I’d like your views on a family problem which arose a couple of weeks ago.
I’m single, retired and comfortably off. I was married for more than 20 years, and afterwards I had a ten-year relationship with someone I used to date when I was in sixth form.
Both relationships were difficult and they both took their toll on my mental wellbeing.
Essentially, I reared my children by myself as I had little support. However, they’re very successful.
Since my retirement, my children have taken to coming to my house, either with other family members or with their own friends; I find this stressful and I’ve endured it partially because I’m embarrassed to say I can’t cope, and partially because I’m being bullied into allowing my house to be over-run by up to 12 noisy people.
I really hate these events and I’d much prefer to see my family in small groups or pairs so I can enjoy their company and talk with them.
For nearly five years I’ve had a partner who’s been very kind to me. He’s not the most sophisticated person and we’ve had a couple of silly stand-offs, but I love him and he loves me. Neither of us wants to get married, so this isn’t a threat to the children.
He’s an introvert like me and during the most recent party he became overwhelmed and left early. He then reacted badly and didn’t contact me for nearly four days. I was upset and my children said he’d insulted them.
We’ve since sorted things out, but my children say they never want to be in the same room as him again and one says they will make other arrangements for Christmas.
I have plenty of options, so this isn’t my main concern, but essentially my children are asking me to choose between them and my partner and urging me to free myself and find someone more ‘suitable’ — their word.
I live in the countryside and my social life is a little limited, which isn’t a problem. I see my partner several times a week and most weekends are spent together.
I have no intention of ever hosting another party and I won’t give up my partner, either.
Why do grown-up children think they can boss their parents around like this?
This week, Bel advises a mother who questions why her grown-up children think they have the right to boss their parents around
Should children ‘think they can boss their parents around?’ No. But is it inevitable that family members will have views about aspects of the others’ lives? Yes. And it can be difficult to steer a safe course between.
You forgot to tell me how many children you have, their ages now, and whether they have relationships. Whatever the numbers, I imagine you have plenty of space, which is why the family has decided that Mum’s is the place to go to have fun.
You say you are ‘bullied’ into it, which may be an exaggeration, or shorthand for saying that they have developed a habit of descending on you en masse. In time, a mother’s permission can be very much taken for granted. And sometimes (whisper it), we may not want to see the rest of the family.
Thought of the day
The days . . . did not feel particularly quiet or happy but through them ran the sense, like an underground river, that there would come a time when these days would be looked back on as happiness, all that life could give of contentment and peace.
From That They May Face The Rising Sun by John McGahern (Irish novelist 1932 – 2006)
I remember my wonderful late mother-in-law confiding that truth to me, years ago. She was getting older and more tired — a fact which her adult children hadn’t seemed to realise. These days, I understand her position more and more.
It is certainly unacceptable for them all to descend on you in a way you find exhausting. That conversation needs to be had — and if you have already tried and failed, you need to try again, even if permafrost descends for a while.
Adult children can become very selfish, even arrogant, used as they are to mother always being ready to serve their needs — especially as you were always the main hands-on parent.
But how long can it be allowed to continue? Boundaries are essential when children are young, and they don’t stop their civilising function in the years that follow.
Let’s give your family the benefit of the doubt (generally a good attitude) and say they only hold their noisy parties at your place so that you will feel included. That’s one thing, but trying to dictate your relationships is quite another.
They have no right to judge and try to exclude the man who has made you happy for the past five years. I have every sympathy with that quiet person feeling out of his depth surrounded by noisy young people very different to him.
It sounds as though their dislike of him might be rooted in snobbery, rather than a feeling of offence that he left their party.
If they look down on his lack of sophistication, they need to be roundly teased/mocked for it (that’s often a useful way to put people in their place without getting angry), though I fear you’ll find this difficult.
Christmas approaches apace, but surely it’s not too late to book somewhere where you and he can escape together? If the family is shocked and/or disappointed, so be it. You can say airily that next year you and he will throw a big family ‘do’ at yours, but now you feel like a change to cheer you up.
If they sulk . . . well, they will get over it. Honestly, you have to break this pattern and you are the only one who can do it, so be strong.
At 57, I’ve given up on finding love
Not so much a problem but something I want to share. I’ve just turned 57 and, after a period of self-reflection, I have decided to give up on the idea of meeting that special lady and remain single.
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
I’ve been single for quite a few years and while there have been brief relationships over those years, none of them has worked out — sometimes my fault, sometimes their fault, sometimes it simply doesn’t work out.
I’ve lived on my own for a while now and, even before Covid, the opportunity to meet someone has been zero.
Now I’m so used to being on my own, it’ll be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to actually be with someone; I’ve grown too used to my own company. I’ve always had a busy social life, pursued many interests and hobbies and got involved in many social groups and clubs.
I write, play guitar — so many things . . . But now I spend more time at home — an introvert by nature. This has limited my options regarding meeting someone and, to be honest, I really can’t be bothered.
If Miss Right couldn’t be bothered with me, 30, 20 or even ten years ago, I’m not bothering with her now.
So, there’s my situation. I’m not entirely sure if I’m asking for advice, I just felt I needed to share it with others.
I guess not everyone has found their ideal partner and gone to the grave single.
What do you think?
It was a pleasure to read your calm email because the subject you raise is very interesting.
Over the years I’ve had countless letters from men and women longing to find a partner (preferably that mythical treasure called ‘The One’) but can’t recall one expressing such determined, contented resignation about single life.
Your uncut letter describes many of your activities in detail and adds the interesting fact that you came close to ‘burn out’ because you were so busy. You also say lockdown enabled you ‘to be relaxed in my own company after all those years of being someone else’.
There must be many people who (in the words of the poet T. S. Eliot) ‘prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet’, seem to socialise with ease, keep very busy but all the while feel they are acting a part and are a different person inside.
That disconnection can even make them feel isolated, yet to feel alone is not necessarily to suffer from loneliness, is it? You can feel set apart in that nobody knows the ‘real’ you, and still feel strangely contented with that certainty. These nuances will not be understood by those who crave company (whether broadly social or romantic) at any cost. I know people for whom being forced to spend time alone is anathema.
I wonder if you expect me to suggest you might find a lovely lady to spend time with. Certainly, reading about you, I’d guess you’d have plenty of interest! But why should you care? I see nothing wrong with settling down, at 57, into the contented, possibly selfish, rhythms of your own life.
Sometimes when I read problem letters from women (usually) whose husbands make them bitterly unhappy, yet who say that cannot face living alone, I wonder why they think it better to be miserable with Mr Wrong, than pour your own drinks and plump your own cushions and be self-sufficient.
There are no rights or wrongs here; I just agree with you that it’s good, in the interests of balance, to suggest a peaceful, independent life can be a blessing, not necessarily the curse it can seem to needy people. Yes, it’s truly wonderful to find a special companion to care for. But if it doesn’t happen? Your ‘message’ is that you can still create a rich, good life.
The point about lockdown is fascinating. I suspect more people than we realise did find it a relief during those strange times not to have to socialise. The enforced period of hibernation and introspection turned into a habit hard to shake off. But again, why should they?
We must stop acting as though we should all have the same views and follow the same social paths. I salute you, Sir, in your self-sufficiency and hope your letter may encourage others to inhabit their own lives with pragmatic contentment.
And finally… It’s a good time to sing up for faith
My recent column about listening to the music of the Fifties and Sixties drew an appreciative response, so thank you all for that.
I also like some music of the Seventies and Eighties, not to mention the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries!
Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.
Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Names are changed to protect identities.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
But DW wrote to suggest I listen to Christian music instead. Since my favourite piece of music is Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and last Sunday I was in church singing traditional advent hymns, I can assure that reader that there is no ‘either/or’ in my life.
Talking of which, the latest census showed that for the first time the proportion of people describing themselves as Christian in England and Wales has fallen below 50 per cent.
In the decade from 2011 to 2021 self-described Christians have gone down by nearly 13 per cent. That’s quite a fall — and it makes me rather sad. Religions have always fascinated me. In 1963, at 17, I bought the Pelican book, Comparative Religion, and still have it as a useful overview of belief.
In our house I treasure a lot of Christian art, statues of the Hindu deities Ganesh and Lakshmi, two statues of the Buddha and one of Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of compassion. Oh, and a copy of the Koran.
I respect beliefs which sustain people in times of trouble and help to give meaning to their lives. We all know the bad things religion has done, but I will always shout out for the good.
That said, as we approach Christmas, I rejoice yet again in angels, carols and images of Mary and the baby Jesus in the stable.
This is my beloved culture and I love the glorious message of peace, love and tolerance which is Christianity’s essence.
I start each day with a prayer of gratitude for my life, a blessing on all those I love and a request ‘that I can be a better person’. That’s all, but it lifts my spirits. The poet Keats memorably wrote ‘Love is my religion’ — a fine thing to remember if you say you have none.
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