ASK CAROLINE: Our relationships expert Caroline West-Meads answers your questions
If you have a problem, email Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org. Caroline reads all your letters but regrets she cannot answer each one personally
We fear our grandchildren are at risk
Q We are very worried about our grandchildren. Our lovely daughter-in-law died from cancer a year ago. She and our son had been together for 30 years, but two days after the funeral my son told his three children – ages 23, ten and six – that he was in a new relationship. We cautioned him that it was too soon, but the next thing we knew, his girlfriend and her son (a classmate of our youngest grandchild) had moved in. They married a few weeks ago and our eldest grandson was asked to leave because there was no room for him. When we went to their house to look after the younger two while my son and his wife were away, what we found shocked us. There was almost no food, and we couldn’t find any clean clothes or pyjamas for the children. There were no toys, the children told us they were only allowed to play on their tablets and our granddaughter wasn’t allowed to go swimming or do ballet classes any more. Perhaps most upsetting, there was not a single photograph of the children’s mother and all the clothes and toys that she had bought for them had gone. When we stopped to buy ice cream at the park, our grandson started crying and said they weren’t allowed ice cream or sweets any more. I told our son that I thought his wife was controlling and that the children weren’t being treated properly, but he sent me a nasty text saying I had upset his wife and that the children were fine. What should we do?
A I totally agree that this is a very worrying situation and I think you need to take action immediately. I am also very sorry for the loss of your daughter-in-law. I’m afraid that your grandchildren are being badly neglected and this actually amounts to abuse. Your grandchildren must already be devastated by their mother’s death, so to then have everything they knew and all their memories of her taken away is very wrong. So in the first instance, please get in touch with the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 or email email@example.com for support. Also contact the local council’s social services or children’s services for vital guidance on dealing with this situation. Kinship.org.uk, the charity which helps grandparents and family members caring for children who are not their own, can also advise you. However, I suspect you are also worried about your son. From your longer letter, it sounds as if he, too, is being controlled by this new woman. She probably took advantage of his vulnerability and grief while his wife was dying and has somehow managed to manipulate him. He needs help too. Contact Respect at mensadviceline.org.uk. They will advise you on how he can extricate himself from this very damaging relationship. It may be that if his children become subjects of concern for the authorities, he will wake up to the situation and have the courage to leave in order to keep them and regain his own life.
Should I support him in his dream?
Q My husband and I have been married for two years and want to start a family. However, he hates his highly paid job and plans to leave next year to pursue his dream of acting. I want to be supportive but I’m scared about the financial instability, especially if we have a baby. When I’ve mentioned this to him, he says I don’t believe in him and gets defensive. He is a member of our local theatre club and, while he’s talented, I worry that he’s just not quite good enough to make a career of it. I don’t know how truthful to be with him – I don’t want to hurt his feelings or force him to stay in a job he hates, but I don’t think it would be wise to quit. How do I approach this with him? Or am I overreacting and just need to believe in him?
A Of course you don’t want to crush his dreams (and neither do I), but he needs to be realistic. However talented he is – and he may be brilliant – so much of acting is about luck. He could be the next Hugh Grant and still not get the right breaks. Plus it involves long hours – often away from home, possibly in the evenings – and you and the baby might hardly see him. This is probably more about feeling trapped in a job he hates while worrying about the extra responsibilities of a baby. Unless you are young enough to postpone starting a family for four or five years while he pursues his ambitions, tell him that although you think he would make a wonderful actor, he will have to put his dream on hold if he really wants a baby now. Could he look for a job that he prefers and agree to support a growing family for a few years while saving up for a future career change?