Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas


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Dear Virginia, I know my grandmother preferred my older sibling, and it always hurt. I now have two lovely grandchildren of my own, and my love for the younger is far greater than the love for the elder. I can't help it. Recently I said, with mocking self-pity, to the older one, who's four: "Oh, nobody loves me!" and she said: "Well, Nadia [her younger sister] does!" Poor little soul. I try so hard not to let it show. Do you think it will damage the older one as I feel my own grandmother's preference damaged me? Best wishes, Trish

Virginia says... When confronted by children suffering in any way at all, I always try to put myself in their shoes. Most people with an ounce of compassion do this. But all too often, I find that it's not actually their shoes I'm putting myself in at all. It is my own shoes. So if I see a child crying after being punished, my knee-jerk reaction is that they must feel completely unwanted, their parents give them no love, and that they're destined to become a social outcast, their life for ever blighted by feelings of lack of self-worth.

My heart bleeds for them, and sometimes the memory of their tears haunts me for weeks.

But my interpretation could be wrong. They could be one of those children who, after a few tears, are capable of leaping back into the fray with a hop and a skip and a carefree laugh. It could be this punishment is a very rare occurrence which has taught them a good lesson. It could be that they know, deep down, that the punisher means it only for a few moments, and the tears are an automatic, brief and oft-repeated reaction.

Your problem is not that you're oversensitive. It's that you are wrongly sensitive. When you hear your granddaughter explaining, perfectly logically, that Nadia loves you, you immediately assume that she's experiencing the same feeling of rejection as you felt all those years ago.

Could it not be that this child loves you too, but finds it hard to say the words 'I love you' and has to express her affection through a third party? Or perhaps she takes it for granted that you know she loves you, and therefore adds Nadia to your list of admirers to bolster your confidence? Could it not be that perhaps this older granddaughter actually doesn't love you as much as Nadia does, but is too polite to say so? Maybe she's perfectly aware that you and she don't gel as you do with the younger girl, and she's fine about it.

If you're certain your older granddaughter is feeling second best (and you're not imposing your own feelings on to her), then play the old trick and act 'as if'. Tell her you love her. Do special things with her that you don't do with the younger girl. Hatch up a few secrets that are just 'you and her'. The very act of your trying to balance out the love will be evidence enough of how much you care about her and her feelings. Which, of course, you do.

The very fact that you have written to me shows that, loud and clear.

Readers say…

Don’t let it show

There are two obvious solutions. The first is not to let your preference show. Take care not to show favour and to praise the elder child when she has done something good.

Second, your relationship with your granddaughters is an ongoing process. The relationship you have with both will depend a lot on how you treat them and on their own personalities.

You cannot help the way you feel but you can control the way you handle it.

Helen Nicholls By email

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Favouritism is a pernicious thing and very difficult to disguise. I just 'click' with my younger in a way I can't with my elder. Luckily my husband seems to prefer the other so it works out fairly.

Do you have a husband – their grandfather – who could strike up a close relationship with the elder grandchild to 'make up' for your lack of love? Or perhaps there's another granny who prefers her? It is difficult to love equally, whatever anyone says.

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Next week’s dilemma

Dear Virginia, I suffer from a social phobia. I am afraid to drink and eat in public, because I am afraid that my hands will shake. I worry it will be noticed and I will feel humiliated and people will not consider me a serious person and, worse, not a real man. This problem basically excludes me from one of the largest and best parts of social life. I've consulted many therapists and a CBT counsellor, but it still persists. What would you advise, apart from not staying at home, because I already know that but I can’t overcome it? Yours sincerely, Guy

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