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Dear Patricia: My family all know about my 'sins' -- but not my husband's

I'M in my early 50s and have been married for more than 35 years. My husband and I separated for three years when our children were in their teens. I was the one to leave the family home. I caused a lot of hurt and I have acknowledged this, but I'm exhausted still carrying the blame for everything.

I have tried very hard to atone for my past, but it doesn't seem to make any difference. My eldest daughter hardly speaks to me, and she freely admits having told all her friends and in-laws about her difficult relationship with me, and they are very supportive of her. My husband still spoils the children as he thinks he needs to make up for the fact that they were abandoned by me all those years ago.

What hurts me is that everyone seems to know my "sins", but nobody has any idea of my husband's past infidelities, possessiveness, violence and controlling behaviour. He has "mellowed" and says he is happy for us to be together now, having overcome our past problems. However, he never supports me when our eldest daughter dismisses me or criticises me. He just says I'm being "too sensitive". My daughter even refers to our home as "Dad's house" and brings her children to see their granddad, never granddad and nana.

I feel very alone, hurt and angry. Whenever I try to talk to anyone, I end up feeling as if people think I'm imagining things.

I used to be unafraid to speak out, even when I was afraid of my husband, but now I find myself becoming quieter and quieter and increasingly isolated. I would like to know if there is a way to let my husband know how I feel. How can I get him to be a little more supportive, for example by asking our daughter not to treat me the way she does? I understand that he is afraid of losing contact with our grandchildren, or of being unpopular. But I do not know how much longer I can continue to bear being regarded as the "bad parent", or how long I can take being blamed.

I realise that all our actions have consequences, and I have to live with the responsibility of my past. But how do I do that with more confidence, and without feeling so alone?

Patricia replies:

I imagine the relationship between your husband and your eldest daughter is written in stone at this stage. No, I'm not saying that's fair. I am saying that a wise woman would accept it.

As the eldest, she undoubtedly took your place when you left, had to step up to the plate and look after her younger brothers and sisters while daddy went to work. Why this was necessary doesn't really matter at one level. Whether he drove you away or not doesn't really matter either. A situation was created, she and her dad forged a working relationship, and they are still close. This is not simply a blame game -- it may not even be a blame game at all. It's the reality of their lives.

Yes, I understand that you have a difficult relationship, and no, you're not imagining it. But it may not be because your daughter blames you for leaving, as such. I'd say her difficulties lay in how to integrate you back into the new family structure -- a bit like wife number one suddenly turning up again, and no, of course I don't mean that sexually. They were a team, keeping the show on the road. And neither of them knew how to step back from that. Or subconsciously, they both decided not to. Maybe it's just the way they nurture their bond.

Sometimes, we wear the sackcloth and ashes ourselves. Are you doing that? Many mothers have very difficult relationships with their daughters. And many mothers have to step aside in the face of the closeness those daughters have with their fathers.

Is it possible that you see this as a punishment, when in fact it's simply just that, a close relationship? Yes, you are excluded. But is that really in order to punish you? Or is that interpretation just the guilt messing with your head?

And even if the exclusion is intended as punishment, you have a choice whether to accept such punishment or not. You can't insist your daughter love you. None of us can do that with our children. You can, quietly but firmly, insist on respect. If she's nasty to you, you can simply tell her that wasn't called for, and leave the room.

The person who really has to leave the blame behind is you yourself. You and your husband are now sound. And while the world -- or more specifically your daughter -- may not know how much your husband contributed to your departure, he certainly does. You are back in your marriage very much on equal terms. Stop seeing everything in terms of blame. You were not a bad mother. Why paint yourself as one? Why look for reassurance from your daughter?

Yes, she's being a bit of a bee, but so what? She's married, has kids, is close to her family. She's a success story -- which means you did an awful lot that was right. Believe me, that's all any of us can do.

Take off the sackcloth, wash away the ashes, and smile.

Sunday Indo Living