women are supposed to be nurturers

Dear Suzie,

I am in a relationship with a wonderful man whom Ive known for about 10 years. I was very good friends with his wife and got to know him through her. We were all incredibly close – in fact, he called me on the day of their son’s birth as soon as he had called his own family. She was the sister I never had and vice versa.

I knew she had not really bonded with their son from the beginning but he kind of made up for that. She and I continued with our busy social life while he cared for the boy. I went abroad to work in 2000 in which time I kept in touch with them both. On my return, she told me she was very unhappy in her marriage and informed him of this when I was actually present. I had however known that she was seeing someone else behind his back but of course didnt tell him as she was “my” friend. She and I eventually drifted apart after she began lying to me as well, but he and I continued to keep in touch and after a few months got together.

Needless to say, there was a lot of animosity between me and her and still is. She began spreading rumours that we had had an affair. He and I now live together and his son sees him 4 times a month (a court decision). The boy is now 6 and has turned into a withdrawn, quiet, lonely little boy. He knows that we all love him as we tell him all the time. However, we feel she doesn’t care about him too much as she never plays with him and he is left to fend for himself. He has no idea how to interact with others. We know she wasnt the best mother but it looks bad on me sometimes as strangers will think he is mine. Sometimes, I wish she could just die and go away and then we could look after him properly. We have no children of our own as she made him have a vasectomy straight after the boy was born. (He is having it reversed in April).

I have just watched the programme on TV and totally identify with the stepfather.. I lose patience with the boy very quickly, especially when he is moaning and mardy. My partner is not the most forthright of people and I feel alarmed sometimes that I am considering having children with him when I find fault with how he parents his son. He panders to him all the time and fusses over him if he so much as has a headache. Sometimes I think I love the boy but then other times I don’t feel anything except impatience. Then I feel dreadfully guilty as women are supposed to be nurturers and mother-figures. I don’t know what to do Suzie. I feel like a coiled spring when he comes to visit. Help.

You sound sad and lonely, and the boy at the heart of tihs sounds it too. Iwould love to help, but you’re the one who is actually going to t ake the steps to change this. Let’s see if we can unravel what seems to be happening.

Some parents find it hard to bond with their own children – especially if there is conflict at the time of the birth – and many stepparents find it hard to bond with their partner’s children. One of the pressures that doesn’t help is the expectation and image that as a women you ‘ought to be’ loving and caring; that as a natural parent you ‘should’ be loving.

The truth is that love and family relationships are complex and often fraught and conflicted. Your ex friend might have all sorts of reasons for finding it hard to bond with her son; issues to do with her own childhood, and loss and betrayal during that. Or issues to do with her relationship with her husband and with you. You have plenty of reasons not to find a relationship with the child easy; he’s living proof your new partner loved someone before you, that you had an affair, that you and he may not be able to have children of your own. Animals in the wild do not adopt each other’s young; we are no different in finding the relationship a hard one.

But we aren’t animals – we think. Part of that is a problem. You are using your superior intelligence to justify your instinctive feelings about this child by blaming him; he’s mardy, he’s withdrawn. So he deserves what has happed to him or your anger towards him?

No – the truth is that it’s hardly surprising he’s quiet, sad, demanding. His other finds it hard to love him, or at any rate to enjoy him. His father had an affair with his mother’s best friend, no longer lives with him and lives with someone who sees him as a threat. Of course your partner ‘panders’ to him – he feels guilty about what has happened and is trying to make it up. Not that he does – he would do far better to tackle the whole issue honestly and properly. Not to further reject or demonise the boy, but for all of you to face up to the situation and seek some sort of agreement.

Do all of you a favour by seeking some support and guidance via Relate who offer counselling for relationship and family issues. Look in the local phone book for your nearest centre or go to www.relate.org.uk . They also do phone counselling – call 08451 30 40 16 for an appointment. Or go to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy who can suggest a counsellor in your area. You can ring them on 0870 443 5219 or write to BACP, BACP House, 35-37 Albert Street, Rugby, Warwickshire CV21 2SG or go to www.bacp.co.uk Your feelings are understandable and not your fault at all. What you do about them IS your responsibility. Good luck!

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