Dear Bel   

I retired four years ago and my wife can’t wait to retire at Christmas. Joan has two sons from her first marriage — ten and eight when I moved in, 48 and 46 now. The eldest, Jamie, recently boomeranged home and there’s no sign of him leaving. It’s all good.

Lee, the youngest child, moved into a home with the mother and six-month old baby girl years ago. They later had three other children — two girls and a boy.

While pregnant with the boy, his partner was diagnosed with cervical cancer and he waited to be treated until he was born. Lee was one when his mother died, and he had four more children. It turned out the boy was not Lee’s — but he accepted being his ‘dad’.

Lee eventually found a partner in Jenny. The girls told us stories of how their ‘step-mother’ made their life a misery. Although there was not much evidence that she was strict, the girls left their home at 16 to become pregnant quickly and moved into social housing.

The thought of the day 

Wow! There are no sounds, only the wind.

You can howl louder, but the snow volley continues.

Incessant batter in the windowpane

Make our comfort as delicious again . .

From Snow Storm by John Clare (English rural poet, 1793 – 1864) 

Max (15-year-old) is now a troublemaker. Max, his real father, has tried to approach him several times. Max refused.

Lee and Jenny view Max as someone to be tolerated. We get the impression that they are resentful of Max’s existence.

Max doesn’t have a mobile phone or a laptop or a TV and seems to be packed off to his bedroom in the early evening. Max spends most of his time alone because Jenny and Lee both work long hours. But once he trashed his own room and they’re worried it will happen again.

Recently, Lee asked if Max could come to ours when they couldn’t be home with him. We reluctantly agreed. He spent hours on Joan’s iPad, conversation pretty impossible, but he responds to offers of food or drink and is very polite.

Lee was told by us that Max should be sent to them to avoid his house getting destroyed. Max obviously has problems, but we don’t think two pensioners are the ones to sort this out.

We believe he needs professional help if he’s doing half the things they say he does.

We’ve hinted to Jenny and Lee that as soon as Joan retires we’re off out as much as weather and finances allow, but they evade the problem.

Can we really be expected to ‘babysit’ such an obviously troubled lad?


This week Bel Mooney advises a reader who is questioning why she should 'babysit' her son's troubled teenager

Bel Mooney gives advice this week to a reader, who’s wondering why she should babysit her son’s troubled teenager. 

There’ll be no surprise when I say there’s one person who receives all my sympathy in this family saga. If you believe me, one person is extremely vulnerable. Your email subject states your chief anxiety — ‘Retirement at risk’ — which is pretty clear.

That is not to say that I don’t understand your concern. Why shouldn’t you and your wife look forward to fun and freedom in the near future? After years of work you’re entitled to a new sort of lifestyle and I can see why she’s looking forward to it. Why should you be lumbered with any responsibility for a morose, difficult teenage ‘grandson’ who is not related to either of you?

But my heart breaks for this boy. These are sad facts. Lee’s mother, who had been cheating on Lee, died young from cancer. Lee discovered he’s not the father, but took the role . . . However, with what level of conviction do you think? This must have been quite an unpleasant surprise.

Then he cohabited with Jenny, who played stepmother to Lee’s ‘adopted’ daughter, two biological daughters, and the unfortunate boy who was the product of his dead Mum’s infidelity. Jenny’s a bit of a toughie, so the girls moved out as soon as they could and started families themselves. Do they have any solid relationships? ‘Man hands on misery to man’ as the poet Larkin wrote.

Max, unloved child, leaves Lee and Jenny. Jenny seems to dislike Max. Max rejects his biological father. It’s no wonder that this angrier, more desperate boy destroyed his bedroom.

When he comes to you he is ‘polite’ — which is a good sign. Perhaps he sees in you a kind and loving relationship Joan the family life that he would love.

The child must feel truly hopeless — I wish somebody could show him the loving attention he needs. His school must be informed about his behaviour problems.

Max is one of many young people who live in chaos, are often confused and angry at their confusion, feeling like nobody understands them or cares. Many are placed in residential care, and then in prison. Others may be able to overcome the odds and make their own luck, even when they are rejected by adults.

But I think we all need to acknowledge that it’s damn hard for the kids nobody loves.

Joan and you can both open up to that truth. I wish that you will continue to be kind to the troubled boy. Please try to rein back your wish for ‘conversation’ and just offer smiles, time and pizza.

Back to your question. It’s understandable that you don’t want the responsibility of ‘babysitting’ the boy when his non-parents are working. You should not even be resentful of the obligation. Joan, you, and Jamie could be mentors, Jamie may help, or Max might have some big-hearted friends to support him.

However, people are not perfect and teenagers can be difficult to manage even within happy families. Joan and you might be able to get your son an iPad so that Christmas is a little easier.

This would be an important gesture. The boy is in dire need of maximum support.

If I were Joan, I’d try to have a serious heart-to-heart with my son.   

It’s a horrible feeling of guilt to be so stupid about my work. 

Dear Bel

It is embarrassing, but it’s something I must admit to someone. I’m 35 and have been happily married for eight years. My lovely, kind husband and I are thinking it’s time to start a family as we always planned.

To be honest, I’ve been putting it off as I like my job. But that’s not my main issue. It’s a large office, with great people.

Now I’ve developed a major crush (only word for it really) on a guy who joined the company six months ago. He’s a bit older, senior, good-looking and flirty with all the women, especially me (I think). Each day, I wear makeup and dress up for work with one goal: to see him again and get a reply. He’s free with compliments and makes me feel good about myself.


Bel Mooney has more to say about the Daily Mail…

We’ve gone to the pub together for a couple of sandwich lunches which caused teasing. Now he tells me he may be transferred and I’m miserable at the thought of not seeing him. He’s on my mind all the time and I find myself dreaming about what he would be like in bed.

This makes me feel bad when I think about my husband. Please tell me I’m stupid.


It makes me wonder how many others have had similar experiences with a coworker. Because (mining long memory here) I can remember a work ‘crush’ too, I’m certainly not going to pass judgement about stupidity!

I often think if men and women (of all ages and types) were more honest about their own foibles and failings they wouldn’t be so quick to condemn others for theirs. I’m finding out that celebrities are less honest than ever when I check social media.

So I’m glad you felt able to be frank about your perfectly normal, and quite common, feelings. It can bring a smile to your face and brighten dull days. What’s not to like?

Yes, I do know about the risks, but not when flirtation turns into something else. Little lunches can be a start so I’d bet a lot of money you didn’t mention the pub dates to your husband. No, that would expose your fantasies to the world.

Now I think you should decide it would be wiser not to have any more one-to-ones with this man, but just enjoy his company while he’s there.

You’ll get over this. The sexy guy will move on and you’ll remain married to the man you love and on those days when you feel a little flat about life you can remember the welcome flattering but harmless compliments. It might be time for a new, serious conversation with your spouse about the possibility of starting a family. After all, it’s what you always wanted.

At 35 you don’t want to leave it too long (for obvious medical reasons) and you could start investigating the possibility of part-time work, maybe with the same company. Consider your life as a series of amazing stages.

My career was over when my first baby came in 1974. I can recall feeling horrified. It was that first baby, however, that I became so infatuated with him that it transformed my entire life.

For work, . . It was a success. . . And enjoyed many other things. You never know what surprises you might find.   

Finally…Live music raises the roof, lifts the spirits

It was possible! At last I felt that delicious frisson of excitement which is ‘feeling Christmassy’. It wasn’t because of the increasingly annoying store advertisements on television. The Christmas sparkle on streets and endless gift list in magazines was not the culprit. or similar holiday plonk.

Get in touch with Bel 

Every week, Bel answers questions from readers about relationship and emotional problems.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email

If you choose, a pseudonym may be used.

Bel enjoys reading letters, although she is disappointed that personal correspondence cannot be entered into.

No — it was music. And not just any music, but George Frideric Handel’s music. Bath Cantata, one the oldest music groups of Bath, presented a lovely Bach Advent cantata. It was followed by part the Messiah. This is surely one the most popular songs in the repertoire.

What’s more, the concert took place in the welcoming St Stephen’s of Bath where my daughter got married and two of my grandchildren were christened. It was a wonderful feeling to return.

The church was filled with people of all ages. While there was a lot of gray heads in the church, two teenage girls made impressive pen-and-ink sketches of architecture and people while they listened. The interval was accompanied by wine.

And then the singers and orchestra lifted the roof with the glorious oratorio prophesying the coming of Jesus — which is what Christmas is actually about. Who doesn’t want to join in with the rousing, celebratory Hallelujah chorus?

I know every pop singer wants to warble Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah but give me the heart-stirring notes of Handel any day. I don’t really care what enthrals folks as long as they keep supporting live music.

Recently I’ve also heard unaccompanied Rachmaninov sacred music in Bath Abbey, and a humorous, joyful folky gig by the talented duo Show of Hands. It’s a wonderful pleasure to share a musical love with others.

Now we’re in December I shall dig out my selection of Christmassy CDs (I love carols) and count the days until the candlelit carol service in our church. It has to happen. Hallelujah!