Ask the therapist: 'My father's new woman is invading our family circle'

Q My father recently met this woman and to put it mildly, she is overbearing. She needs to be the centre of attention all the time. Since he has met her, my father has gone from never being around to wanting to take my three kids out for ‘family’ days. We have very little spare time so this is not very welcome. He is also demanding that my kids call his new wife ‘granny’. The kids like spending time with them – they are very young and they like anyone who gives them sweets – which she does, even though I have told her not to. My mother, the real granny, has always spent time with the kids and I am upset on her behalf. I really don’t like this woman and her attempts to invade my family.

A No one wants anyone ‘invading’ their family. It’s the complete opposite of everything family is supposed to be; supportive, safe and with a warm sense of belonging. I hear a lot of hurt, old and new, in your words. We need to look to the past to see how it’s impacting the present and create some space for how you would like things to be going forward.

In therapy, it is often interesting to see who is presented as the ‘baddie’ as it can be easier to project a lot of exceptionally painful feelings onto someone ‘safe’. By safe, I mean that you can be angry with her in your own head or tell your partner or other people, but not them. By safe, it means you can ‘protect’ yourself from the real vulnerability that is underneath the anger; a sadness, a loss, a deep ache for a secure attachment to your dad. This emotional loss is perhaps showing itself now in how unjust it feels, to you, on your mum, who has been a good parent and has been there for you and your children.

What would it be like for you to sit with how this is, just for you? I imagine it would be deeply painful, so let’s gently work through this.

My attention is drawn to the dynamic between you, your mum and your dad. There are pairs of relationships in your trio; you have one with your dad and one with your mum, and they have one with each other. What I hear from your words are feelings of rejection and possibly abandonment; often this is both emotional and physical, as you have said your dad was absent until now. I hear your vulnerable inner child and often your own children can re-trigger old emotional wounds and unmet needs from your childhood. On paper, write down:

* Why am I angry?

* Who am I angry with?

Look for any other feelings. Emotions can be conflicting, confusing and often downright uncomfortable. Do you think of others’ feelings first? As a child or adolescent when parents were not getting on, it can be natural to take sides. The problem with this is, you can forget your own feelings.

Let’s focus on your feelings for a moment. Make a list of what you are not willing to accept. ‘I am not comfortable with the children being forced to call …. granny’. Even if this woman is overbearing, we need to focus on the origin of your pain. Write down what you feel you missed out on from your dad. How did that make you feel then? It is so important to connect to these painful emotions to help you process and clear them out. Think of these emotions as undigested food, sitting heavily in your system with each new slight adding to the anger, resentment and loss that’s already there.

You see the innocence of your children who follow where the sweets and treats are, but as an adult you know that it is hollow without the long-term reliability. Which is more about quality time, then treats, or days out. This quick, but empty win is probably irking you, as your mother has been the stable, reliable mother and grandmother. Even if their intent is good, to have these ‘family’ days out with your children it still must hurt as to why it didn’t happen within your family.

Spend some time attending to your inner child; understand why you feel the way you do. This, in itself, is so cathartic. From the work set above, you can decide to set boundaries. But, perhaps for the first time, you need to attend to your needs first whilst being kind and patient with yourself.

If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at [email protected]

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