My son gets an­gry if I go on a date

Your son is en­ter­ing ado­les­cence, a pe­riod of huge change. He may be scared of los­ing you

The Guardian - Weekend - - Front Contents -

My 14-year-old son is lov­ing, con­sid­ered, emo­tion­ally in­tel­li­gent and fun. I’m very proud of him and we have a great re­la­tion­ship. His dad and I sep­a­rated five years ago and we have a good re­la­tion­ship over­all. My son lives with us both, on al­ter­nate weeks. His dad has a girl­friend and my son gets on well with her.

The prob­lem is that my son is very jeal­ous to­wards me. Since leav­ing his dad, I’ve dated a few peo­ple, some for a while, but never in­tro­duced them to him. This is partly be­cause I wasn’t sure they’d be long-term part­ners but also be­cause my son gets vis­i­bly an­gry at the thought of me hav­ing a boyfriend, or if he sees me tex­ting, or sus­pects I might see some­one dur­ing the weeks he’s not with me.

I’ve tried to ex­plain that he’ll al­ways be my num­ber one and I’ll al­ways love him, even when I meet some­one, but he gets cross, so I avoid the sub­ject. I don’t like the fact that I have to hide my phone in case he sees a boyfriend’s pic­ture, or lie about the fact that I’m dat­ing, or be sub­ject to his de­mands that I never have a boyfriend.

He also doesn’t like it if any­body com­ments on my looks and com­plains if I wear any­thing but the plainest, most “in­vis­i­ble” clothes. I’m not let­ting my son choose how I look but I feel wary of his jeal­ous moods.

It’s start­ing to feel quite un­healthy. I re­cently met some­one I like very much and see as a po­ten­tial long-term part­ner, but I don’t know how to han­dle this. I tried to dis­cuss it with my son – he said he just hates the idea and doesn’t know why.

The first thing is not to panic. Pro­fes­sor Alessan­dra Lemma, a psy­chol­o­gist and psy­cho­an­a­lyst, who of­ten works with young peo­ple, says, “This is quite a stan­dard prob­lem, where there’s been a di­vorce and an only child. It’s par­tic­u­larly com­mon when it’s a mother and son.”

This is also a time when your son is en­ter­ing ado­les­cence, a pe­riod of huge change for him, and he may be scared – not only of los­ing you, but also won­der­ing who he is. “He may be over­whelmed by his own sex­u­al­ity,” Lemma says. “Maybe he also doesn’t want to face grow­ing up and doesn’t want any­thing to dis­rupt your re­la­tion­ship.”

The sit­u­a­tion is in­ten­si­fied be­cause there’s just the two of you at home, and your son may feel he has to be ev­ery­thing to you, so you don’t need any­one else. But, says Lemma, “It’s de­vel­op­men­tally vi­tal to punc­ture that fan­tasy so that your son, in time, can take up his own re­la­tion­ships and you yours.”

I can see why you’ve avoided talk­ing about it, but talk you must. “The par­ent of­ten can’t man­age the ha­tred from the child so avoids con­fronting re­al­ity,” Lemma says.

I won­der, also, if you feel guilty (not that you should) about the di­vorce and its im­pact, and are try­ing to avoid fur­ther upset. Guilt, as I’ve said be­fore, is the en­emy of con­fi­dent par­ent­ing.

Lemma sug­gests that you may need to weather be­ing “the ob­ject of ha­tred” for a while. “You’re right not to in­tro­duce him to part­ners pre­ma­turely but you do need to tell your son the truth.”

If you are more open, your son is more likely to get used to this idea. He prob­a­bly also knows you are not be­ing hon­est and this will only make him more in­se­cure.

“Ad­dress your son di­rectly,” Lemma sug­gests. “When it’s just the two of you, ex­plain ei­ther that you’ve met some­one or would like to. Ac­knowl­edge that you know he finds it dif­fi­cult but tell him that the way he feels is nor­mal and noth­ing to be fright­ened of. And that, in time, he will want his own re­la­tion­ships, too.”

Lemma says he might “have a melt-down – this is to be ex­pected. But he should be able to get him­self out of it in time. If, af­ter a few months, he can’t, he may be stuck and need help.” Is there an­other male friend/rel­a­tive he could talk to, be­sides his fa­ther?

So, be hon­est. Be pre­pared to be hated for a while. Re­as­sure him, but come at this from a point of con­fi­dence – it will make your son more con­fi­dent, too. “Also,” Lemma says, “re­mem­ber that if you have met some­one, you are no longer alone with this.” bpc.org.uk

Send your prob­lem to an­nal­isa.bar­bieri@mac. com. An­nal­isa re­grets she can­not en­ter into per­sonal cor­re­spon­dence

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