfect marriage – two lovely children, a nice house. Ok, we didn’t spend as much time as I’d like together and we had our arguments but I was just shattered to learn he’d been having an affair for over a year. He didn’t go to stay with her – he says it’s over but he’s not coming back. I thought at first he’d come to his senses but now he’s buying a flat so I think he means it. I feel as if the whole marriage – our children, our life together – was a lie and I don’t know how to go on.

I am sad to hear of your situation. It feels painful now, and will always be a source of regret and disappointment, but eventually you’ll be able to look back on the good bits of your marriage and appreciate they still exist and are still real. The sad ending doesn’t take away the happy beginning nor what came out of you relationship – years of trust and two lovely children both of you still love. It might help to ask if he’d go with you to counselling, not to put the marriage back together but to enable you to part with a degree of dignity and closure – he owes you that. Once you can understand why he did what he did and can feel he has heard your anger and disillusionment you may be able to move on. You may feel you could never trust him again as a partner but can do so as a co-parent, and that you will be able to trust someone else again.

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Am i suicidal?

Dear Suzie,

I have recently been really depressed. The depression has gotten to the point of me wanting to commit suicide. Am I having suicical thoughts? I don\’t want to experience pain and/or death but I sometimes feel as though I shouldn\’t have been born. Could you give me any advice?

Please see your doctor as soon as possible and tell him or her what you’ve said to me. You’re feeling miserable. You’re thinking about killing yourself. What label you need to put on that is irrelevant; you need some support and help, some care and concern. You deserve it and you should get it – ask for it today.

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He wont leave me alone

Dear Suzie, I have a creepy bloke who keeps contacting me. I went on 3 dates with him a year ago and he wont leave me alone. I\’ve got a new bf of 9 months who i love dearly and i just want to be left to my new life. I\’ve asked him to leave me alone but he phones me (which I ignore), texts me (which I ignore) and emails me (which I ignore) many times a week! Any advice??? I\’ve spoken to him so many times asking him to leave me alone but he just says he loves me.

Contact the police, at once. This is stalking and they take it very seriously now, as they should. It would help if you can show them evidence so if you have kept texts mails and messages show these to an officer, but even if you have trashed them, give them a clear idea of how much contact he attempts and how upset it makes you feel. If he won’t leave you alone after being asked to do so the police can take him to court and make him.

Do it, today. it’s gone beyond the point where you can do this on your own. Don’t let embarrassment stop you asking for help, or feel sorry for him and don’t listen to his protestations of love. This isn’t love it’s harassment and it must stop.

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I think I have the worst life ever!

Dear Suzie, I think I have the worst life ever!

I am a fourteen year old boy. I am currently suffering from OCD, Depression and Anxiety. I am gay but currently in the closet. I may and probably have Marfan Syndrome. I think I\’m transgendered seeming as I like a lot of girly things (not like make-up but more dresses and skirts).

Do I have the worst life ever? I seriously don\’t know what to do with my life. I really hate it.

I really hope you can help me. Thank you for your time.

Let’s not get into whether your life is any better or any worse than anyone else’s. I bet I could come up with millions of people suffering more than you but that’s not the point; it doesn’t make you feel any better and you do, clearly feel awful

I do sympathise. Often it feels as if the problems we have in our lives are overwhelming and cannot be overcome.

But most of the time, they feel like that because you’re looking at the whole picture. You’re seeing that you have OCD, AND Depression AND Anxiety AND you’re gay and in the closet AND may have Marfan Syndrome. Phew – that’s a lot to process.

But, you see, if you broke it down and started looking at each situation in turn, it may begin to seem more manageable. You have OCD – have you asked for and got some help with that? Your GP should be sympathetic and be able to give you some treatment, support you in some self-help therapy and send you to a therapist for more help.

Your GP could also help with your depression and anxiety, as could the therapist who would help you with the OCD. But you should be in touch with your GP already, if you have Marfan’s Syndrome or are suspected of having it. I would think he or she would be ready to counsel and support you in any understandable depression.

You might like to get in touch with Marfan Association UK for more help on that. And since your worries about being gay are almost certainly increasing your confusion and uncertainty, I’d strongly suggest you confide in your doctor about this too. Don’t forget, whatever your age, your doctor has to treat anything you say with total confidentiality.

Once you begin to ask for support and get it, you can pick off and deal with each issue one by one. Then, they begin to be less scary and more manageable.

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