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Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas


I'm 15 and my parents have just told me they want to separate. In one way I knew this was coming because they've been rowing so much, but I still feel terribly upset. I so love them both and I've tried to talk to each of them to persuade them to go to counselling, but they refuse and Dad gets angry with me for suggesting it. Dad's moving out after Christmas, and until then, the atmosphere is terrible. I can't bear being at home. But if I say I'll move out go and stay with a friend until they've sorted things out, they both tell me I'm being childish. What can I do? Yours sincerely, Michelle


Virginia says... As you well know, there are two people being childish in this situation and you're not one of them. And though legally, until you're 16, you cannot do anything like moving out without their permission, it's worth bearing in mind that if you were staying with a reliable friend, whose parents were kindly and looking after you properly, it is highly unlikely that the law would come after you in the way it might if you simply vanished into the night and slept in the streets. And if the law stepped in, then you could just return home. But at least your parents would understand how strongly you feel.

If you don't want to do anything quite as drastic, there would be very little your parents could do if you decided to spend all your days and evenings with your friend and then returned home simply to sleep.

But before that, for heaven's sake bring in some sane adults to argue your case. Talk to your teacher and headteacher and get them to explain to your wayward parents that the situation is affecting your school work. Or talk to an aunt or an uncle or godparent, and ask them to intervene. At the very least surely your parents would allow you to stay with an adult relative, even they don't want you staying with a friend? Or perhaps a relative could agree to have your dad to stay until he can get his own place after Christmas?

Your parents are upset, and no doubt they feel so overwhelmed with rage and grief about the breakdown of their relationship that they just don't have the emotional energy left to ensure that you're not damaged by the situation. But to prevent you from taking your own steps to deal with the situation is little short of sadistic.

I suspect they don't quite comprehend how unhappy you actually are. They're too involved in their own problems. But since they don't listen when you tell them, there's little you can do except either bring in third parties or take action yourself.

My own parents didn't row in the months before they broke up but just maintained a frosty silence. The stress – and fear – of it remains with me to this day. I only wish I'd had the guts to bang their heads together psychically in the way you're proposing. At such a young age it takes courage and maturity to stop relying on your parents to protect you, and start looking after yourself – but you seem to have got those two qualities. You must use them.


Readers say...

You need to go

I am sorry that you have been forced into the role of being the grown-up in this sad situation. Get your parents together; tell them you love them very much but you cannot stand them rowing. Then stick to your guns and move out – it just might make them see sense.

Maria Hale By email


Take time to grieve

I really feel for you because I was in a similar situation at your age. When people are upset they don't behave as well as they should. If your parents won't seek help, there is nothing you can do. You have to face the fact that you may feel bad for a long time, but you will come out at the other end.

When the family unit that you have always known falls apart, it can be like a bereavement. Give yourself time to grieve. In my case, both of my parents improved as people when they were no longer together. Look forward to the time when you can build your own life, have a career, your own family. Keep your head down and don't get involved in your parents' rows.

Barbara By email


Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia, My son, his wife and our grandchildren – aged six and seven – have always spent Christmas with us, but this year they want to spend it with her parents. I've tried to persuade her parents to come here, but no, they want to have it at their house. And they haven't asked us, which is very upsetting. So my son's suggested having a "pretend" Christmas here, a week before... but I don't like the idea. I gather it's quite the norm – but then the grandchildren will have two Christmases and get confused. What do you think? Yours sincerely, Grania

What would you advise Grania to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas @independent. co.uk, or go to independent. co.uk/dilemmas. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (finewinesellers.co.uk)