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Dear Patricia: A partner, a baby, and a job . . . but my daughter seems to have so little freedom

I AM very concerned about my 25-year-old daughter. She is living with her boyfriend who is 39, and they have a six-month-old baby girl. Her boyfriend also has a 10-year-old boy by a previous relationship who comes to visit regularly, once during the week and every second weekend.

My daughter doesn't seem to have much freedom. She has a part-time job five mornings a week and he takes care of the baby while she works.

He works an evening shift five and sometimes six nights a week, so often goes to bed in the afternoons. He also often has to work on bank holidays. She does all the housework and shopping. She also has to be there for his son when he visits. They have only been out together as a couple about three times since the baby was born, although they know I would gladly babysit for them.

He doesn't want her to visit friends, but she is alone for long hours while he works. She even spent New Year's Eve on her own, as he didn't want her to celebrate it with anyone else and he had to work.

Her only social outlet is her job, which she badly needs for the sake of a chat and a bit of social contact. She doesn't even go to something such as a keep-fit class, as he thinks she should be content with just being a mother.

All this is pulling her down, and she was particularly distressed over Christmas. She has known her boyfriend for more than seven years and broke off the relationship several times, as she didn't feel he had much regard for her. Now she says that nothing has changed. I'm at a loss about what to do.

Patricia replies:

YOU know what I'm going to say. Your daughter can't settle for complaining to you. She has to act herself. Certainly she can confide in you, and is lucky to have you. But the decisions must be hers.

All you can do is listen, and give gentle pushes in the right direction. Set a date for a definite babysitting night, rather than just making a general offer. Get her membership for a keep-fit class. Organise a social evening starting at your house, where she can then head off for a drink with her friends for an hour or two while you hold the baby.

Your daughter and her partner are certainly working hard and life is not easy for them. I don't think that is his fault. So it's important you don't simply demonise him. He does seem to be restrictive in his attitude to her having friends, or socialising without him. But you don't know to what extent that's because he simply hasn't got the space in his time schedule or head to help her make that happen.

It might be different if she went to him with a clear game plan, babysitting organised etc. And anyway, it's her task to stand up for what she needs. If she's being bullied into loneliness and social isolation, that's down to her. She could lovingly, but firmly, stand up for herself.

Help your daughter, in short, to be proactive, but quietly retreat from any attempt at taking sides. You don't want to end up being responsible for her, and her baby, no matter how much you love her.

Sunday Indo Living