Writer and broadcaster

My stepson milked his father for money and blames me now the cash has stopped flowing. The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

Once upon a time there were two parents living in domestic disharmony, kept together (probably) by their adored and indulged son. The mother died and, after a few years, I came on the scene and married this father of the one-and-only son. The son and I got on well for a few years.

I then discovered that his father – despite the son now being over 40 – paid a monthly sum to cover the son’s psychologist’s bill. It was admitted that the money was not actually being used for this purpose. I then learned that, despite having no responsibilities, the son had debts that ran into a comfortable four-figure sum. (Even though he earned a large salary.) He was also propped up by his dad when it came to paying income tax.

The mindset behind this was his belief that he was entitled to his mother’s money, even though her will had bequeathed it to his father, and his father had made it clear that the son would be his sole beneficiary.

I was able to show that none of my four children by a previous marriage had any dependence on me, nor had expectations of inheritance. Such matters were never discussed. My husband took my point that propping up his son was counter-productive, enhancing his dependence on his dad. He stopped his monthly payments for the fictional psychologist and suggested the next income tax hand-out be a loan (which was not honoured). I am therefore vilified as responsible for having “influenced” my husband against his son.

When we are together, my stepson is covertly rude to me by engaging his father in conversations in which I can have no input, but has also been overtly rude in shouting at me that I was living off his father and responsible for his mother’s death. (There is no logical way in which I can be implicated.)

I believe the three of us should have an easy, unselfconscious companionship, accepting each’s relationship with the other. I know that my husband’s view is the same.

I think my stepson would ideally like to turn back the pages, push me over a cliff and resume milking his father dry. He is in a state of confused jealousy about his father re-marrying. How can I improve our relationship?

Sometimes when people want love, but feel they don’t have it; they want money instead. And often when family members disagree, they have more in common than they realise.

Your stepson does sound quite disagreeable in parts, but why does it irk you so much that he is/was so indulged by his parents? Weren’t you, by yours?

I found the side-swipe at your husband’s first wife unnecessary and callous. If you are like this in real life with the son, I’m not surprised he is grasping at what he can from his father. And where is his father exactly, in all this? Leaving you two to fight like siblings.

I consulted a psychologist, Emma Kenny (bacp.co.uk). She says: “While it would be easy to respond sympathetically by agreeing that the son is indeed a freeloader, who sees his father as a cash cow, I believe that would do both of you a disservice. It would only compound the already clear hostility.”

Families often have different approaches to money and inheritance. Some are adamant their children should get by on their own, others see leaving a monetary legacy as an act of love.

“One of the main issues,” says Kenny, “seems to be your concern about money. You suggest he resents his inheritance being spent and give as an example your own children as being financially independent. This demonstrates the unhealthy competition you are creating on all sides. You’ve decided your children are more capable, successful and well-adjusted than your husband’s. You suggest that your own kids don’t expect a penny in inheritance – how do you know? You’ve never discussed it.”

You can’t marry into a family and expect the children to have been parented as yours were. One way isn’t right for everyone. And as Kenny points out, “Your stepson’s mother may have indulged her son and may well not have agreed with the parenting style that you feel is correct. Potentially, this man grew up feeling cherished and important and, when his mother died, looked to his father to continue this emotional and financial bond.”

Kenny also feels that it is his father who has allowed this “bailing out” to continue and that the son may view it as a “physical manifestation of love”. Of course he could be a total and terrible freeloader but that is for his father to deal with. I wonder if you feel massive resentment towards your husband but it’s safer to project this on to your stepson?

“Stop making your stepson feel like a failure, stop acting like a detective and allow your husband to make the decisions he wishes to about his son,” says Kenny. “Sit down as a family and agree to allow their relationship to progress as they see fit. Draw a line under your previous issues and agree to move on more positively. Stop trying to control your husband, and accept that there is room for him to love both of you. Finally, you are suggesting that money shouldn’t be so important to your stepson – maybe you could lead by example.”

This first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 27 August 2016.