Caroline West-Meads: ‘My mum keeps sniping at my husband’

ask caroline

Q. My husband and I are in our mid-40s and have three children aged from nine to 15. We had both been in work (me part time), but during lockdown he was put on furlough and a few months ago he was made redundant. This came as a huge blow to him because he’d enjoyed his job. He received a bit of a payoff – not a large sum but enough to cover the bills for a few months. Then I was offered the opportunity of increasing to full time.

So he’s now taken over more of the domestic routine while looking for a new job. It’s not what either of us would choose ideally, but it’s OK for the time being. My husband’s line of work is quite specialised so we’ve agreed he should hold out for something that suits his experience and skills. The problem is my mother, who grills him on whether he’s working whenever we see her. My husband is always polite and just fudges an answer but I know it depresses and irritates him. After every visit, he says he’s just going to take any job, even if it’s a really junior role. She also keeps pestering me about it when we speak on the phone.

She’s from a generation and background where it is assumed the man must be the primary breadwinner, and if he isn’t there must be something wrong with him. It is getting to a point where my husband is reluctant to come to see my mother with me and the children, and I’m beginning to resent her too. What should I do?

A. Redundancy is often a huge blow to the self-esteem, without the added pressure of someone constantly reminding you that you no longer have a job. Your mother sounds quite pushy and, yes, seems to have values from a different era. There are many couples now where the woman is the breadwinner.

In fact, you sound as though you have a good marriage because you are working as a team and supporting each other through a stressful situation. So you need to tell your mother to stop asking your husband when he is going to get another job. Explain to her gently but firmly that he has had a difficult time and that her constant questioning isn’t helping. Tell her that you in no way think any less of your husband for not being in full-time work at the moment. Explain that he is doing a brilliant job with the children while also job-hunting and that he deserves her respect. As calmly as you can, tell her that it is actually putting you both off seeing her.

Unfortunately, because she sounds very ‘old school’ you may find that she doesn’t respond well – and even if she learns to keep quiet, your husband may still feel silently judged. So it is important not to let it get to you both. You mention that her comments ‘depress’ him, so keep an eye on that. It’s important for your husband to know that his value in life does not just depend on how he earns money. See the website and search ‘coping with redundancy’ for more help.

‘My ex wants me to raise his child’

Q. My boyfriend of three years left me for another woman – a girl really, she was only 19 – and within six months she became pregnant. I was devastated as I had hoped that he would have children with me. We’re both in our early 30s. However, my ex’s new girlfriend walked out on him and their baby, who is now five months old. She told him that he could have full custody as she wasn’t ready to be a mum and couldn’t handle it. Now my ex has been begging me to take him back. He says that he made a terrible mistake and wants us to bring up his son together, and even have another child of our own. Do I believe him, or is he just scared of being a single dad?

A. This is desperately sad – especially for the child who is not wanted by his mum. From your point of view, I really wouldn’t give your ex a second chance. He might genuinely feel he made a mistake – and I’m sure he did – but I fear that you are right and he is scared of being a single parent. As he dumped you for the baby’s mother, there is also a danger that you could come to resent your ex’s son if you took him back. But you would be doing a very noble deed if you could intervene to help the child.

So please encourage your ex to contact the charity Home Start ( for support, and ask him to urge the baby’s mother to also get in touch with them. It may be that with help she could still be involved in her child’s life. After you have done this, walk away. It will be painful, but you need someone who makes you their first choice.