DILEMMAS: I will not buy this satchel

What Virginia says

Veronica's involved in an acrimonious divorce. Although her husband said he'd pay for their son's school gear, he never has, and she's coughed up. Now her son's rucksack is falling apart. This time Veronica refuses to pay as a matter of principle and insists her eight-year-old son ask his dad for a new bag. But his teacher says she should buy one as it's urgent. What should she do?

If some bully with a huge dog came to the door screaming insults, Veronica would never send her son out to deal with him. So why does she get this wretched creature to fight her own fights on the matrimonial front?

Because she cares more about her own bitter "matter of principle" than she does about her son, it seems.

How anyone could use an eight-year-old boy as a pawn in an acrimonious divorce is beyond me. How anyone could use any child of theirs, from four to 40, is actually beyond me as well. How is this child going to bring the subject into the conversation with his dad, anyway? "Mummy says you ought to buy me a new rucksack" is likely to herald a torrent of abuse against his mother that he won't want to hear. And at the end of the conversation the poor little boy will almost certainly be left with the instruction: "Now you tell your mother that Daddy says..." which he will feel he ought to relay back to his mother. This will then be met with another load of invective. The little boy will feel responsible. And in a way he will be right, for his statement will have been responsible. If he'd never mentioned his rucksack to his dad, this latest argument would have been avoided.

It's the duty of every divorcing couple to consider the children first, although they rarely do. They should do their utmost to present a united front and carry on their fights through their solicitors without ever mentioning a word of it all to their children, who are completely innocent victims in the war. They should be able, however much they seethe and loathe underneath, to express reasonably decent remarks about their exes to their children, realising that by saying unpleasant things they are almost criticising the child as well, because he is his or her closest blood relation.

If Veronica really loathed her husband she would be delighted that he refuses to pay for the rucksack. Why? Because it gives her a chance to show how much she loves her son by buying him one herself. She becomes the giver-out of essentials, the one who's always on hand in an emergency with the odd fiver. Every time she gets her son out of a difficulty, be it buying a new rucksack or comforting him when he's down, she makes the boy love her more. Love should never be used as revenge, but there's no doubt that getting her revenge is a by-product of love in this case. After all, some wives complain that their exes are always buying their children expensive things and giving them a nice time, deliberately, they feel, eroding the loving relationship with their mothers.

Veronica should go straight out with her son and let him choose a new rucksack. She should also buy him anything else he lacks at school. She is not just buying him material things; she is buying him some kind of self-respect at school, because anyone who is "different" always gets a hard time and anyone who has a hard time at school doesn't enjoy it and usually doesn't learn as well as they might. So if the cuffs on his shirts are frayed or his trainers have holes in the bottom, she should get him up to date on those as well.

And feel, not resentment and fury, but enormous pleasure at being given a chance to show her love for her son in a material as well as an emotional way.

What readers say

It's your responsibility

To hell with Veronica's principles! With such an attitude as hers, it is surely no surprise that her divorce is acrimonious. Her poor lad is already, no doubt, distressed enough by the breakdown of his parents' marriage, without the added trauma of being used as a pawn in their childish bickering.

She must get the kid his new rucksack - or a good second-hand one if that is all she can afford. It is her job, through her solicitor, to sort out her marital problems - not the responsibility of an eight-year-old.



Don't use your son

As a divorcee with an eight-year-old son, I feel that if Veronica has any feelings for her son, she will stop using him as a bone of contention between herself and her ex-husband.

From experience I can assure her that what she loses financially in providing what her son needs, she will gain in having a happy, well adjusted child who has not had to partake in such ridiculous situations.

Matters of principle are often not worth the stress they cause, and for her own sanity I would advise Veronica to let it go. Her ex may win in the short (financial) term, but the long-term bonus of a well adjusted, loving son will be hers.


Wolverhampton, West Midlands

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

This is a really embarrassing problem, but can you help? I often stay at my boyfriend's flat for the weekend and often have a bath, but whatever time I seem to take it, he always comes in and goes to the lavatory while I'm in the bath. Not just peeing, either. There's no lock on the door. I find this really embarrassing and repulsive, but some of my girlfriends say I'm just hung-up, no one these days minds about this sort of thing. Are they right? What can I do?


Letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Send comments and suggestions to Virginia Ironside, Features Department, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182, or e-mail: dilemmas@ independent.co.uk - giving your postal address, please, for the bouquet.

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