Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas

 

I've been in a relationship with a wonderful woman for a year. I'm divorced and have a seven-year-old son who visits at weekends. My partner and I want to live together, and it would work financially too. The problem is that she has a severely autistic son of 15 who can be very unpredictable. He can never be left on his own. Now my son, who is quite frightened by my partner's son, has said that if I move in with her, he doesn't want to visit me. My partner says he has to live with difference, but I'm uncertain. What do you think? Yours sincerely, Martin

Virginia says... Your first duty is to your son, above all else. He is clearly frightened by your partner's son, and has been very brave in putting his position clearly to you. And whatever your partner says about "having to live with difference," it's difficult enough even for us adults to live with difference, sometimes.

I have been in a house in which there lived a severely autistic girl who wandered around shouting and waving a knife. Her parents assured me that she was harmless, but my heart raced every time she approached. How- ever good I am about "living with difference", my body had other ideas and I started shaking, went white-faced with anxiety, and found it extremely difficult not to recoil, terrified. And I'm an adult.

I have no doubt that if I'd lived in her home for a long time and worked out exactly what I could expect of the girl, and also understood how to handle her, or had got some kind of relationship with her, or if I'd nurtured her from birth, her behaviour wouldn't have been frightening. Almost certainly I would have become very fond of her. But I didn't have that history with her. And nor has your son.

If you want to move in with this woman during the week, forget financial considerations if you possibly can and keep your own place on, so you can see your son there in peace at weekends. Perhaps you could let your flat out to someone who would only need it five days a week.

You don't want your son to grow up having virtually no contact with his father or always associating visiting his father with fear and anxiety. If you wished, you could ask if he'd visit your partner and her son every month with you for a short period, perhaps, so that he could very gradually get used to the situation, but remember how vulnerable seven-year-olds are, and how daunting even a normal 15-year-old can seem to someone so small.

When he's older, your son will be able to cope with the "difference". He'll be physically stronger and he'll realise that being grown-up often involves hiding fear or overcoming it in order to put in place more kindly feelings.

But he's too young. You wouldn't let your son drive a car. You wouldn't let him down a bottle of whisky. Don't expect him, at this young age, to handle this situation, either. Or, even worse, to give him the impression that you prefer a comfortable love life to your role as his father.

Readers say...

Find another way

 

Please do not do this. Your son has clearly and quite bravely let you know how he feels. There was a similar age gap between me and my brother, who also has severe autism. I lived in constant fear of him and his unpredictable behaviour to the extent that I used to wish I could be taken into care to get away from him. f you pursue this course of action your son will not come and stay at weekends and I don't blame him. Find another way.

Jane By email

 

I was attacked

When I was about seven I was made to visit a lady who had an autistic girl a little older than me. I was attacked. She couldn't help it, but it was very traumatic.

A boy of 15 with autism can be very strong and difficult to control and quite terrifying for a young child of seven. While I agree that we should all learn to live with differences, I think it would be better for Martin's son to be spared the anxiety that he will surely experience on his weekends with his dad.

Monica By email

 

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia, I cannot believe I am writing with such a hackneyed problem but although I used to get on with my mother-in-law when I was first married, now I've had my first baby, I find her constant presence intrusive and irritating. Sometimes I could lose my temper completely. She's always around "trying to help" and sometimes I feel she's competing with me to be the mother of our baby. It's her first grandchild so I try to be understanding and I do love her, but I want to tell her to back off without upsetting her. How can I do it? Yours sincerely, Jo

What would you advise Jo 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)

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas