When our children left home, although I loved them I was secretly relieved. My wife's life revolved around them, and though I knew she was a marvellous mother, I always felt second best. Now our daughter, who's 23, has announced she's coming home for a while, because she's out of a job and though my wife's overjoyed, I feel very depressed. For the last year my wife and I have had a wonderful time - it's been like falling in love all over again. Now I fear I'll be completely sidelined. I dread retreating to my office while 'the girls' take over. What can I do? Yours sincerely, Michael
Virginia says... It occurred to me once, when finding myself in a Groundhog Day situation, and bemoaning the fact that "here I was again" and everything was ghastly, that actually we are never in the same place as we were last time. Not exactly the same, anyway. Each time you look out of the same window the view is different. Time changes everything.
The last time your daughter lived at home was, I imagine, a while ago. Perhaps it was before university, when she'd have been far younger. It was certainly pre-job. Things will have changed. Even if your wife is longing to play "us girls together", your daughter won't be quite so willing as she used to be, I'm sure. She'll want to go out and have her own friends, not sit around watching telly in her nightie eating ice cream with her mum every night. Or whatever it was she used to do.
You say that life with your wife has been like falling in love all over again. Your wife will have changed, too, since last time this scene was acted out. Surely she'll miss the lovely times you had together so recently? And you – will you really be so ready to "retreat into your office", as you say? Mightn't you find you have a voice at least to put your point of view?
When a child is 18, it's understandable a mum wants to fuss around them before they fly the nest. It can actually feel fulfilling, cooking and washing for a child to make them feel as loved as possible. At 23 it's different. Your isn't a child any more. Not much fun doing the chores for an adult.
First, do please confide in your wife about how you feel. Explain that while you felt a bit left out before, you were prepared to put up with the situation because you understood it. But now things are different. And you don't want to feel like some kind of spare part in your house this time around. Your wife can hardly be upset if you're honest with her. She might, in fact, feel flattered. She might be so pre-occupied with her own feelings of excitement about having her daughter back, that she's actually forgotten about yours.
Last time, it was fine to feel, as you say, "second best". It's what parents have to feel when children are around. But when they're adult it's different. Not terribly different, but enough, surely, to mean you don't have to endure a replay of those old unhappy feelings this time around.
Don't be selfish
You sound a very selfish father. Don't you know that you are a parent to your children till the day you die? They don't just grow up leave home and are suddenly off your hands. My children left home to live in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. I only see them once a year and the grandchildren barely know me. What I wouldn't give for one of them to return for a while. Count your blessings – your daughter will be off all too soon, I'm afraid. And then you can continue your new "love affair" with your wife.
As someone who still has a house full of teenagers – three boys – I find it rather touching to hear about your new-found romance with your wife now that you're enjoying an empty nest. But I think what you're missing here is that it wasn't just her who changed after your children left home, but you as well. You seem to have seized your chance and got to know your wife as a partner again. It takes two, after all. So my best advice is to continue to woo her and keep the romance alive.
Next week's dilemma
Dear Virginia, I married a year ago, and had misgivings even as we walked up the aisle. We managed to have sex on our honeymoon, but though we'd had a reasonable sex life before we got married – I never fancied her particularly – I soon found it impossible to make love to my wife. She wants children and has suggested that we try artificial insemination by husband, but I don't know. I'm fond of her, and we get on well. But I don't love her or find her attractive. I feel so bad about getting married. It's not really bad enough to get divorced. What can I do? Yours sincerely, Greg
What would you advise Greg to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (finewine sellers.co.uk)
Virginia Ironside's one-woman show, 'Growing Old Disgracefully', will be at the Gilded Balloon at the Edinburgh Festival