Caroline West-Meads: Why do my children dislike each other?

Caroline West-Meads
Chris O’Donovan

Q. I have an adult son and daughter, both with children of their own, who always seem to be at odds with each other. My son (who is younger) is divorced and has a 12-year-old son. Before the pandemic, he and my grandson used to spend several evenings a week with me and my husband. Now he calls me every evening and sees us most weekends (we go for a walk). However, my daughter seems to be jealous of him. She has two daughters, aged seven and nine, and we used to have them to stay sometimes, too. But she was often put out if my grandson was here as well. Now she complains that she can hardly ever talk to me because I am always on the phone to her brother. She is outwardly very confident, with lots of friends, but can sometimes get very angry and at other times be in floods of tears. My son works hard – he has to pay maintenance to his ex-wife – and I always encourage him to make a life of his own (which isn’t easy at the moment, of course). I think that he calls or visits mostly out of loneliness. I love both my children and all my grandchildren dearly, but my husband and I wish our children could be in the same room without arguments or awkward silences. But now I’m really worried that things will come to a head again over Christmas. I don’t know how to handle this ongoing drama any more.

A. Your daughter is clearly very jealous of your son, as you say, and I wonder how this started. Sometimes older siblings never quite lose that jealousy of the youngest. Or perhaps she has always been a bit more independent and simply doesn’t understand that her brother is less so. Because your son is lonely and leans on you and your husband quite a lot, she may feel that you love him more when, in fact, you are just treating him differently because he has different needs to hers. However, your daughter also sounds as if she could be depressed – her volatility and tears suggest this. You don’t mention a husband or partner, so I am guessing she is also a single parent and this can be a huge amount of pressure, especially with young children. So try to spend some time alone with her over Christmas, and gently explain she has no need to be jealous of her brother. Explain that you love her just as much, but that you have always felt as though she is more sociable and doesn’t need you in the same way. Also say that you are proud of her for being so independent. Tell her that you are worried she is depressed, ask if you can help and if she needs to talk. If necessary, suggest she sees her GP. As for your son, if he is with you all the time, it may be too easy for him to settle into that and not go outside his ‘comfort zone’ and make an effort to meet new people. This may be something to help him tackle post-pandemic.

‘I think she’s depressed but don’t know how to help’

Q.  I’m concerned about a dear colleague whose behaviour has become very erratic. She went through some trauma last year and things have been compounded by the pandemic. I’ve known her for five years and she was always happy-go-lucky. But four months ago, she became increasingly irritable, angry and impatient. She cited stress, felt she wasn’t being supported at work and has now been signed off. When I texted her, she said she was making progress and receiving counselling but is still off work. She lives a 20-minute drive from me. Should I suggest meeting up? It would be nice to see her and talk. It is so sad, as she was such a joyful person.

A. It is hard to say for sure without a proper diagnosis, but the change in personality and the symptoms you describe could be signs of depression or anxiety. Hopefully, she is getting the support she needs and these changes will be temporary. It is important to be supportive without pressurising her, so do text and suggest a walk. Give her time to reply. People suffering from depression often feel like pushing the world away and hiding under the duvet. So tell her you know – as she feels so down – she may not feel like meeting, but you are worried and you would be really sad to not be able to help if you can. It is not clear if you have a romantic interest in her, but if you do, put that aside and make sure she knows that because she may not be ready for a relationship at the moment. You sound kind and I hope she will respond to your offer of friendship and help.