Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: disabled care

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Dear Virginia,

Three years ago I had a son who was so severely disabled that he now lives in residential care. He needs 24-hour nursing. I try to visit him every week, but my husband – from whom I've now split – refuses to go to see him. He says there's no point as our child doesn't recognise him, but I feel my son does know me, even if he can't necessarily show it. I wish I could convince my ex-husband he could play an important part in our child's life, despite everything. Do you have any ideas? Yours sincerely, Yasmin

It's maddening how, even after you've split up with a partner (realising that they think and behave in a completely different way from you, and finding that way of thinking and behaving extremely irritating), you often continue to be astonished that your ex-partner continues to act in the same incompatible way. Why do you think he would suddenly change into a compassionate, sensitive guy? He was, presumably, always out of sympathy with your views. He's not a "Let's visit our disabled son" sort of person. He never will be.

Now, while I am very touched by your persistence in continuing to see your son and maintaining some contact, and also feel your behaviour is creditable, I do have some sympathy with your husband's views. Perhaps he's right and there is no point in his going to see him. Perhaps his child doesn't recognise him. Who knows, perhaps your child doesn't recognise you, and you are subconsciously creating this emotional tie out of thin air, to suit a kind of guilt you feel about it all. Or perhaps you're absolutely right and he does recognise you, there is an emotional bond and were your husband to visit, he would discover this, too.

We'll never know which of you is right. What we do know, however, is that you want to visit your son and your husband doesn't. In the circumstances, since the evidence of whether there's a bond or not is so slim, I have to say I can't really condemn your husband.

It may be that he wants to put the whole thing behind him – marriage, sons, everything. After all, 50 per cent of fathers of children with whom they do undoubtedly have close relationships, don't see them again after a marriage fails. And by not seeing his son, with whom presumably there was never a bond in the first place, your husband isn't exactly behaving like a monster.

I wonder, really, how much this is about your son, Yasmin, and how much it is about you. I wonder whether this longing for your husband to visit your son is really a longing for him to keep in contact with you, not to let go completely. That reaction is totally understandable, and I'm certainly not one of the "let's draw a line under it and move on" brigade, but perhaps your husband is one of those people. There's not a lot you can do about it. That's how he copes, and although, I agree, it's not a very sympathetic method of behaviour, it's one that works very well for him.

Remember that his cutting off may not be sign of a shallow, selfish man, but, rather, the sign of a man who knows that once he started to face up to the reality of the situation would, simply, be overwhelmed and unable to cope.

In this situation nothing can change – except, of course, your attitude to your husband's feelings. More compassion might help. Or, simply acceptance of the status quo.



Prick his conscience

Your husband isn't going to respond to your pleas, even if they are made on bended knee – that's clear. He's finished with you and probably wants to pretend that his marriage and his son never really happened – a horrible, but all-too-common situation. Your only hope is to prick his conscience via a third party. This could be a mutual friend, but maybe the residential home could help. While you were lying low, why couldn't they drag him in on some pretext (real or imagined) as the only available next of kin. They could then confront him with the message that he might like to come a bit more often. Sadly, that may be your best hope.

Don Manley

Oxford



It's too painful for him

You carried your son for nine months and then had to care and look after him when he was born with severe disabilities. Although he now needs 24-hour nursing care, your bond with him is unbreakable. Both you and your son know that.

Your husband, however caring, would never have had such a closeness with him and it is quite possible that he does not experience any recognition from him. I'm sure he loves him but he just finds it too emotional and traumatic to visit his child. He probably feels, hurt, anger, rejection, sadness and loss whereas you only have unconditional love.

Your pain is helped by seeing your son but your husband's pain is intensified by the same experience. Your son is receiving the best possible care and is surrounded by love. He is not missing out. In time, I hope that your husband will be able to realise that by seeing his son occasionally it will help to ease his own pain and he will find some comfort in being part of his son's life again.

Anita Ashford

Norwich



Be optimistic

Don't push him. He may be feeling guilty that his poor baby is so disabled. Men feel these things keenly. It may be true that a mother's love goes on for ever, but there are many fathers who love deeply, too, and it could be that it distresses him to see his child.

Since you are not together, it is hard for you to think the best of his motives. But try to be optimistic. He may come round. He may have another wife one day who would be moved by the story and get him to go there, even if you cannot.

You are entitled to feel lonely. A disabled child can be a hard burden to bear and I sympathise with you totally. But you may not always be alone yourself. You could meet a marvellous man one day who would be happy to go with you. Please, please do not stop visiting.

Mrs J Starling

London

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I've just had my GCSE results, which are really bad. My parents want me to take them again, but I can't see the point.

I'm sure I can't do A-levels. I don't want to go to university, anyway. I don't know what I want to do when I leave school, but I like practical things and sport. I'm no good at academic stuff and I'm not interested. I'd rather get a job stacking shelves in a supermarket – at least I'd have some money then. How can I convince my parents it's pointless to try again?

Yours sincerely, Evan

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