Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: parenting
Tuesday 21 September 2010
I am 58, recently divorced, and the father of three teenagers. I see them every week or two but they're becoming preoccupied with their own lives. I want to move to New Zealand but I can't decide how to balance my personal objectives with my love for the children. If I waited three years the youngest boy would be 15 – but I'd be in my sixties. If I went, I'd see them about six times a year and Skype and email in between. What do you think? Yours sincerely, Colin
You don't say how your children reacted to the divorce, but I think to have the blow of their parents splitting up followed by their father vanishing off to the other side of the world would affect them a great deal more than you might think. Most children feel that a divorce is somehow "their fault", whatever age they are. But even if your children convince themselves that you left entirely because of incompatibility with their mum rather than because of something they'd done, they will find it hard to feel convinced that your leaving the very country they live in isn't a sign that you don't care, even if they don't think you hate them.
Initially I thought about advising you to consult the children about this move, but then I decided against it. After all, the fact that you're even considering it is quite a blow in itself. And, to be honest, what are they going to say if you do ask them? They're not going to insist you stay. Even if, having broached the subject, you decided to stay, they'd still feel guilty every time they chose to go out with their friends rather than see you, thinking: "Oh, poor old dad, he could be in New Zealand – I should be seeing him." And anyway, they're too young – or the youngest is at least – to have any idea of what impact your leaving might have on them. I would have thought for a boy of 12, having a father around until he was 18 at least would be something incredibly important.
Of course you may feel that they don't think of you, they're busy with their own friends, you play an increasingly small part in their lives, but remember, you're an important part of their background scenery. OK, you may not be consciously aware, every day, of the mountain that you see out of your window, but if it disappeared you'd be in for a terrific shock. The light would change, the sound around you would change, the whole ecology of your area would change. You would only notice it by its absence.
The very fact that you ask for advice on this means that deep down you know your departure would have an effect on your kids. They may be starting to leave the nest, but they can't leave a nest unless there's a nest to leave, and that nest consists of two parents, you and their mother.
The teenage years are a time when children are changing all their perceptions of the outside world. Things that happen in relation to their parents during this time can affect them hugely. Think, for instance, of how angry even children in their twenties can become when a parent marries again. I'd put aside all plans of moving for the moment.
They need their father
You say your children are preoccupied with their own lives. Any parent of teenagers will tell you that children of this age, while getting more and more independent, still need their parents. They may not need them in the same way they did when they were toddlers – but just hovering around in the background, ready to to be adviser, punchball or whatever. Your youngest son is only 12! He's on the brink of big changes. Surely he needs his father now more than ever. Contact by phone or computer is no substitute for just spending time together.
I think that if you go, you will be removing yourself from their lives. Your "six times a year" sounds wildly overoptimistic. New Zealand is on the other side of the world, and unless you have a job that brings you back to the UK that many times a year, it's unlikely you'll see your children as much as you think. They'll have friends and interests you know little about, and you'll only get the big news, missing out on the boring stuff that people who are intimate share.
Seize this chance
The world is a very small place these days and very often the further you are away from someone the more contact you have with them. Wherever you are, your children will be able to see you and have contact with you. They are growing up and leading their own lives. You now have the chance to make another and hopefully better life for yourself in a beautiful country. Do not feel guilty. Discuss the situation with them. Although they will miss you being close by, I think the possible advantages that could result out of your move could benefit all concerned. Any tensions resulting from your recent divorce will disappear. Very soon, I think, you will be hearing those words: "Dad, can I come and stay?" Good luck.
Stay close to them
I'm a divorced mother with children around the same age as yours. Their father has a busy life and is often away for work. Often, they don't get on with him very well and sometimes they don't want to see him. But he is still their father and they love him – though they may not always show it – and he loves them. He relates to them in a different way from me and, as a father, gives them something I can't.
If he were to ask what they thought about him moving to New Zealand, they would probably shrug and say it sounded fine. But it would not be fine. They would be missing out and so would he. I urge you not to take this relationship for granted. Don't go.
Name and address supplied
Next week's dilemma...
I feel I'm in a trap. Our son, who is 11, has been very rude to his father for the last few weeks and eventually, in a fit of temper, his father said that as a punishment we wouldn't be going to Austria for Christmas this year. My mother lives over there on a farm, and we all look forward to wonderful Christmases there each year. All of the grandparents are devastated because we only see them twice a year, and my son is so disappointed, and so am I. How can I persuade my husband that this punishment will affect all of us, and that he should simply drop it? He hates to lose face.
Yours sincerely, Annaliese
What would you advise Anneliese to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to independent.co.uk/dilemmas. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucer from the wine website Naked Wines( Nakedwines.com)
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