BEL MOONEY: I’m hurt my cold son tries to push me away
My heart is so sore this morning. Happily married for 40 years, we have three wonderful sons, all married and living quite near. I host family lunches around once every six weeks to promote family unity and everyone seems to get on, including the wives and children.
My problem is my eldest son. He seems perfect: good-looking, intelligent with a top job, a lovely wife and a perfect house. His two children are beautiful and accomplished. Although I have a good relationship with him he rarely invites us to his house — we normally have to invite ourselves.
He is always cordial but I never feel actively welcomed. I try to go to swimming lessons with him and the kids on Saturday on my own to have 30 minutes with him to chat.
We have a small London flat where, after three years of not travelling, my husband and I have decided to stay for a couple of months.
Last weekend my son and his family were passing through London on their way to France. I asked him to phone when he arrived. He sent a message to say he was exhausted and would call later. He didn’t. Next morning I sent a reminder and he finally called. I asked what they were doing that day and he said they were going to a restaurant they like.
Taken aback, I told him I was hurt he hadn’t asked us along to see the kids. He exploded . . . ‘it’s not all about you, I want a family lunch, if I had wanted to see you I would have invited you, you are so selfish, etc’.
I said I wanted to see him because I love him and have been missing him and the kids, but it was obvious he did not feel the same.
I’d have thought adding us on to the lunch would have made it more, not less, pleasurable. I cried bitterly after putting the phone down on him as he wouldn’t stop saying hurtful things.
Now I don’t know how to process this. He’s gone away without messaging me. He’s always been a bit of a cold fish and is critical of me and others. I come from a broken family and have done everything in my power to make my family happy. As things stand I don’t feel like seeing my son during the time slot I have been allotted a day before they leave London.
This week Bel speaks to a mother who admits she is hurt that her cold son is trying to push her away
This letter is so sad, and I feel sorry for the pain of rejection you are suffering. But I would be no friend to you if I were to say ‘Oh, you poor thing’ and tell you fibs about family life.
Thought of the day
There is a light somewhere.
It may not be much light but
It beats the darkness.
Be on the watch.
The Gods will offer you chances.
Know them . . .
From The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski (German-American poet, 1920-1994)
You reveal so much when you say you come from a broken family, then go on to admit the potentially damaging fantasy which lies at the heart of your problem. You say you ‘have done everything in my power to make my family happy’.
The trouble is, Joanna, nobody can make a family happy. I’m afraid that verb sounds a warning within my brain — that here is a woman full of love making a big mistake in trying to put herself at the control centre of her family.
Your uncut letter tells me just how much money you and your husband have given each of your sons.
But, generous as that is (and so amazingly lucky to have the means), I suggest that such gifts are not a quid pro quo or a favour granted in return for something.
All of us want our offspring to appreciate everything we have tried to do for them, be that driving to football practice or regular help with homework or generous cash. But nobody can demand pay-back.
Please forgive me because I really don’t want to say this — I confess there is a tone in your sad letter which makes me worry that you are too demanding of the family you adore. How wonderful those shared lunches sound — that is, until you use the phrase, ‘to promote family unity’. Is that really what they are for? Not fun and chat and the companionship of cousins?
Family life isn’t like running a company, you know. Is it possible that your eldest is not really ‘a cold fish’ but an independent man who honestly might not actually want you to turn up at the Saturday swimming because he wants to watch the kids’ progress rather than chat to you? When you write resentfully, ‘I’d have thought adding us on to the lunch would have made it more, not less, pleasurable’ — what are you doing but putting your neediness centre-stage, which he calls ‘selfish’?
You will now be thinking of me as mean and cold like your son, but I assure you I’m not. As a mother and grandmother I really do understand those moments when you feel hurt at being left out of the loop. But you cannot coerce affection and attention. My experience tells me that the more relaxed you are, the more your family will want to be with you.
Sending a peremptory text or WhatsApp saying ‘waiting for your call’ (which is what you did) is an instruction not a request.
Assuming a right to be invited to lunch is one way of never being invited in the future.
How blessed you are, compared with so many who write. You love your family and they love you. Why else would they come to those lunches? But I ask you to reflect wisely on a famous short poem by William Blake.
It begins, ‘He who binds to himself a Joy/ Does the winged life destroy.’ You see? Imagine the sweet bird of love handcuffed — and then reflect on the alternative: ‘But he who kisses the Joy as it flies / Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.’
For ‘he’ read ‘she’. . . So please don’t sulk, but look forward to seeing your son and his family next time.
I just want peace for my poor sister
A week or so before the first lockdown my 79-year-old sister suffering from Alzheimer’s was placed into a nursing home. She and I had not seen each other for a number of years due to a quarrel.
In January 2021, we were told Susan had advanced breast cancer and would receive end-of-life care. Last May, once allowed, I visited and, though Susan didn’t know me, she accepted me and obviously our falling out was forgotten.
This has been the silver lining — that she does not die before we made up. Her only visitors are her youngest son, his wife and me.
To see Susan like she is — often violent and aggressive to us and the staff — is heart-breaking. I’m thankful Susan is not fully aware. For us it is torturous to know that she ‘kicks up’ when having her dressing changed.
She is also now bedridden, as she fell out of bed in April and broke her hip. So no more meeting with other residents. Just in her bed day-in, day-out looking at the TV. It is no life and if I could I’d do anything to help her pass into the next life. I pray for her to be eased from suffering.
So here is the truth. I would do anything to help Susan out of her agony. If we had an animal and kept it in this state we would be prosecuted, wouldn’t we? Writing from my own distress, I would love to know how you and other readers feel about the issue.
You describe a terrible situation for you, your nephew and his wife and I know countless readers will recognise it and, in their empathy, share your wish for peace for your poor sister.
During my mother’s last, unhappy months she often said that if she could take a pill to end it all, she wouldn’t hesitate, and I told her I understood why she felt that way.
We live too long, don’t we? And when the protracted end of life is as agonising as your sister’s . . . well, many of us would long for that merciful pill.
Readers will have different views, I am sure, but I have always been a supporter of Assisted Dying.
Many years ago I did one of the most moving interviews of my career. One of the guests on my BBC2 series about bereavement was the acclaimed actress Zoe Wanamaker.
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
Her father, the great actor and director Sam Wanamaker, had died the year before, after a long battle with prostate cancer.
On camera, Zoe talked of how unbearable it was to watch his agony, and of how she longed for the strength to place a pillow over his face.
She told me she could see the pleading in his eyes — and that was the worst thing of all.
Society must be ever watchful over those who have the elderly and sick in their care, yet the law as it stands is brutal.
To me, it’s inhumane that the Suicide Act and the law of murder govern the wishes of a dying person, and criminalise those (a loved one or doctor) who act compassionately on that person’s request for help to die.
To admit that the issue is full of moral pitfalls should not stop us acknowledging your point about a suffering animal.
Even those with faith do not believe that unrelieved suffering can be the will of God, though death itself may be.
All of us would like to see specialist palliative care available throughout the NHS, but that would not remove the suffering you describe.
I feel for you and wish for peace for Susan soon.
And finally… Travel is a blessing and plague still
After finishing writing last Saturday’s column we took a flight to Munich for a wonderful tour of the extravagant Bavarian palaces of mad King Ludwig II, including tickets for the famous Oberammergau Passion Play.
This centuries old drama, about the last days of Jesus, is five hours long, all in German (but you do get a translation), and an extraordinary, moving spectacle watched by 5,000 people.
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]
Names are changed to protect identities.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
The back-story to the Passion Play (in this context ‘passion’ means ‘suffering’) is about gratitude. In 1633, as the Black Death ravaged Germany, the inhabitants of the small village made a vow that if God spared them they would re-enact the final part of Jesus’s life, every ten years, to give thanks. So that’s what happened.
All the people taking part (tiny children too) have to live in the village or have been associated with it for about 20 years. There was also a live donkey on the stage, some doves, two horses, sheep, goats and a camel. That’s what I mean by spectacle.
Ironically, this year’s performances (it runs all summer) come 12 years after the last, not ten. Why? Because in 2020 another sort of ‘plague’ shut down the world . . . So the thousands of visitors watching this year probably feel grateful that at last we can travel again.
I dislike leaving home so travel restrictions hit me less hard than others. And I love the British Isles and rejoice that we have so much to see here. But getting away did me good.
We heard excellent lectures by the brilliant TV presenter and writer on art and history, Andrew Graham-Dixon, saw pretty towns (clean and flower- bedecked), observed German families enjoying the beauty of their country as I do ours, and meditated on the horror and futility of wars past.
We also drank wheat beer (him) and wine (me) and met lovely people.
So yes, travel broadens the mind. And it’s also given my husband Covid, for the first time.