Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas


I'm just about to go off on a gap year before I start my studies at university, but I'm really worried. My mum and dad have always smoked dope in the evenings occasionally, even though I've never liked it much. But Mum told me last week that Dad is hooked on cocaine, and she's worried sick. He's spending too much money and he's getting paranoid, even though he still works at the ad agency he's always worked at. I feel I can't leave Mum alone but so want to get away. Should I go? What can I do? Yours sincerely, Georgie

Virginia says... What a particularly nasty time for this to happen! Just at the very time you need, like a young bird, to be testing your wings and making your first awkward flappings out of the nest, your squawking mum is doing everything in her power to hold you back. It's not fair. It's exciting, I know, going on a gap year, but it's daunting as well and I'm sure there's a bit of you that feels that actually you'd be safer staying at home – as well as feeling responsible for your parents.

But the truth is that as you have to learn to live on your own in future, so, too, do your parents. If they're old hands at dope-smoking, they obviously move in circles in which drugs aren't exactly unknown. I'm sure your mother must have had suspicions that your Dad was into coke for a while. It's not as if they're a completely naïve pair who've suddenly been struck by this terrible affliction: addiction. Almost certainly they know people who've been in rehab, or 12-step groups. They can't be strangers to this risky world.

You, on the other hand, are a stranger to it. You've never been very keen on the scene. Why should you, by staying at home, get sucked into a no-hope world of trying to help an addict, trying to help your mother, and nurture your own feelings of guilt and helplessness? You can already see how you've been affected by your father's addiction. You're feeling guilty at the idea of going away. Cocaine has got to you, too, in its insidious way, and is trying to drag you into its creepy sphere of influence.

If your mother wants help, she can find it from her friends and contemporaries. She can join Nar-Anon, set up specially for the families and friend of people addicted to drugs. They'll give her brilliant coping skills that will help her remain sane while living with an addict. But there's no need for you to have to learn such skills as well. With any luck you will stay free of the world of addicts and never have to learn to become free of them.

Try to see your mother's emotional blackmail as the cocaine speaking, not her. Resolve to say "no" to it, and leave. This will, in the end, be the best for you, but also for your parents. They need to find a way to live by themselves, not to depend on you as a kind of carer at a time when you should be getting out and exploring the world on your own.

Readers say...

Go and enjoy life

Just as parents have to learn to let go of their children, so children have to learn to leave their parents to deal with their own problems, especially while they are behaving irresponsibly. It's when they are older that they may really need you.

It's tough for your mum, but why is it only now, when you are preparing for your gap year, that she has told you about your dad's extension of their drug habit? Go out into the world and enjoy your own life while you can!


By email

They must let go

I have two children, both now in their twenties, and was tempted to do anything to keep them close when they announced their intention to go travelling. For a mother to see her children grow and go is agonising, but it's part of her job to give them wings and let them fly, no matter what difficulties she is facing in her own life. Fly the nest and send her emails often. It's your time now and you'll return full of the wisdom independence and experience brings. She'll be as proud of you as I am of mine and she'll manage your Dad!


By email


Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia, We've been invited to a no-kids wedding abroad at the end of the school holidays. We thought we'd extend it and have a week's break. My parents would be delighted to have our two kids – aged three and five – to stay in the country, and we were booking our flights when a friend – another mum – said it would be a really bad idea to leave two children so young for so long. My husband says it's ridiculous but I'm not so sure. I suddenly remember how anxious I became when my parents left me in a similar situation when I was small. What do you think? Yours sincerely, Jen

What would you advise Jen to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (

Virginia Ironside's one woman show, 'Growing Old Disgracefully', will be at the Gilded Balloon at the Edinburgh Festival

ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

    SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before