ASK ZELDA: Our relationships expert Zelda West-Meads answers your qs

ASK ZELDA: Our relationships expert Zelda West-Meads answers your questions

If you have a problem, email [email protected]. Zelda reads all your letters but regrets that she cannot answer them all personally

He wants to find his birth father   

After my mother-in-law died a few years ago, my husband found out via family friends that his dad is not his birth father. He was raised by him from the age of four and my husband doesn’t remember a time before his ‘dad’ was there and so he cannot bring himself to talk to him about this for fear of upsetting him. My mother-in-law kept this a secret from my husband all her life and apparently did not discuss with anyone the details of who the birth father was. My husband decided to purchase a DNA kit and has discovered a cousin on his father’s side. Through many hours of tracing births, marriages and deaths, he believes he has worked out who his birth father is and tracked him down on Facebook. He got in touch with him by writing a message but was cautious and just asked this man if he had known his mother. However, the message was either not received or has not been read. My husband can’t find any other way to contact this man and although he thinks he has also found his half siblings on Facebook, he doesn’t want to get in touch with them in case he causes any trouble. His birth father may not even know that he exists, so his search has ground to a halt. What should he do? He has gone so far with this and doesn’t want to give up now.

It must have been a huge shock for your husband to discover that the man who had raised him is not his real dad. I can understand why he feels the need to try to contact his birth father, but he should be aware that, if he does, it could be quite painful. From the secrecy with which his mother handled this, I imagine that either his birth father doesn’t know about him or his mother was deeply hurt by this man. I would guess also that he was married. He could be happy if your husband contacts him or he could be angry and try to deny it – which would be upsetting. Your husband sounds very considerate towards his dad (the man who brought him up), but asking him about this is the best way forward. It sounds as though they are close and his father may be less upset than he thinks. I am sure that your husband will be gentle enough to explain that it won’t make any difference to how much he loves him and that he will always be his dad, but that he would like to know a bit more about his birth father. As the closest person to his mother, his dad is the most likely person to know more about it – he might even recognise the name. It won’t be easy for either of them and this must be very unsettling for your husband, but I think that in the end openness may help them more than secrecy.

Should we give our teenage daughter more freedom?   

Now that she is 18, our daughter has become very headstrong. She says that she can do what she likes because she is an adult. She often stays out late and twice recently at weekends I have been up until about 4am as I can’t sleep until she finally comes home. I know that we need to give her some freedom but I am worried that she is too trusting and has friends who are a bad influence. She just dismisses my fears and says that we’re old-fashioned. How can I get her to listen to us?

Unfortunately some teenagers feel that they can do what they want – and sometimes think that they are invincible. If your daughter is going to university in the autumn, she will be free to do whatever she likes there anyway so, instead of trying to make rules, your best bet is to help her to make sensible choices. Explain to her that you know she is an adult and can do what she wants, but you love her and can’t help worrying about her. Instead of telling her that she must not do something, ask her if she feels safe when she goes out or if she ever worries about being taken advantage of? Also, when she wants you to do things for her – such as giving her a lift or wanting you to pay for something – you could perhaps use it to gently remind her that she is not fully independent and does still need you. Managing the teenage years tends to be constant renegotiation and discussion, so try to explain why it may not be a good idea to do something rather than insisting that she doesn’t do it.

  • If you have a problem, write to Zelda West-Meads at: YOU, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS, or email [email protected]