My son is jealous at the idea of me meeting a new man | Life and style

My 14-year-old son is loving, considered, emotionally intelligent and fun. I’m very proud of him and we have a great relationship. His dad and I separated five years ago and we have a good relationship overall. My son lives with us both, on alternate weeks. His dad has a girlfriend and my son gets on well with her.

The problem is that my son is very jealous towards me. Since leaving his dad, I’ve dated a few people, some for a while, but never introduced them to him. This is partly because I wasn’t sure they’d be long-term partners but also because my son gets visibly angry at the thought of me having a boyfriend, or if he sees me texting, or suspects I might see someone during the weeks he’s not with me.

I’ve tried to explain that he’ll always be my number one and I’ll always love him, even when I meet someone, but he gets cross, so I avoid the subject. I don’t like the fact that I have to hide my phone in case he sees a boyfriend’s picture, or lie about the fact that I’m dating, or be subject to his demands that I never have a boyfriend.

He also doesn’t like it if anybody comments on my looks and complains if I wear anything but the plainest, most “invisible” clothes. I’m not letting my son choose how I look but I feel wary of his jealous moods.

It’s starting to feel quite unhealthy. I recently met someone I like very much and see as a potential long-term partner, but I don’t know how to handle this. I tried to discuss it with my son – he said he just hates the idea and doesn’t know why.

The first thing is not to panic. Professor Alessandra Lemma, a psychologist and psychoanalyst, who often works with young people, says, “This is quite a standard problem, where there’s been a divorce and an only child. It’s particularly common when it’s a mother and son.”

This is also a time when your son is entering adolescence, a period of huge change for him, and he may be scared – not only of losing you, but also wondering who he is. “He may be overwhelmed by his own sexuality,” Lemma says. “Maybe he also doesn’t want to face growing up and doesn’t want anything to disrupt your relationship.”

The situation is intensified because there’s just the two of you at home, and your son may feel he has to be everything to you, so you don’t need anyone else. But, says Lemma, “It’s developmentally vital to puncture that fantasy so that your son, in time, can take up his own relationships and you yours.”

I can see why you’ve avoided talking about it, but talk you must. “The parent often can’t manage the hatred from the child so avoids confronting reality,” Lemma says.

I wonder, also, if you feel guilty (not that you should) about the divorce and its impact, and are trying to avoid further upset. Guilt, as I’ve said before, is the enemy of confident parenting.

Lemma suggests that you may need to weather being “the object of hatred” for a while. “You’re right not to introduce him to partners prematurely but you do need to tell your son the truth.”

If you are more open, your son is more likely to get used to this idea. He probably also knows you are not being honest and this will only make him more insecure.

“Address your son directly,” Lemma suggests. “When it’s just the two of you, explain either that you’ve met someone or would like to. Acknowledge that you know he finds it difficult but tell him that the way he feels is normal and nothing to be frightened of. And that, in time, he will want his own relationships, too.”

Lemma says he might “have a melt-down – this is to be expected. But he should be able to get himself out of it in time. If, after a few months, he can’t, he may be stuck and need help.” Is there another male friend/relative he could talk to, besides his father?

So, be honest. Be prepared to be hated for a while. Reassure him, but come at this from a point of confidence – it will make your son more confident, too. “Also,” Lemma says, “remember that if you have met someone, you are no longer alone with this.”

bpc.org.uk

Send your problem to annalisa.barbieri@mac.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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