I love my mum, but when is she going to start acting like a normal, caring grandmother?

Last updated at 15:29 01 March 2008

Dear Bel,

I have a wonderful husband and a gorgeous nine-month-old baby boy. My husband works long hours and awkward shifts, and because we don't want to leave our baby with a childminder (or in other paid childcare), I am a stay-at-home mum.

I've always had a disappointing relationship with my mother. On the surface it's quite amicable, but I feel resentful about so much that has happened. I just can't talk to her.

My husband is astounded about the things she has done (some of which he has witnessed) and often says he can't believe how "normal" my brother and I have turned out.

Bell Mooney cartoon

He thinks she is one of the meanest people he's met - in every sense of the word. He's seldom unkind about people, so when he says this about her it confirms what I know but don't want to accept. She's still my mother and I love her.

My husband and I love being parents. But it bothers us that, although my mother, father, brother and grown-up niece live nearby and all think our baby is lovely, we don't feel that we could ever ask for the odd baby-sitting favour, even in an emergency.

The other day I was extremely sick and unable to care for our child. My husband had to miss an important event at work. He did so willingly and lovingly, even though he was stressed.

My mother sent a text to me that day and when I replied to say I was very ill, she replied: "Hope you feel better soon xx".

I look around at other parents - my friends and neighbours - and feel envious that they have families who would baby-sit in a similar situation. My husband and I are longing to go out for a meal or a drink (we've not been out on our own for about ten months) but I am beginning to think it would be selfish, now that we are parents, to expect to be able to go out, even occasionally. I'm starting to feel eaten up with repressed anger and resentment.

I consider myself to be a good person so I'm ashamed of this aspect of myself.

When I gave birth (which was full of complications) I was very ill afterwards. My health visitor assumed that because my family lived nearby, we'd be flooded with practical assistance, but there was nothing.

Now I'm a mother myself, I cannot comprehend this. You may wonder whether I myself help my family (particularly my parents) and the answer is yes - which drives my husband mad, sometimes, because it's so one-way.

I've also done a lot to make our families (my husband's parents live two hours away) feel close to their grandchild. I have a few friends who are grandparents and they do a lot with their grandchildren.

Is it wrong to expect a little bit of help? In an emergency, no one even knows what my baby eats or how to sterilise his bottles! I'm feeling guilty even as I write this, because I've got so much to be thankful for.

A friend of my husband asked him why my family can't ever baby-sit for us - or help in anyway - and he put it in a nutshell by saying: "They're just not that kind of family".

How do I get rid of these feelings of resentment which are making me ill?

Thanks for listening.


Tomorrow is Mothering Sunday,

a traditional time

for honouring the



In less

privileged days, sons and

daughters, often away in

service, would go to visit their

mothers, taking a gift.

It was called "going mothering" and

answers an ancient need to express

respect for the most important of


But it certainly sounds to me

as if you need some mothering - or that your mother would do well to go "daughtering" while she can still draw breath.

Much as we would like to feel that the mother-child bond is strong and honoured in most "normal" people, we know this isn't always the case. Some women are (hold your breath) pretty poor mothers.

Some women would have done better never to have given birth. Is it their fault? Probably not - but such fairness doesn't help their offspring, does it?

Most grandmothers reading this - and those of us longing for that role - will splutter with sad indignation over their coffee.

"How can that woman not help?" they'll be asking - and I join their chorus.

As someone blessed with unbelievably helpful parents when my kids were young (and, in turn, hands-on grandparents when I was little), I just feel so sorry for you that your mother and father (and brother and niece) have no clue about the pleasure of being a family: helping out and having that baby boy's face light up when they arrive.

It's their loss. I can only suspect that both your mother and father lacked loving parenting themselves, which is why they have never learned what to do.

Your mother may even have mental health problems, which is why she is so incapable of emotional communication. But what about your dad? Has he caught her selfishness like a plague?

The question is, can you change her now? You are afraid of asking, fearful of rejection. You want her to offer and (quite rightly) don't think you should need to beg for help - but have you ever actually done so?

There are some people so selfish they need firm steering towards the right thing.

I would have you be frank, tell her how much you want her to get to know your baby, and invite her to spend time with him and you - in preparation for baby-sitting.

Tell her your relationship with your husband is suffering (exaggerate this) and you need to have an evening out. Or try to get your father on side first. Or take your brother into your confidence and tell him you're close to breaking point. He could whisper to your mother, bolstering her ego by suggesting it's time for the Supergran act.

You should make your feelings known, quietly and firmly - yet I realise how hard this will be, with people so unused to giving.

Then the question is, how can you stop these feelings of resentment eating you up? They're doing you no good in that they render you "mean", just like your mother - which makes you uncomfortable.

If you let them all know how you feel, and are frank with them about needing help, and still they fail you, then you must stop expecting, to cut off disappointment.

You must ask your friends (of all ages) to help you find some lovely, middle-aged lady willing to be a regular babysitter so you can enjoy evenings out with your husband.

This would be better for you than a succession of teenage girls. If you establish such a relationship, she might also be able to give you a break some days.

Truly, the world is full of lovely people who long for a useful role and would delight in your baby boy.

Give your mother one more chance, then move on. Your steadfast daughterly love does you great credit; be strengthened by the knowledge that you can be a better mum.

I'm paralysed by a phobia of eating in public

Dear Bel

I am a reasonably attractive 48-year-old with an absolute paranoia about eating in front of people, whether members of my family, friends or colleagues.

It's been like this most of my adult life, but not when I was a youngster.

I have stopped going to our monthly work lunches because of this, and I often get invited to the pub with a little group from work but panic sets in and I decline.

Once I tried, and when my meal arrived I started to sweat, took two mouthfuls, then left.

I am a good cook and I love food. I have tried to put my finger on anything that could have triggered this and think of one incident (I was eight or nine) when I went to tea at a friend's house and she commented that I "ate funny".

She herself had the most abominable table manners while my parents were always very strict at the table, with all four of us children holding our knives and forks properly and eating with our mouths closed.

But I have never forgotten her remark to this day. Mum used to frown on people eating in the street, but apart from this I can't think of anything that could have left me so disturbed.

Have you any suggestions as to how I can overcome this, as I can't bear to suffer any more? I miss out on so much and feel so dreadful.

I have never sought the help of a psychotherapist, but maybe I should. I'm afraid they will think I am completely barking.


You can take my word that no psychotherapist would so dismiss you. On the contrary, they would treat your problem with the seriousness it deserves.

You are suffering from a social anxiety disorder - a term given to an affliction which causes the sufferer to experience a fear response in a social situation which, to others, is totally unthreatening.

Some people have it about making telephone calls, others about talking to people in shops. The reaction may be sweating, blushing, dizziness, even feeling sick.

Other people would think the reaction out of all proportion, but to you it is all too real and leaves you feeling humiliated and miserable.

All sorts of things may have triggered this, and it may not be as obvious as any mealtime memory, but something deeper.

Then again, it could be that your parents were too critical and left you feeling at odds with the rest of the world - which is why you still hear that annoying girl's voice in your head.

A Cognitive Behavioural Therapist would analyse all this with you and try to get you to change your response.

Treatment for social anxiety disorders is available on the NHS, and so I think you should first talk to your GP and be absolutely frank about the way in which your phobia spoils your everyday life.

Say that you need help and don't be fobbed off with pills. I also suggest you get in touch with the National Phobics Society (0870 122 2325; www.phobics-society.org.uk) because you will find the website informative.

Remember - there's nothing to be ashamed of and this can be put right.

And finally ... Simple facts staring me in the face

Enough books land on my doormat to test even an addicted reader.

This year I'm one of the judges of the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction, which means scores of wonderful novels by women are piling up all over my house, waiting to be read and appreciated.

No wonder I often sigh to receive yet another unsolicited book dealing with subjects covered on these pages. It feels like yet another demand - the straw on the camel's back.

So, here's a paperback called 54 Simple Truths With Brutal Advice, subtitled How To Face The Challenges Of Life.

It looks self-published, by one Mike Walsh, who's written me an upbeat letter, saying he hopes I'll read his book. "Do I have time for this?" I sigh.

Then I turn to the Orange Prize contenders, many of them full (as the best novels can be) of profound as well as simple truths, and with their own degree of emotional brutality about life's challenges.

Mr Walsh's book lies unopened on my mountain - until the day when I feel even more weighed down than usual, stressed and suffering with a cold that makes my head feel it will explode.

Randomly, I open 54 Simple Truths at maxim 13. This jumps out: "You forget you're supposed to be working to live, not living to work".

Now that's not rocket science, but it was surrounded by much wisdom I needed to hear. Sneezing, I flipped to 15.

The title was "You will become ill" and it spelled out my main problem, which is ignoring warning signs and driving myself on until something gives. An eye, for example.

"Use [illness] as an opportunity to review your lifestyle and ask yourself what's really important and what do you have to change in order to get it" writes Mike Walsh.

There's a Latin tag, "Quis custodiet custodies?" which translates, "Who guards the guards?" You might substitute, who nurses the nurse? Or - who gives advice to the advice columnist? This one was very grateful for the common sense which says: "Stop!"

• For information about 54 Simple Truths, see www.mwaulk. com or call 01904 499 222.

Bel will answer readers' questions about emotional and relationship issues every week.

Send your letters to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or e-mail bel.mooney@ dailymail.co.uk Bel regrets she cannot enter into private correspondence

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