Writer and broadcaster

“I’ve lost touch with my young nephew, how do I put things right?” Published in The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

In 1998, my brother had a brief relationship with someone that resulted in pregnancy. During that time, I met her once or twice, but things became acrimonious and she and my brother split before the child was born. She moved about two hours’ drive away and we met two or three times (separately from my brother) during the following two years.

Each visit was fine, albeit a little odd. However, she is a stranger and we had no real chance to get to know each other as friends. When my brother asked her if our parents could see their grandchild, she replied that she only saw her grandparents once a year and it never did her any harm.

Then she moved to Spain with the little boy. We were upset that she left without giving my brother the chance to say goodbye to his son. I wrote to her and she sent a reply with a lovely picture of my nephew. She moved back within two years. We met as a family when the boy was four. But that was the last time I saw him. My parents have met them several times since; my father and his grandson have much in common, and he has our family looks.

I used to send cards and Christmas presents, but gave up when I got no thanks. I sent my nephew a photograph of a local street with the same name as him. She replied thanking me, not my nephew (who was old enough to write). I applied for his birth certificate and found that she had registered the father as “unknown”.

In 2007, my brother died, aged 36.

I would desperately love to have a relationship with my nephew. It wounds me that I have a descendent of my only sibling and cannot see him. I can – but only on his mother’s terms, with her present and with the feeling that she never initiates contact because she can’t see the point of him having a relationship with us. It hurts my parents, too.

I don’t even know where to begin in opening contact with him. I can’t have children myself, and to some extent this is causing my stasis; I don’t know much about how to relate to children.

It has grown particularly bad over the past year because at least six of my good friends have become parents/aunts/uncles and their delight is crippling me. The boy is 11 now. I haven’t seen him for seven years and it’s breaking my heart. I don’t know where to begin. Do I write? Ring? What would I say? Where could we meet up? What sort of things might he be interested in going to see if we did meet up? Could I see him alone? H, Kent

You know where they live, don’t you? And it sounds as if your parents are in touch. That’s great. It’s a shame you stopped sending cards and presents, and I am unsure what, if any, contact you have now. Children don’t always reply, despite nagging from parents and your reaction was a bit harsh.

You could see your nephew on his own, but with his mother’s permission; that’s entirely normal when talking about a young child and I don’t think she’s being difficult.

I suggest you resume contact with the mother. Write, tell her you would love to see your nephew and enclose a letter for him too. I’m sure he is curious to hear about his father, and that curiosity will only grow. Until he responds, keep the lines of communication open by writing: keep it brief and don’t ask too much. On his birthday, at Christmas, perhaps when you go away, send a postcard. I wouldn’t overwhelm either of them because, at the moment, your need for contact is greater than theirs.

Don’t get too hung up on where to meet yet, or what to talk about, just make contact.

It doesn’t matter that you don’t know what interests an 11-year-old boy. See it as an advantage: you’ll go in with an open mind and find out about him as an individual. Don’t expect miracles or a great relationship overnight. You will have to be patient and understanding. He may not want to talk much to begin with or reply to things you send. Don’t ever slag off his mother.

He will eventually start asking about his father. But to begin with, it may just be enough, for him, to know you are interested.

Be wary of putting pressure on him to fill a void in your life. You’ll have to let him set the pace. Good luck.


First published in The Guardian Family section, 18th January 2013.