Caroline West-Meads: Should I shame my sons into seeing me?

Caroline West-Meads
Chris O’Donovan

Q. I have two sons in their late 20s who I love dearly, but now they barely speak to me. I divorced their mother when they were very young. I fought through the court for contact with them, and they used to spend one weekend a fortnight with me. Eventually, it came to light that their mother was abusive, so they came to live with me. We had a loving relationship and a lot of fun. However, when they were in their mid-teens I was badly hit by the 2008 recession and had a breakdown – so they returned to their mother. She told them she had changed. I saw them occasionally but my mental health was not good and it took a while to get back on my feet. However, for two years my calls have gone unanswered. I’ve left telephone messages at their offices but that has only prompted texts telling me that I was self-pitying and not to contact them again. Six months ago, my younger son asked for money (which I gave him) as he said he didn’t want to ask his mother. I sometimes think that I’d have nothing to lose by saying if they don’t contact me and resume a relationship, I’ll write a letter explaining everything I have done for them – including putting them through a top-level school that enabled them to have good careers – and send it to their colleagues and employers. I also think of placing an advert in their local newspapers to shame them into seeing me. It seems the only way I can think of to get them to contact me.

A. No, please don’t do that! I suspect if you shamed them it would guarantee you never saw them again. This is such a sad situation and I understand how painful it must be – but people rarely respond well to having their faults exposed. Your ex has almost certainly blackened your name and, unfortunately, your sons have forgotten the good times. They probably felt abandoned when you suffered with your mental health – but you were battling very scary demons so there were not many options. Your home probably felt like a sanctuary and when they had to leave perhaps this left them resentful. Write to them again but carefully. I suspect that in the past you told them how miserable you were. Perhaps you even tried to make them feel guilty. Understandable as this is, such an approach won’t work. Though you’ve done nothing wrong, focus on telling them that you love them and how sorry you are. Tell your sons you miss them and that you have been thinking about them, and of your regret at sending them back to their mother. Explain that you know how upsetting this must have been. Ask if they can forgive you and say that you would like to see them. Make sure you don’t put in a word of explanation – they are not ready to hear that. This can come later. Do they have partners or friends who can advocate on your behalf? Get further help from Family Lives or Family Action (familylives.org.uk and family-action.org.uk).

I feel like such a bad mother

Q. I have a four-year-old and a baby. Both were surprises as, due to medical conditions, we didn’t think I could have children. It was difficult for my daughter because the baby took up all my time. This got better but since schools closed it has been tough. My daughter is lovely and so well behaved, but I hardly spend any time with her. The baby has reflux, so is sick a lot. My daughter spends most of the day alone. I don’t have time to home-school her either. She misses school and her friends. I feel such a failure. My husband is supportive, but is a key worker in a demanding job. I’m sad and lonely and feel like I’m ruining my daughter’s life and education. The school just emails YouTube links and worksheets. I feel so lost.

A. Please don’t think you are failing, you are absolutely not. These are impossible times, but all your daughter needs is to feel safe and loved. She will catch up with school (and, hopefully, they will reopen shortly). Just read to her when you can, or snuggle up and watch TV (perhaps while you’re feeding the baby) – and let her draw and colour, or do crafts. Try storylineonline.net – it streams kids’ books read by well-known actors. You could listen together while you get on with feeding or housework perhaps. You might be able to involve her in caring for the baby, such as choosing an outfit, so she still gets attention. It’s possible you may be suffering with depression (maybe postnatal). Having babies and young children can be lonely, and the current situation makes this much worse. Speak to your GP if you need to. Meanwhile, be kinder to yourself. Hang on in there – things will get better.