ETCETERA / ANgST: Expert advice on your problems

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The Independent Culture
I am a widow with a Down's Syndrome child, and we live in a country town. There is no support from family, nor are we ever included in our neighbours' social activities. I'd be willing to move to be part of a community where my child would be welcomed and my life skills valued. At present I can go for weeks without talking to any other adult.

The isolation you describe is sadly very familiar, and you might like to start by joining the Down's Syndrome Association. Your local branch will put you in touch with other parents and organise regular activities. Becoming a befriender to other parents who may be having difficulties coping is another option. You might also like to contact the Camphill Village Trust, which runs schools for children with a variety of disabilities; there are opportunities for parents to become involved with the school communities.

Down's Syndrome Association, 155 Mitcham Road, London SW17 9PG, tel: 081-682 4001. Camphill Village Trust, Delrow College, Hillfield Lane, Aldenham, Watford, Herts WD2 8DJ, tel: 0923 856006.

We have a big house with an apartment-like attic where our two 16-year-old sons are free to live their own life . . . more or less. Recently, however, we have noticed the smell of marijuana. Like many other people in the Sixties, my wife and I experimented with drugs - so we are not exactly shocked. The problem is that half the youth in the neighbourhood seems to congregate in our attic to partake. What course of action would you recommend?

It sounds as if you have a fairly relaxed relationship with your sons. This will make it easier for you to have a conversation with them in which you can establish your own attitudes towards drugs, and the level of behaviour you expect in the home. You may want to point out to them that they are using an illegal substance - and that, if parents are found to be aware this is happening on their premises, they are held partly responsible. If you do not feel too worried about your sons' behaviour on their own, you should make plain that their friends do not have an open invitation to do the same in your home. You might also explore with your children why you once took drugs but no longer do so. Try also to find out if they are using only marijuana or whether they have tried other drugs. It is important that parents realise they have a right to their views on drugs and behaviour in their home, but it is also valuable if you can be non-judgmental enough for your children to feel able to tell you if, say, they have taken a drug they feel uneasy about. Drug-taking in the young is largely about taking risks, so negotiate a different type of risk-taking for them which is not illegal. They could try bungee jumping . . .

Adfam National, 5th floor, Epworth House, 25 City Rd, London EC1Y 1AA, tel: 071-638 3700 (helpline).

I am due to retire in nine months, when I turn 60. For years I joked about all the things I would do if I only had free time, but now I feel a sense of panic. I see nothing but long empty days ahead, and a sense of pointlessness in all the activities that once looked so appealing. My wife was sympathetic at first, but now says she doesn't know what she will do with me mooning around the house all day.

Work offers companionship, routine, status and motivation, so the realisation it will end can be worrying. It is important to look at ways of recreating these aspects of working life in your retirement, and to set goals for yourself which are not just filling time but providing a genuine interest. Possibilities range from the courses and activities offered by the University of the Third Age and the Open University, to new hobbies. You might also consider voluntary work. You talk of your wife's irritation with you; many couples at this time in their lives find strains they had not anticipated. It is vital to talk about the changes ahead and consider how you can each maintain some independence and privacy. Many firms now organise retirement counselling for employees, but this can also be done privately.

Lilian Foulkes, Focus (Forum for Occupational Counselling and Unemployment Services Ltd), Northside House, Mount Pleasant, Barnet EN4 9EB, tel: 081-441 9300.