My husband has the opportunity to take a job in the West Indies for a long-term contract. We estimate we should be there about 10 years. We have no intention of settling there for ever. The problem is that we have two small children. My husband argues that a change of culture will be good for them and will broaden their minds. My fear is that they will grow up rootless. And of course there are all the grandparents to consider, who are understandably upset about the idea of our going. What do you think? Yours sincerely, Joanna
Virginia says...I can well understand your anxieties. And a friend of mine, who was brought up abroad in similar circumstances, says she bitterly regrets missing a childhood at home, with all her grandparents and cousins to play with and connect to. On her return to England, to go to university, she felt like a fish out of water, with no old school friends to fall back on, nothing. It was as if she'd arrived from outer space. And to add to that, she has no desire to return to the country where she spent so much of her youth. She "can't see the point".
On the other hand, my mother, who had an idyllic childhood in India, could never really settle in England, was always longing for the sights and smells of the Indian markets, loving Indian food, only ever really feeling "at home" there.
And I can well imagine how upset the grandparents will be. True, they could stagger out to see you once a year, but it's a hell of a haul, and though "there's always Skype", as everyone says these days, Skype isn't the same. You can't smell, touch or feel each other, read people's faces, understand when they're feeling low... all the instinctual animal feelings in a relationship are removed.
However, I'm sure you don't want to spoil your husband's chance of a job, and I can imagine that in this climate of financial gloom and doom, the prospect of a good job in a beautiful climate, with a strange culture, wonderful music, swimming, is pretty seductive. It's not as if you're going to Darfur or Sirte. It's a prospect I think is almost irresistible. As long as you don't stay too long.
As one of our readers, Patricia Burke, who was with a UN agency for 10 years and was particularly interested in the effect of transfers to foreign postings on staff member's children, said in an interesting letter too long to reproduce here, it's important that children between the ages of 11 and 19 avoid changes of country, culture or language. This is when they're most vulnerable. It would be better, if you're going to stay out a bit longer than ten years, to send them to boarding school in England for their secondary education, if that's where you want them to feel most at home eventually, than keep them in the West Indies during their teenage years and then whizz them back to England. It's the country in which they spend their teenage years that is the one they'll identify with, regardless of their own passports or their parents' nationality.
They'll thank you
Do it. Your children will not be rootless, they will have their horizons broadened. My parents took three small children to West Africa in 1960 where we spent the next eight years. All of us were changed by those years, and feel we have been enriched. Your children will return home with the sights, sounds, tastes and aromas of that very different world having become part of them, and their understanding of life here will be informed and deepened. They will thank you for giving them that experience.
Catherine Annabel By email
What about you?
As a grandmother I'd say: please don't do it. My grandchildren live abroad and it is the hardest thing. As a mother I'd say that your husband is probably right, it might well be good for the children – as long as they are settled by the time they start secondary school. As a wife I'd wonder if my husband would resent it if he felt I was blocking his career. And as a woman I'd ask you to think very hard how easy it would be for you to live abroad.
Raili Taylor By email
Next week's dilemma
Dear Virginia, A friend told me about a rare illness she suffers from, but swore me to secrecy. A couple of weeks later, I met a mutual friend with the same illness and I couldn't resist telling her about the first friend, swearing her to secrecy, too. I thought she might be able, by confessing her illness to the first friend, to offer support and get her to open up about it. Now it's got out that I betrayed my friend's trust, and she's furious. I feel so dreadful I could crawl into a hole and die. I should never have done it. Is there anything I can do to make amends? Yours sincerely, Veronica
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