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I am a 70-year-old woman, I left the UK 20 years ago and now live in Europe. I have three daughters who are still angry at me for leaving them after all this time.

My children were in their early 20s when I left, and away at university. I had been ill for six months, had three operations and decided enough was enough. My language course break turned into a long-term situation.

I have never regretted my decision but my children still do not accept it. My late mother also sided with them and said I should never have left. Now that two of my daughters are mothers themselves and have experienced various life problems, I have become useful, both financially and as a source of household support.

I enjoy my grandchildren enormously and visit regularly; they also come to me when a cheap holiday is required. However, in the background there is always a coldness and total lack of interest in my life, which has been very successful and happy since my move. I have given up trying to discuss this with them.

I have had a hard life and worked hard. My son died a year before my husband left us and I had a difficult divorce to fight and provide a future for my three daughters. My aim was to see them to be able to live independently and have a career. This I feel has been achieved. Maybe you could give me some hints or ideas.

I’m very sorry to hear about the death of your son and the break up of your marriage. Trauma and grief is a big theme that runs through all of your lives and I wonder if any of you have really acknowledged that.

To help me look at your problem I went to psychotherapist Hannah Sherbersky, CEO of the Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice. The distress your family has suffered jumped out at her, too. You lost a son, but your children also lost a brother. Your husband left and it was a difficult divorce and that would have also been hard for your children, even if they were adult.

Sherbersky and I talked about the “power differential”, ie no matter how grown up everyone is, children are always children and their parents are always their parents, so there’s always a power differential: parents always seem in charge. We wondered how your children interpreted you leaving, and how it was handled/explained to them, at a time that came not long after (it seems) they were still processing their brother dying, their parents’ marriage breaking up and you, their mother, having been ill.

This isn’t to say you don’t deserve to live your life, because you absolutely do. And I’m very pleased you have made a success of your life since you moved. You can choose where you live and how (just as they can) and you can also choose whether to help them or not, but I think maybe looking at what happened before you left may help you understand their anger, because maybe the anger is really grief and sadness.

“What isn’t clear” said Sherbersky “is what you want now. You obviously want something to be different but it’s not obvious what you’re prepared to do or consider differently.”

Sherbersky and I felt you sounded quite cut off from your feelings; perhaps this is a protection mechanism. Perhaps this is why you left.

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Family therapy would be ideal for you all. Imagine going into the next stages of your life more connected with each other (you can do it via Zoom). Who do you have to support you? It’s very hard to mother if you’re not looked after yourself and I’m sorry your late mother wasn’t on your side, that must have been really tough.

If therapy isn’t right for you all now, maybe start with some gentle conversations where you listen to your children and hear beyond the criticism. Will this be hard? Yes, which is why support for you separate to your children is vital, because the temptation to say “but what about me?” will be strong. You’ve been through a lot. But maybe by softening up a little to hear what they have to say, you will open a small window to allow them to eventually show appreciation, towards you, too. In my experience, when children are universally united in an emotion towards a parent, it’s really worth listening.

Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa, please send your problem to ask.annalisa@theguardian.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.

The latest series of Annalisa’s podcast is available here.

#adult #daughters #angry #leaving #country #Annalisa #Barbieri

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