I retired four years ago and my wife can’t wait to retire at Christmas. Joan has two sons from her first marriage — ten and eight when I moved in, 48 and 46 now. The eldest, Jamie, recently boomeranged home and there’s no sign of him leaving. We get on well.
The youngest, Lee, set up home years ago with the mother of a six-month-old baby girl. They later had three other children — two girls and a boy.
His partner developed cervical cancer while pregnant with the lad and deferred treatment until he was born. She died when he was one, leaving Lee with four children aged one to ten. It turned out the boy was not Lee’s — but he accepted being his ‘dad’.
Eventually Lee found another partner, Jenny. The girls told us stories of how their ‘step-mother’ made their life a misery. There was no evidence to suggest she was anything other than a little strict, but the girls all left home as soon as they reached 16 and quickly became pregnant and live in social housing.
Thought of the day
What a night! The wind howls, hisses and but stops
To howl more loud, while the snow volley keeps
Incessant batter at the window pane,
Making our comfort feel as sweet again. . .
From Snow Storm by John Clare (English rural poet, 1793 – 1864)
Now the lad, Max, 15, is becoming a problem. His real father has approached him a few times but Max rebuffed him.
Lee and Jenny treat Max as someone who has to be tolerated. The impression we get is they resent his existence.
Max doesn’t have a mobile phone or a laptop or a TV and seems to be packed off to his bedroom in the early evening. Lee and Jenny work long hours and that means Max is often left alone in the house. But once he trashed his own room and they’re worried it will happen again.
Recently, Lee asked if Max could come to ours when they couldn’t be home with him. Reluctantly we agreed. He spent hours on Joan’s iPad, conversation pretty impossible, but he responds to offers of food or drink and is very polite.
We told Lee that sending Max to us to spare his house being trashed was not the answer. Max obviously has problems, but we don’t think two pensioners are the ones to sort this out.
We believe he needs professional help if he’s doing half the things they say he does.
We’ve hinted to Jenny and Lee that as soon as Joan retires we’re off out as much as weather and finances allow, but they evade the problem.
Can we really be expected to ‘babysit’ such an obviously troubled lad?
This week Bel Mooney advises a reader who is questioning why she should ‘babysit’ her son’s troubled teenager
There’ll be no surprise when I say there’s one person who receives all my sympathy in this family saga. One person who is very vulnerable and (if you are to be believed) emotionally neglected. Your email subject states your chief anxiety — ‘Retirement at risk’ — which is pretty clear.
Of course, I can understand your anxiety on that front. Why shouldn’t you and your wife look forward to fun and freedom in the near future? After years of work you’re entitled to a new sort of lifestyle and I can see why she’s looking forward to it. Why should you be lumbered with any responsibility for a morose, difficult teenage ‘grandson’ who is not related to either of you?
Yet my heart goes out to that boy. The facts are depressing indeed. His mother cheated on her partner Lee, then died of cancer when the baby boy was one. Lee discovered he’s not the father, but took the role . . . although with how much conviction, I wonder? The discovery must have been an unpleasant shock.
Then he cohabited with Jenny, who played stepmother to Lee’s ‘adopted’ daughter, two biological daughters, and the unfortunate boy who was the product of his dead Mum’s infidelity. Jenny’s a bit of a toughie, so the girls moved out as soon as they could and started families themselves. Are there any stable relationships there? ‘Man hands on misery to man’ as the poet Larkin wrote.
So Max, the unwanted and unloved, is left with Lee and Jenny, who seem not to like him very much. He rejects his biological father. Is it any wonder this angry, desperate boy smashed up his room?
When he comes to you he is ‘polite’ — which is a good sign. Maybe in your long, loving relationship with Joan he glimpses the kind of family life he would have loved.
The child must feel truly hopeless — I wish somebody could show him the loving attention he needs. For a start his school needs to be fully informed of his alleged behavioural problems.
There are so many young people like Max, living chaotic lives, wondering who they are, enraged by their own confusion and the feeling that nobody at all understands or cares. Many end up in care and later in prison. Some may make something of their lives against the odds, even after being let down by adults.
But I think we all need to acknowledge that it’s damn hard for the kids nobody loves.
I hope that you and Joan can open your hearts to that truth and continue to show kindness to the troubled boy. Please try to rein back your wish for ‘conversation’ and just offer smiles, time and pizza.
Back to your question. It’s understandable that you don’t want the responsibility of ‘babysitting’ the boy when his non-parents are working. That you should even resent the imposition. Of course, it would be amazing if you and Joan wanted to act as sort of mentors to him, or if Jamie might help, or if you had friends who might be bighearted enough to take Max under their wings.
But people are not saints and a teenager is a hard task, even in happy families. Might you and Joan push the boat out and get the lad an iPad for Christmas?
It would be a significant gesture. This boy needs maximum support, and mainly, of course, from the only man he has ever called Dad.
If I were Joan, I’d try to have a serious heart-to-heart with my son.
I’m racked with guilt over my stupid work crush
This embarrasses me but I have to confess to somebody. I’m 35 and have been happily married for eight years. My lovely, kind husband and I are thinking it’s time to start a family as we always planned.
To be honest, I’ve been putting it off as I like my job. But that’s not my main issue. I work in a big office with some great colleagues.
Now I’ve developed a major crush (only word for it really) on a guy who joined the company six months ago. He’s a bit older, senior, good-looking and flirty with all the women, especially me (I think). Every day I dress for work and put on makeup with the one thought of seeing him and getting a response. He’s free with compliments and makes me feel good about myself.
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
We’ve gone to the pub together for a couple of sandwich lunches which caused teasing. Now he tells me he may be transferred and I’m miserable at the thought of not seeing him. He’s on my mind all the time and I find myself dreaming about what he would be like in bed.
Writing this down makes me feel guilty when I think of my husband. Please tell me I’m stupid.
How many people reading this page have experienced similar feelings about a work colleague, I wonder. Because (mining long memory here) I can remember a work ‘crush’ too, I’m certainly not going to pass judgement about stupidity!
I often think if men and women (of all ages and types) were more honest about their own foibles and failings they wouldn’t be so quick to condemn others for theirs. As I survey social media and read about celebrities, real honesty seems in shorter supply than ever.
So I’m glad you felt able to be frank about your perfectly normal, and quite common, feelings. Flirting puts a spring in your step and a sparkle in your eye and can make dull days seem brighter. What’s not to like?
Of course, I know the dangers, but only when the flirtation shifts into something else. Little lunches can be a start so I’d bet a lot of money you didn’t mention the pub dates to your husband. Of course not, because that would have exposed your fantasy-dalliance to daylight.
Now I think you should decide it would be wiser not to have any more one-to-ones with this man, but just enjoy his company while he’s there.
You’ll get over this. The sexy guy will move on and you’ll remain married to the man you love and on those days when you feel a little flat about life you can remember the welcome flattering but harmless compliments. And you know, it might be time to have a serious, new conversation with your husband about starting a family. After all, it’s what you always wanted.
At 35 you don’t want to leave it too long (for obvious medical reasons) and you could start investigating the possibility of part-time work, maybe with the same company. See your life in terms of wonderful stages.
I remember being horrified at the thought of my career being over in 1974 when I had my first child. But I fell so in love with that baby boy it changed me forever.
As for work . . . I managed . . . and enjoyed doing different things along the way. Just wait and see what gifts are in store for you, too.
And finally…Live music lifts the roof and the soul
It happened! At last I felt that delicious frisson of excitement which is ‘feeling Christmassy’. It wasn’t because of the increasingly annoying store advertisements on television. Nor was it the welcome sparkle of Christmas lights in the streets or the endless gift lists in magazines (are people really guided by them?) or the similar lists of festive plonk.
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 [email protected]
A pseudonym will be used if you wish.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
No — it was music. And not just any music, but George Frideric Handel’s music. Bath Cantata (one of the oldest music groups in Bath) performed a beautiful Bach Advent cantata, followed by part of the Messiah, surely one of the greatest crowd-pleasers in the repertoire.
What’s more, the concert took place in the welcoming St Stephen’s of Bath where my daughter got married and two of my grandchildren were christened. I felt moved and happy to be back.
All ages filled the church. Yes, there were plenty of grey heads, but right in front of me two teenagers made accomplished pen and ink sketches of people and architecture as they listened. There was wine in the interval.
And then the singers and orchestra lifted the roof with the glorious oratorio prophesying the coming of Jesus — which is what Christmas is actually about. Who doesn’t want to join in with the rousing, celebratory Hallelujah chorus?
I know every pop singer wants to warble Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah but give me the heart-stirring notes of Handel any day. I don’t really care what enthrals folks as long as they keep supporting live music.
Recently I’ve also heard unaccompanied Rachmaninov sacred music in Bath Abbey, and a humorous, joyful folky gig by the talented duo Show of Hands. Being with others sharing a love of music is a rich pleasure as old as humanity.
Now we’re in December I shall dig out my selection of Christmassy CDs (I love carols) and count the days until the candlelit carol service in our church. It must happen. Hallelujah!