Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on accessing child support from a partner, how to deal with an alcoholic parent, and what to do when your son starts drinking at home.
QUESTION: My boyfriend walked out on me four months ago, leaving me with a 14-month-old daughter. Things had been strained between us for some time and he had been spending more and more time away with his job.
His parents didn’t approve of me and he didn’t think much of me either – he was constantly belittling me in front of his friends. I was initially very upset, but I’ve come to realise that he wasn’t good for me.
I find it difficult to cope with being a single mum and a friend suggested that I should chase my ex-boyfriend for financial support.
There’s never enough money and although my parents help where they can, they don’t have a lot of spare money. I also hate asking them for help.
I am not sure I want him in my life and I don’t want to give him access to my daughter, but another friend suggested she’d grow up with less hang-ups if she maintains contact with her father.
That’s assuming he even wants to help. He has a really well-paid job but has always been stringent with his money. What should I do?
FIONA SAYS: I can fully understand your reluctance to contact your ex-boyfriend again as he sounds thoroughly unpleasant. Like you, I don’t think I’d want my child in contact with a man who could so easily abandon her.
I don’t think you should be unduly worried about your daughter growing up with a single parent. There is no real evidence to support the myths that children from single-parent families grow up to be traumatised or somehow less happy or successful. It’s the quality of parenting that counts, not the number of parents delivering it.
On a practical level, if you’re struggling to make ends meet, your ex-boyfriend has a responsibility for the care of his child and should contribute financially.
You need to start by asking if he would be willing to contribute regularly to his daughter’s welfare. If he won’t, or you really can’t face it, you could make a formal claim through the Child Maintenance Service.
Be warned: the process is not straightforward. Applicants must first approach an agency called Child Maintenance Options which will initially try to encourage you to make your own arrangements with the absent father.
You will need to convince them that this is not possible before they will refer you to the Child Maintenance Service. As I understand it, it is not possible to approach the CMS directly.
As I said, it’s not easy, and for this reason I think your first step should be to approach Gingerbread, a charity that provides practical advice and support for single parents. It has lots of information that can guide you through the child maintenance process and operates a helpline (0808 802 0925) which I recommend you use.
You also need to be aware that, according to Gingerbread, almost half of absent fathers pay nothing and, even when a CMS agreement is in place, the average weekly payment is only £35-40.
As your ex-boyfriend earns a high salary you may receive more, but whether you think this process is worth the bother, only you can decide.
QUESTION: My mother is an alcoholic and has been for many years. I still live at home, which gets me down, and I do everything for her including buying the food.
I even gave up going to university because I knew she wouldn’t cope. I feel so trapped. She’s never been nasty to me – except when I try to hide her bottles – but she hasn’t worked for years and I know that if I left she would fall apart.
I’m 22 now and want to leave but what can I do?
FIONA SAYS: Your wish to help your mother does you credit but if you continue to prop her up like this, she is never going acknowledge she has a problem, let alone get help.
However I suspect you already know that, as you’ve already tried to intervene by hiding her bottles, which hasn’t helped.
You’ll think this is harsh, but you have a right to a life of your own and the sooner you make a break the better. You’ve sacrificed enough already but you’ll probably need help to take the first step.
To help you through this process I suggest you contact Al-Anon which provides support to people affected by someone else’s drinking.
QUESTION: As we approach Christmas my husband and I must attend a boring number of social functions, mostly organised by his firm’s clients. His senior partner at the firm is a real lech and always tries to corner me. He then acts inappropriately.
It’s impossible to avoid him because he works the room continually. This has happened for the past two Christmases since my husband joined the firm but I haven’t told him. This is because I don’t want to put him in a difficult position, as he’s the most junior partner.
I am becoming increasingly angry about it though and I don’t know how much longer I can stay quiet. Am I making too much of this?
FIONA SAYS: Absolutely not. There is increasingly an awareness that sexual harassment like this is unacceptable and you have every right to put a stop to it.
If it’s happening to you, it’s probably happening to others – perhaps young women working at the firm who are afraid to speak out.
I do think your husband needs to know what’s happening because what you do about it may well affect him. If you can’t avoid going to these parties – or if you want to speak out to protect other women – then I suggest the moment this man approaches you inappropriately again, you confront him.
It’s possible no one has ever stood up to him and his perception of harassment isn’t the same as yours. He may not even realise you have found his behaviour offensive.
Look him straight in the eye, speak clearly and slowly, describe what he is doing, tell him how it makes you feel and tell him you want it to stop.
If he attempts to trivialise or dismiss what you say, ignore him and don’t smile or apologise as this will just undermine what you’re trying to say.
When you’ve finished, walk away because the less you say, the more powerful you will be. Your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau can offer you excellent guidance and advice about this type of complaint if you want to escalate it further.
QUESTION: When I got back from work earlier than usual last week I found my 12-year-old son and his friend more than a bit drunk.
They’d got back from school and started trying most of the spirits in my drinks cupboard and I hit the roof, gave them both a roasting before driving his friend home.
My son has since apologised and promised that he’ll never do it again and has also asked if his friend can come around again. That’s what I’m not sure about.
I know my son will be upset if I say no as he’s been close friends with this lad for some time and, in truth, he’s never given me cause to worry about anything before. Am I overreacting?
FIONA SAYS: Perhaps a little, especially as this seems to be the first instance of trouble - but it’s understandable.
We all make mistakes and hope those around us can find it in themselves to give us a second chance, so I’d suggest you give this young lad the benefit of the doubt.
Suggest to your son that he can come around but that you’d like to see him face-to-face on his next visit. Tell him how disappointed you were in them both and explain that he is welcome to visit in future, but only if he understands that the drinks cupboard is out of bounds.
Hopefully he’ll apologise which should make it easier for you to accept him into your home again.
Write to Fiona Caine c/o Elise Brewerton, 1000 Lakeside, North Harbour, Portsmouth PO6 3EN or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence, nor pass letters on to other readers.