As a wangler, Irma's husband is really quite an artist

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Indy Lifestyle Online
This week's problem: Irma's artist husband looks after the children while she works, and paints at night. He has no qualifications to do anything else, refuses to give up painting and implies, when Irma complains of not seeing enough of her family, that she's being unsupportive in his search for the "big break". Irma hates being a Nineties career woman; she'd prefer to stay at home with the kids while her husband works

It's quite easy to be supportive of someone else's talents when they're making tangible progress. Thus career women in the US happily work to put their husbands through law college; and I suspect that if Irma's husband got his act together and worked towards an exhibition, she'd be with him all the way.

But waiting vaguely for a "big break"? He might as well buy a ticket for the National Lottery each week. He must know that the number of financially successful painters is only slightly higher than the number of millionaire poets. And these are ones who put themselves about, painting portraits of people's dogs and houses, doing murals, flogging landscapes to birthday card companies. He may be unqualified to work at anything else, but Irma's husband should consider that William Faulkner wrote some of his best work sitting on a wheelbarrow down a coal-mine.

No, it sounds as if this artist of the family has got it all his own way without properly considering how his talents could be put to financial use. Unless you have private means, you can't tread the art for art's sake path and be the responsible parent of young children. And if you use your wife as your private means, then you're not being a responsible husband unless, of course, you offer her support and comfort in the evenings and at weekends as well. While Irma's worrying about how she could live with herself wondering what might have been if she stopped sacrificing herself at the altar of art, her husband doesn't appear to be worrying about how he'll be able to live with himself wondering what might have been if he continues to deny his wife a share of proper family life.

Irma could settle for utter poverty, down tools and stay at home. Her husband could paint all morning and she could get a part-time job in the afternoons. But when it comes to getting a good deal on the career front, her husband is obviously an expert wangler, so surely he could give her good advice on how she could get a job with a four-day week. Or at least be supportive in her aims to find one. He might have to do a paper round in the mornings, and a lowly Saturday job as a shop assistant to help to make ends meet. But he can't expect support for himself as an artist unless he's prepared to offer the same sort of support to Irma as a mother, a job that is just as important to her emotional sanity as painting seems to be for his.

The mother who would have liked some freedom

Before I had children, a friend and mother of three said becoming a parent was like dropping into a deep, dark pit out of which one crawls - slowly. Now I am a mother of two and know what she means.

From the point of view of the constant care giver, I can assure you that after a long day (mine used to start at 4.30am to protect the essential money-earner from severe sleep deprivation), when I never heard a complete sentence on the radio, never read a paragraph without interruption and generally learnt that I did not have access to my own thoughts for the next 15 hours, there grows a desperate craving for one's own space and silence. I know why Irma's husband goes and paints.

There's no point in telling you that you chose parenthood so you should know what you are doing. It's hard. Still, I'm six and a half years into this game and already part released by a local nursery school. (I can find time to write letters to newspapers!)

In September I will be freebetween the hours of 9am and 3pm - as your husband will be soon. Evenings are already ceasing to be a grind.

This is not 30 years ago, and time spent wishing it was is wasted time. Live one day at a time. Enjoy your children as best you can, like the rest of the world's breadwinners.

If the children are happy and secure because of what you do, then you just may have to be satisfied with that.

MA Harris, New Mills,


The pragmatist

The answer to Irma's problem is simple:

1. Get someone to help with the cleaning and ironing.

2. Don't cook in the evening. Eat in the works canteen. The children can eat at the nursery/ school canteen or at home. Husband can fend for himself.

3. Irma should keep one evening a week sacrosanct for her and her husband.

4. She should allow herself some time for herself, perhaps for aerobics or massage.

I hope she finds all this easier than I do.

Wendy Davis, Salop

The harbinger of strife

Reading between the lines, I get the feeling that Irma's feelings for her husband are being affected by a mixture of jealousy and lack of respect. She thinks he has got the easy option, yet she thinks a "real man" should go out to work.

This is a dangerously destructive mixture, and Irma should deal with it as quickly as possible. I think her real solution is some deep and frank discussions with her husband. They should consider approaching Relate, because if the marriage is not on the rocks now, it is heading that way fast.

Maureen Clarke, Bristol


Dear Virginia,

My two sons, aged six and eight, are highly competitive. Jay, the youngest, had a pet rabbit which he absolutely adored. When Tim, the elder, was playing around with it while Jay was away for the night, he tipped over a piece of furniture which fell on the rabbit's head. The creature was still moving but we hustled Tim out of the room before he could see any more. Later the rabbit died, and their dad and I buried it at the bottom of the garden.

We told the boys it had run away in the night, but Jay has got extremely depressed worrying about it and cries every bedtime imagining it's longing to come home. Tim is playing up as well.

We feel we didn't handle it properly. Is it too late to put things right? And what should we have done?

Yours sincerely, Tina

All comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate. Please send any personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.