Dear Virginia,

My daughter, who's a lovely girl, got pregnant at 17. She refused to have an abortion – she didn't know who the father was – and we helped bring up our granddaughter, now 20. My daughter's pregnant again, by accident, and wants to bring up the baby herself. But we know my daughter's incapable of being a good mother and the burden will fall on us again. We were hoping for some free time at last while we're still young enough to enjoy it. What can we do? Yours sincerely, Paul

Obviously your first move, if it's not too late, is to beg and plead with your daughter to have an abortion. Get your granddaughter on your side, if you can, not to mention every single friend of hers who agrees with you. Now is the time to put pressure on her big-time. You know the arguments – not fair on the baby to bring it up without a father, you'll have very little to do with it because you're planning a world trip, she'll be old by the time it's a teenager, not fair on the present daughter who'll feel dreadfully jealous to find her mother has time for this baby but had no time for her, frightfully expensive ... etc etc.

But rather than just be completely negative about all this, you could look on the positive side of her remaining child-free at the moment. You might point out, too, that pretty soon, no doubt, your grand-daughter will be pregnant and where will her mum be when she needs her? Her mum will be aching with lack of sleep and exhausted with nappy-changing. I'd suggest this to her: why not wait to prove her good mothering in the grandparenting role, rather than start the whole cycle again? This way she can be a good mother to her own daughter, by helping out, and be a kind of mum to her grandchild, by being around when she's needed.

I bet she won't have thought of this. Lay it on thick, and if necessary, offer to pay for a quick private abortion. It'll be money well spent in the long term.

But let's say it's too late – or that she still refuses. What are you to do then? You have two options. One is to let her muddle through on her own. You never know – she might prove a better mum than you think. At least this time she has a vague idea of what to expect when it comes to parenting. True, it might all be a ghastly muddle and mess – but it might, as they say, be "the making of her". Who knows, she might even dragoon her poor adult daughter into helping her now and again. Whatever, you may feel you can wash your hands of her and the baby, and indulge in the retirement that you feel you deserve.

The other option which, clearly, is the right option, is to put aside your plans for a treat now you're older and prepare yourself for the treat – if an exhausting treat – of spending at least part of your time bringing up another little person. Sometimes we have to do the right and selfless thing, not the nice and selfish thing, and after all, bringing up a child is not like languishing in solitary on bread and water. The process will bring, inevitably, exhaustion and many tears. But there should also be new joys round the corner, even if they aren't the ones you've been banking on.

Stop being judgmental

Your opening phrase, in which you describe your daughter as "a lovely girl" is telling. She is a grown woman rapidly approaching her 40s! Doubtless, she has learned a great deal from her life experiences, not least from the "mistake" of being pregnant at 17. Equally the word "lovely" does intimate to me that she is a drug- or drink-addled individual, living on the fringes of society. Hence, I would question why you are so quick to determine your daughter "incapable of being a good mother." She may well struggle; bringing up a child as a single parent is never easy, but with your help and perhaps guidance from the local children's centre, she should be allowed the opportunity to become a good mother. Please try to be less judgmental and more supportive; your relationship with your daughter can only strengthen.

Julia Childs

by email

Your support is vital

You obviously are very committed to your daughter and have clearly taken your role as a father and grandfather extremely seriously. Your daughter must be around 37 now and yet you persist in calling her "a lovely girl".

It's time to listen to what you both want. Your daughter is no longer a girl and you have a right to "some free time at last". There are more ways of being supportive than taking on the burden of raising a child. Let your daughter explain clearly what she wants to do, then support her in making this a success – not by taking on the child rearing but by offering your support and wisdom, a shoulder to cry on and a cheer when she succeeds.

The key lies in your encouragement and praise, however small the success.

Bronia Gardner

by email

It is about choices

I loved my grandparents very much, but my grandmother, who had raised five children, always made it clear that although she liked us to visit and she loved to visit us, she was not prepared to look after my brother or myself at any time. She had done her bit. She was an amazing, funny and unique person and I had a great respect for her and her choices.

You too have choices. You chose to support your daughter and I'm sure, made many sacrifices for her. She chose to have her baby and to deny her daughter any idea of who her father might be. Her first pregnancy might have been an accident, but 20 years on, I'm sure she knows what she's doing and hopefully the father, this time, will have some involvement. What constitutes a good mother as opposed to a bad mother is a matter of opinion. She has decided to raise this child herself. It's her choice.

Your choice should be to let her get on with it and make it clear that you cannot give the same support this time. You never know, she might surprise you, and your new grandchild, I'm sure, will love you as much as your first.

Anita Ashford



Dear Virginia,

Six months ago, my wife had our second baby – we already have a two-year-old. I adore them both and love my wife, yet I feel so trapped. My wife is a brilliant mother but though I try to do my bit with the children, she doesn't seem to need me or even show much interest in me or my job which is, at the moment, fairly precarious. I feel I am redundant at home and possibly going to be redundant at work soon enough. My life feels empty and I feel that, at 34, the best is already over. What can I do?

Yours sincerely, Tom