Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine answers another set of reader dilemmas


When we adopted our daughter 18 years ago, we thought it would be the most wonderful thing in the world. We knew she’d been through difficult times — she was eight when she came to us — but I know we didn’t appreciate just what we were letting ourselves in for. We now believe she had been abused in some way, although we weren’t told that at the time.

Don’t get me wrong, we loved her and were delighted to have her in our lives, but she was, to say the least, a challenge. We spent a lot of time looking for help and, for a time, things did improve — she came to trust us more and I really thought we’d turned a corner. That didn’t last long though, as she met a young man and I think he turned her against us.

She ran away to live with him, and as by this time she was 18, we couldn’t stop her. Inevitably she became pregnant but, because they were using drugs, the baby was put into foster care. I tried to get social services to let us look after the baby, but they wouldn’t.

She thought we were responsible for what happened — we weren’t — but it turned her against us completely and, much as we love her, we don’t see her anymore. She’s 26 now and all I want is to build a better relationship with her and hopefully see my grandchild again, but I don’t know where to start.

T. A.


What a very sad story — I’m so sorry to hear that in spite of all you’ve tried to do, you’ve never had sufficient support to be able to overcome the difficult beginnings your daughter had. Parenting a child is hard enough, but parenting one who has been so traumatised takes enormous patience and commitment. You have done your best under very difficult and trying circumstances, and it’s a great shame that you didn’t get more support when you needed it.

Hopefully, you can accept that whilst the current situation isn’t at all satisfactory, there is nothing more you could have done to improve things. You have managed to get your daughter to trust you once and, in time, I hope she will feel she can trust you again.

Whilst you have had contact with social services, you don’t mention contact with other adoptive parents.

If you haven’t been up to now, I think you might find it helpful. I would strongly encourage you to contact the charity We Are Family ( that supports people just like you.

A great many children who are put forward for adoption have experienced abuse or neglect or have their own unique set of challenges. The charity was set up by adoptive parents who felt they needed to connect with others who had experienced the same challenges and isolation that adopting may entail. To see your grandchild, I would suggest you contact the social services in the area where your daughter lives and find out what access arrangements can be put in place.

Re-building a relationship with your daughter though might be harder. It might mean very small steps for now, but if you keep doing them regularly, your daughter may begin to trust and respond positively to them. It might be something as simple as a regular text message or it might be a weekly food parcel — whatever it is, let it be something you are comfortable with and feel able to do regularly.

Remember, now she is an adult, she would probably have left home anyway, so you are unlikely to build a relationship where she moves back into your home. Many parents only see their adult birth children a few times a year, so don’t feel you have failed if that’s what you achieve with your daughter.

Currently, she is probably traumatised at being parted from her baby, too, and will need time to process this. By making sure she knows you are there for her, she will, hopefully, in time come to recognise you only want to help her.


Four years ago, I went through a really messy divorce, and whilst the children lived with me rather than their dad, they have all subsequently moved out. I still have a great relationship with the elder two, but since the youngest left to go to university last year, she has refused to see me.

She wrote to me to say that she couldn’t forgive me for breaking her father’s heart — but I had to leave, as I’d had enough of his numerous affairs!

She returns, unopened, all cards, letters and presents I send her and puts the phone down when I call. I hate what has happened between us and would dearly love to see my daughter again, but as things stand this seems unlikely. What can I do? I love and miss her so much.

G. W.


Unfortunately, like many young people, your daughter is looking at a complex problem and seeing it in purely black and white terms. It takes time and experience to realise that life is rarely this simple. Your daughter was clearly deeply upset by the divorce and has unfairly blamed you for everything — it may take time for her to see that there are two sides to every story.

You say you have a good relationship with your other two children — are they in touch with her? And what about your ex-husband? The divorce may have been messy, but if you are on amicable terms now, perhaps he would be willing to help.

For support, you might like to contact Mothers Apart from their Children (MATCH Mothers;, which is a charity offering non-judgemental support and information.


My 13-year-old son is going through a bad patch. He thinks he’s ugly and skinny and refuses to see anything positive about himself and his life.

I’m worried that he’s starting to get obsessive about his looks, and that he might end up with anorexia or something.

Is there something I can do to stop him being like this?

S. A.


Unfortunately, images on social media raise unrealistic expectations in young people as to what they should look and be like. In addition, they are subject to peer pressure to conform to certain stereotypes and anyone who is ‘different’ can be singled out for criticism.

It is certainly possible for boys to experience anorexia. Another condition is body dysmorphic disorder. Rather than trying to lose weight, people experiencing this may also be trying to build more muscle and bulk. It doesn’t sound like he’s heading in that direction right now, but it’s worth keeping in mind because whilst it’s not always as easy to spot as anorexia, it can be just as unhealthy.

Whilst it’s important for all parents to be aware of these things, it’s also very common for young people go through a phase, when they are unhappy about the way they look, and adolescence is a time filled with self-doubt. You can help your son though, if you encourage him to build his self-esteem from within, as confidence will make him better able to deal with peer pressure and cope with the inevitable setbacks of life.

There are several steps you could go through with him that will hopefully help. Start by helping to see ways in which he can boost his sense of achievement that don’t involve how he looks — and life isn’t about success and failure, it’s much more nuanced than that. There are things he will be good at, and things where he could improve; we all need to learn that it’s possible to accept flaws while also striving to become better. Encourage him to see that we can’t always control results, but we can put in the effort — so rather than praising a win, praise the training that’s gone into getting there.

Learning some healthy assertiveness can he helpful too.

Allow your son choices and help him to recognise he has rights, particularly where something makes him feel uncomfortable. Help him practice saying no to things he really doesn’t want to do - even if that can make your life a little more difficult!

Whilst he may feel afraid of failure — as do many teens — trying new activities and challenges can help his confidence to grow, especially when he finds there’s a hidden talent he hadn’t expected!

Remember too, how much of a role model you are for your child. If you are constantly putting yourself down, you can expect him to follow suit — so show him how you positively face up to new situations and challenges. If he’s into social media, make sure he understands that true self-worth is nothing to do with how many ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ you have online, nor is it the number of ‘likes’ to a posting. What’s much more important is how positive he feels about himself and how kind and caring he is to others.

Finally, remember his self-confidence won’t shine if you try and restrict him and manage his affairs for him. We all need to learn from our own mistakes, and he needs to experience the consequences of the decisions he makes.

For you, it’s a balance between giving him the freedom to fly, and the guidance to build and maintain the wings he needs to do so.


When my mother passed away 10 years ago, her estate was divided by five siblings equally. The only exception was that the contents should go to my younger brother, as he was the only one that still resided with her.

The monetary side was all divided, which left the house.

Because he resides there, we have not sold the property.

As I am approaching retirement, I would like to see the cash from the sale of the property.

What are the legalities of selling the property whilst my brother still resides there? Any advice would be appreciated.

S. D.


I am not a lawyer, so cannot give you legal advice here and I would strongly encourage you to consult a legal expert on this. It will almost certainly depend on the terms of your mother’s will.

If she stated that your brother could stay in the house indefinitely, then I imagine it would be impossible to sell it right now. If, however, you and your siblings have just allowed your brother to continue to live there, then it is not unreasonable to expect that, at some point, you would inherit your share of the property.

If you have a right, under the terms of your mother’s will, to expect to inherit your share of the property at some point, then it sounds like a family get-together is necessary. After 10 years, the brother still living in the home may have started to think he is able to stay there forever, so he may be reluctant to find anywhere else to live. It may be that, if he is financially able to, he could buy out the rest of you.

Sadly, I fear that this may cause disagreements and arguments between you all — money is often at the root of family rifts — but hopefully you can resolve this without a break-up.

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.