BEL MOONEY: How can I stop my ex turning our kids against me? 

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Dear Bel,

My daughter is 11, my son 14. When he was three, their father and I split because he was cheating with a lap dancer. I gave it another go for the sake of the children but he moved out after ten months. I started divorce proceedings; he applied for custody; things became very acrimonious.

The children remained with me; his access was one night a week, alternate weekends, and holidays. After reapplying in 2018, he got 50/50 shared custody. I hoped that would be the end but he always wants something to fight about. In November 2020 my son texted me to say he wasn’t coming home again. He said I have abused him emotionally and he wants no more contact. This was a huge shock — so much so that I got the police to speak to him at school to make sure he wasn’t being coerced.

He repeated his accusations. I applied to the court as I felt he was being alienated from me. My ex wanted my daughter to move to his as well, but she told the social workers she didn’t want to. But the whole situation has had a profound effect on her. Nothing came of the ‘abuse’ allegations, and the court made my son visit twice a week, though he didn’t have to stay the night. He was rude to me, physically aggressive to his sister and our new puppy, and refused to stay longer than an hour before his dad collected him. At counselling via Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services he just talked about how ‘mean’ I am. I’ve tried to find out exactly what I’ve done, but it’s just vague accusations.

His dad applied for child maintenance so I’m now paying over £300 per month for him to live there full time. When I ask him to stay the night in his own bedroom he says I only want to reduce the money I pay his dad. In the end I said I don’t see any benefit for any of us in him visiting — so I haven’t seen him since February.

I text every week and he replies with single words. I feel I’ve lost him for ever and I live in terror of the same happening with my daughter who is exposed to the same ‘messages’ when at her dad’s.

For years my ex tried to claim I’m an unfit mother, yet I don’t drink, smoke, or take drugs. I work full-time as a nurse for the NHS and have never laid a finger on either child. I need guidance.

LUCY

This week Bel speaks to a parent who asks how she can stop her ex turning their kids against her

This week Bel speaks to a parent who asks how she can stop her ex turning their kids against her

Recently the actor Ewan McGregor said in an interview, ‘A divorce in a family is a bomb going off in everyone’s life.’ His words reveal the sad and bitter truth — that children of all ages can become victims in the war between their parents.

You know this — but I’m just expressing my profound unease about the current UK divorce rate (estimated at 42 per cent) and a 2017 study which found that children living in intact, nuclear families are about half as likely as children in step, blended, or one-parent families to have a mental disorder or need psychological help.

Since I had to edit your original letter, I want to make it clear that you say you used to have a ‘great relationship’ with your son and are ‘very close’ to your daughter.

Thought of the day 

 …It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing of my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman. Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman

From Phenomenal Woman, by Maya Angelou (American Poet, 1928 – 2014)

There’s hope for the future there. It sounds as if your daughter is less likely to become adversely influenced by her father’s propaganda war than her brother ever was, and so you must do everything possible to build on the relationship as she changes schools and reaches puberty.

I would hate you to let your deep distress at the situation with your son distract you from building on what you have with your daughter.

I feel great compassion for the 14-year-old who, it seems, was brainwashed two years ago and has become convinced his father is right and you are a bad mother.

Who knows what went on to turn him against you (and the rest of your family) so completely? It might have made things worse when he was cross-examined by the police; I see why you did it but wish it hadn’t happened.

The counselling you arranged did not do any good — but the boy is changing all the time because of his age, and therefore counselling might be useful in the future.

In one of your texts you could send him a link to the Childline website (childline.org.uk) saying casually that help with problems is always at hand.

Your letter is about dealing with the present, so I wonder whether counselling might help you feel more confident about your ability to manage your family trauma. Have a look at the Relate site (relate.org.uk), because they do good work with family problems.

You told me you stopped your son’s visits because you felt so stressed and judged, but that’s something you might rethink.

At least he replies to your texts; all such contact is vital. The day may soon come when the developing teenager forms his own judgments about his father — therefore you must be the solid, calm presence he knows will always be there.

Manners are vital, let’s teach them!

Dear Bel

I have a general question: what can we do? How can we make the younger generations see the situation their elder family members are in, and how they could easily contribute to a happier life for all concerned?

Rather than being glued to their screens all day, they could call to say hello and check their relative is OK. It takes little time and would mean so much to that person, knowing that they are being thought about.

Often people think gran or grandad are OK because they have practical help, without thinking that the lack of family contact is the cause of so much loneliness and unhappiness.

With families scattered around the world, many cannot visit, and video calls help only as long as the tech works and the internet is good.

What’s happening to education? What will life be like for them in old age? Will they be able to have a proper conversation or write actual words, rather than just texting? Even university life has changed, with the ‘woke’ influence. Where is all this leading?

SHIRLEY

Well, thank you very much for expressing so clearly what many people think. What’s more, you have — quite calmly and with little emotion — put your finger on a huge social problem.

Offering this topic as ‘something different’ for this column, you are clearly writing straight from the heart, yet give no personal details at all.

A very old friend of mine once confided, some years ago, that she and her late husband used to be rather shocked when their grandchildren would arrive and walk into their kitchen without bothering to greet them in anything other than a perfunctory way, before rushing off to gawp at their phones or whatever.

This was a civilised, privileged, happy middle-class family. The parents of those grandchildren all went to private schools and were/are delightful people whom I’ve known since they were small children. Yet they said nothing when their children were (let us be honest) pretty rude.

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

Telling me this, my friend just shrugged — but I could see it bothered her. So why didn’t her well-bought up family tell their kids, ‘Hey — say hello to granny and grandpa!’?

Probably because we’ve become anti-respectful — an anti-authoritarian culture too ready to infantilise adults and let children in school and at home get away with unchallenged opinions and bad behaviour. Do I sound like a dinosaur? Guess what — I don’t care if I do! Of course children are careless and wrapped up in their own world — and that is why they need to be told.

Surely the kind of indifference you describe in your concerned/sad email begins when children are young and their indulgent parents don’t bother to lay down rules. And don’t we see the results all around?

Your phrase, ‘be made to think’ will probably shock those who don’t believe children should be ‘made’ to do anything. But if you have a family or if you decide to teach for a living it must be an essential part of your job to teach children how to behave. And that needs to start young.

See what you’ve done, Shirley? You’ve set me off! The sorrows of lonely older people have often appeared in the column and never fail to make me very sad. Sometimes family estrangements happen for complex reasons, and sometimes older people can be cantankerous and selfish and in the end alienate their families. But it often feels as if adult children (and therefore their children, too) are just too ‘busy’ — or lazy — to care about the feelings and wellbeing of the old.

You ask me about the future — but I’m not ‘Mystic Mooney’ and have no crystal ball. Generalisations are dangerous, which is why I fight the blanket pessimism behind your questions. But I will say I believe that the old-fashioned concept called duty should play a part in how we treat the older generation — even when they aren’t easy to deal with. I also believe that telling kids to ‘Mind your manners’ is an essential part of teaching them to be careful about the feelings of others.

And finally… Lionesses’ triumph is a win for us all

Six days on and still I haven’t got over it … the achievement, the pride.

I’ve smiled all week, thinking of those phenomenal women and their victory over Germany. European champions at last.

Contact Bel 

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 bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk.

Names are changed to protect identities. 

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

Whisper it — in this life you can always trust women to get the job done. And we can rejoice that there were no drunken yobs, no aggro, none of the unpleasantness associated with football crowds. Women do things differently.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve loved the delight shown by so many men in the performance and triumph of our female footballers. There’s no war of the sexes here, although the on-going fight for equality in football and on other fronts will now have a new momentum.

You don’t mess with Lionesses — nor with their feisty sisters either.

What stays with me is the sparkling, feelgood factor in that thrilling Wembley final. The bubbles are still fresh — and just what we all needed. It took me back to our Queen’s marvellous Platinum Jubilee Weekend.

We had the thrilling RAF flypast — except these planes were piloted by all-female crews. We had the National Anthem sung with gusto and meaning; streets thronged with happy people, flags waving, cheers, laughter, dancing, singing, joy. A unique occasion united us all in euphoric pride.

Yes (I thought on both occasions) we live in the best country in the world. Oh, the nay-sayers will shake their heads and moan that we’re going to hell in a horrible handcart, pushed by union bosses, woke warriors, Russian aggressors, capitalists, and the rest.

But when you’ve lived a few decades you recognise the circular nature of it all. All the while people live their own good lives, hoping for the best.

Ignore abusive spouting on social media, switch off tendentious TV news and, instead, study statistics that prove that life gets better all the time. Too optimistic? No — that’s the always the secret of winning.

Dev

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