Dilemmas

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Petra's 11-year-old daughter doesn't want to go on a school activity holiday because she knows she'll be homesick at night, as she was on a previous Brownie trip. Despite her terrors, her father thinks she should take part `because there are some things in life you have to do'. Should she be made to go?

I remember once going to stay with my best friend across the road. From there I could see the lighted windows of our house and when I saw the silhouettes of my father and mother preparing for bed I burst into tears and had to be carted home in my dressing gown. Talk about homesick. I learned, later, how to be homesick before the event, working myself into a frenzy of anxiety in the safety of my own home, but I still know homesick adult friends who hesitate before going on holiday.

I see no advantage in Petra forcing her daughter to go. Her husband says she has to learn there are some things in life you have to do but this isn't one of them; she has a choice. If her father wants to teach her the lessons of life, rather than letting life itself teach her, I'm surprised he doesn't organise a small mugging to make her more street- wise. If the poor child is forced to go, she'll learn more than he bargained for - that her father's a bully; that her mother's a cowering sheep who goes along with anything he says; that men have to be obeyed, however abusive their behaviour; that you can't trust anyone. She'll also put the teachers under pressure, and lose an enormous amount of face among her friends when she spends the nights gibbering into her pillow while she sobs for her mum.

I suspect Petra's husband is of the "I was beaten black and blue, and chained up like a dog in the snow by my father and there'sh nothin' wrong with me, gimme another drink, twitch twitch" type. Tragic, in other words.

Obviously Petra's daughter should be asked if there's anything that would ameliorate the trip - a familiar piece of clothing of her mother's to hold in the night, a phone-card to phone home, a letter a day from mum, a present when she gets back, words with sympathetic teachers to keep a special eye on her - or perhaps her mum could go with the trip as an adult helper.

But, failing positive answers to these suggestions, Petra's role as a parent is to protect her child from as many terrors as possible while she still lives at home. She'll have quite enough harrowing experiences of her own when she finally leaves, without being forced to face them unnaturally earlyn

What readers say

Enjoy yourself

I am 11 years old and last December I was booked on a week-long school trip. I didn't want to go because I knew I would be homesick. My mum said I would enjoy it when I got there. The first night I was really homesick and rang my mum but after that I did enjoy myself and it went quickly. My mum sent me a letter telling me all the news from home which helped and although I was pleased to get home I was glad I had gone. My advice is to go on the trip, and enjoy yourself - a week does pass quickly.

Amye Francis, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire

A parental problem

Last September my colleague and I took our class of Year 6 pupils to an outdoor activity centre. One child was fine during the day, but as soon as we returned to base the tears began.

At 11.30pm on the Wednesday, we said that we would phone his mother to drive 200 miles to collect him. He realised that this would be unfair to her and promised to stop weeping, which he did. He was fine for the rest of the trip, but when we returned he was met by his tearful mother who told us she knew he would be homesick. It seems that it is often the parent who cannot bear to separate.

Jane, London

Trust comes first

I was in Petra's position when my daughter was a year or two older than hers. I thought she should go because "she would enjoy it when she got there" and my husband thought she should learn to "have a go" at things about which she felt apprehensive. The guilt I felt when a sympathetic teacher brought her home in the middle of the second night was agonising. Two years later my son was in the same position and I had no misgivings about supporting his desire to stay at home. I knew that his sense of security and trust was most important. I remember what a relief it was to be supportive rather than decisive.

Susie Tarver,

Midhurst, West Sussex

Next week's problem: A job `worth doing', but not being done

Dear Virginia,

Does anyone else have this problem? It may seem trivial but it really winds me up. For the last two years I have been wanting to change the colour of the kitchen walls. My husband has promised he'll do it, but so far nothing has happened. Quite frankly, I could do it in an afternoon, but he puts his foot down when I suggest it and says that a job worth doing is a job worth doing properly. He says the walls need preparing and re-lining and so on and promises to do it when he has free time. I am damned if I'm going to pay a professional to do it, but wonder if I should risk a row by getting up a ladder with a brush myself? And why are men such perfectionists when it comes to chores like this?

Yours, Isobel

Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send 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.

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