Virginia Ironside: Dilemmas

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Dear Virginia, I'm so worried about my daughter. I was 43 when I had her 32 years ago, and her father died when she was two. His parents lost touch after his death. I have no siblings and my parents are both dead, so she'll have no one in the world after I've gone. She is a lovely girl, but has always been unlucky in love – falling for married men or rejecting suitable men. We are still so close and sometimes I can't sleep for worrying about what will happen to her when I die.

Yours sincerely, Fiona

You are doing a very common thing: imagining that after you are dead, everything will continue as before. What you haven't taken into account is one big difference in that future scenario – your death. A death is like removing a piece from a jigsaw puzzle. Life doesn't go on after it, with the picture of all the trees, clouds and houses in the same place, but with a hole in the middle of it where the missing piece used to be. No, the pieces all have to rearrange themselves in different patterns to make the sure the picture still makes sense.

I'm not saying that your existence is preventing your daughter from making a relationship or extending her group of friends. I'm just saying that it has an effect on her life and her attitude to life. As the absence of a parent has an effect when we're young, the presence of one has an effect as well.

And it may be that while this all works perfectly well at the moment – your close relationship with your daughter keeps her sufficiently stable and grounded to live a good enough life – when you go she'll be forced to adjust emotionally.

She may then be obliged – or feel free – to look for other emotional props in her life. It could be that your death will prompt her to get in touch with her father's side of the family and make contact with the myriad cousins, uncles and aunts she's never known in the past. It could be that once you're gone she'll realise she wants to go abroad and have adventures. Whatever happens, her life simply won't be the same as it is now. It won't necessarily be even more lonely (though of course you're right, this could be an option). But more likely, it could be that she's driven to enrich it, with surprising results.

There is some evidence, I gather, that women who appear to be infertile when their parents are alive become suddenly fertile on one of their parents' deaths. I'm not encouraging a parent's death as a cure for infertility, of course, but just saying that a parents' death can have an amazing effect on our bodies and our minds. Some people never get over a parent's death. Others mourn and then continue much as before. Others positively thrive.

I sometimes think that parents are like huge trees. They look wonderful – but they can also shade the ground underneath their branches, where the saplings are trying to grow. So don't worry about how your daughter will cope after you've gone. And in the meantime, perhaps you could try yourself to make some more friends of your own and become less interdependent with her – and, indeed, suggest she contacts the other half of her family – so that she is more able to stand on her own two feet when, finally, the time comes.

Talk about the future

It would be so easy to say: "She's a grown woman and can take care of herself." But that's not how motherhood works, is it? Parenting never ceases, the worries never go. As you have such a close relationship, you could perhaps have a chat about how she feels and what she wants in life. She is only 32 and has plenty of time to settle down, if she so chooses. You had her when you were 43, after all. If she is happy with her life, then you have to believe her. It sounds as if you do not have many social opportunities, so maybe some other interests would put your concerns in perspective.

Christina Burton

By email

You need to let go

Being the only child of a very strong mother who overshadowed me, I have a lot of sympathy for your daughter – and also for you, as the mother of a son whose very serious problems I could not cope with. I can pass on to you the advice I did not believe for a long time and which was very painful to put into practice: Let go. Your daughter has to make her own mistakes and learn to learn from them.

I'm very happy that you have a close relationship, but you both need to live your own lives. Next time she finds a "suitable" man, be less obviously enthusiastic and maybe the relationship will blossom. Do you both have other interests that you pursue for their own sakes?

Having learned to let go with my son, we now have a good adult relationship. It was not easy, but it was worth it.

Marina Donald

By email

It's about you, not her

All mothers worry about their children, even once they are grown up, but it sounds as if you are bored or depressed and placing too much of your focus on your daughter.

Worrying late into the night about something you cannot control is just pointless.

Just because she has not yet formed a lasting relationship doesn't mean she won't ever meet the right partner. You must step back.

Let her go by recognising that she is an adult and needs the freedom to make her own decisions. Perhaps she is very happy in her single state and sees that no partner is better than a bad one!

Lessen your anxiety by keeping yourself as mentally, physically and socially active as possible. Not only will you enjoy life more, but also you will ease the pressure on your daughter, making the time you spend together happier and more rewarding.

Elinor Forbes

By email

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

When my boyfriend was away with his friends, he had a one-night stand with a girl he'd met in a bar when he was drunk. I was really upset, but we got over it – it clearly wasn't a big deal. But a while ago I got drunk and snogged someone in a club and when I told him he was furious! It didn't mean anything, but he's taken it so seriously. I'm ashamed, but it's been six months since it happened and he can't let go of it. When I say, "You did worse", he replies, "That wasdifferent". What can I do?

Yours sincerely, Nikky

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