Writer and broadcaster

Mum took us away from Dad and has turned into a scary monster. The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

My parents divorced a couple of years ago. They fought a lot. I feel sorry for my dad because he would try to stop things from getting worse, but couldn’t. My mum told my younger brother and me that we would be better off and have more fun without dad, but that never happened. My mum kept the house and the dog, and also had custody of us. We only see our dad twice a month. We never did anything fun, like she said we would. I feel I’m being ignored now because my brother has serious anxiety and anger problems, which causes my mum to give my brother 99% attention 24/7.

I cry a lot in my bedroom because I just can’t talk to her. Sometimes I just cry suddenly and she gets mad because I don’t know how to talk. Or sometimes I cry because I just need some time with her and she says that I’m being jealous. Because of this, I like to spend time with my aunt and cousins, who are about my age. Their house is a loving environment and I feel I can tell them anything. In May, I found out that my mum had a wedding to go to on my birthday and that made me sad. I told my aunt and cousins and they made me feel better. They even got me a cake and sang Happy Birthday the day before my birthday.

On my birthday my mum usually invites her sister and my cousins, but for the past two years has invited her boyfriend instead. I feel uncomfortable around him and today when she told me he was coming, I started to cry and I ran to my room. I have been in here the whole day. She gets mad when I cry, but I don’t know how else to let it out. When she faces me, she’s like this big, scary monster that I just cannot confront. Her boyfriend smokes, which I hate. He ignored me the first couple of times we met and now I stay locked in my room when he’s here. He is very skinny, and I feel like the fattest person in the world next to him (I am a little overweight).

Sometimes I feel my aunt cares more about me because when I feel bad, she comforts me, but my mum says she hates it when I cry.

You didn’t say how old you are, but I’m guessing you are in your teens. I think that it’s great you have written in because to do so, and to be able to articulate how you feel, takes courage and awareness. I’m sorry your parents split up. There are usually two sides to every breakup and it’s important that your mum and dad take responsibility for their parts. But neither are your fault or your problem.

I’m sure your mother had all sorts of ideas for fun things you might all do together, but real life sometimes gets in the way of dreams and plans. Perhaps when you can communicate with her (see later) you could remind her that you’d like to do some fun things with her: she may not realise how important they were for you. Adults sometimes forget what matters to their children because they can be too busy doing what they think is best.

I think it’s important you try to tell your mum how you feel and why you feel uncomfortable around her boyfriend, and see if you can’t work out some middle ground – perhaps he could smoke outside or not at all in your house and maybe you could try to do some things together. Maybe next birthday you could organise it and invite who you want.

I understand that it’s not easy. But when you’re having a huge row and she seems like a “big scary monster” is not the time for that talk. Try to find a moment when you are getting on well, and are calm, and then tell her how you would like to spend more time with her just doing “stuff”.

If you don’t feel you can tell her face to face, why not write to her? You are able to express yourself very well through the written word. I used to write to my parents as a teenager as I got too emotional face to face.

It’s hard when you have a sibling who “takes all the room on the emotional shelf”. I can’t promise that will change much because family dynamics often get stuck. But it won’t always be like this (I promise) because one day you will leave home and different parts of your personality will come out because you will be in different situations with people who are not your family. You won’t be so defined by your family.

I hope that if you can tell your mum how you feel, she may be able to redress the balance. I bet she is also feeling confused and not sure how to help you. She probably also thinks you don’t like her very much. But it’s important you understand that you are not responsible for her or for the way she feels – and it’s absolutely not your responsibility to make her happy.

It’s wonderful that you have your aunt and cousins – in larger families it’s not at all unusual to get what you want or need from different people, or to get on better with different family members at times, and in fact this is a useful thing to learn. One person can rarely give you everything you want.

Crying is nothing to be ashamed of. It releases stress hormones – you probably find that you feel better after a good cry. Your mum probably feels helpless when you cry.

Can you see your dad more? This is something to discuss with your mum when you are both feeling calm and loving towards each other.

This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 16 July 2016.