Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: school blues

Dear Virginia,

I'm a single parent and my daughter has started "big" school. She loves it and I'm so pleased for her, but I'm getting really low and depressed at home on my own with nothing to do. I can't see much point to my life. The only way out, I feel, would be to have another baby – but I can't go on doing that for the rest of my life. Do you have any ideas? I can't get a full-time job because I want to be there for my daughter after school and in the holidays. Yours sincerely, Mary

You can't go on having babies every five years simply to satisfy what is, basically, a selfish urge. Particularly if you're having them without a stable family unit in which to raise them. And I can't emphasise enough that to get pregnant again would be a selfish move. You'd be bringing someone into the world with a mother who had no emotional existence except the act of nurturing, and with no father to provide not only extra love, but also a raft of his own relatives to love it, too.

As for your poor daughter – how would she feel when she found that the moment she appeared even halfway grown-up, and able to go to school, her place was taken at home by a tiny rival, too young for her to be able to play with happily or relate to as an equal? Having a baby in the house might entertain her for a while, but she'd soon get resentful when the baby started taking up all your time, particularly if she's used to having you all to herself. This would be a situation when she'd particularly miss not having a father, another parent she could get love and affection from while you were busy with the new little person. And don't underestimate how much your daughter still needs you. She may be at school, but she'll always need her mum around, even, actually, when she's an adult.

It seems to me that, like a lot of single mums, you're someone who needs a lot of nurturing. And it's only by caring for someone else that you are able to feel looked after yourself. What I mean is that, failing to have someone around to look after you, you settle for turning yourself into a carer. True, there's no one looking after you, but at least by nurturing someone else, there is a carer in your home. And while there's an act of caring going on in your home, you get a whiff of it yourself, albeit you are the one who's giving the care. It's like making a fire and giving a meal to a cold and hungry man. While making things comfortable for him, you also get a ray of warmth from the fire, and share in his supper.

Why not, rather than repeating patterns by having babies every five years, try to get a job at your daughter's school? That way you'll be free to see her during holidays and afternoons, but at the same time you'll be able to put your maternal skills to good use with other people's children. There are always several children who desperately need the love and attention they don't get at home.

You've got a lot to give. Don't create someone to give it to, but give it to those who are already in need.

Acknowledge your loss

The first thing to do is to acknowledge that you have suffered a serious loss. After five years of the closest-possible everyday bond with your daughter, things have changed and she now experiences a large part of her day with other people. Where once you could say with confidence "that's a word she doesn't know", now you can't be sure. These are all positive things for your daughter, but it is hard to see when you feel so lonely and bereft. What is worse, "empty nest syndrome", whether at the start of school or when your children leave home, is virtually a taboo subject.

Yet grieving that loss is not a crime. On the contrary, by acknowledging your loss, by allowing yourself to grieve (with or without the help of a friend or a counsellor), you will feel more in touch with reality, healthier, happier, and more relaxed and "ordinary" when your daughter comes home.

Jenny Backwell


Volunteer at school

Why don't you volunteer as a helper at your daughter's school? When my son first started school I began by going in one morning a week to help the children change into their PE kit. By the time he left junior school, among other things, I was helping teachers by photocopying work sheets, mending books, helping set up displays of the children's work and assisting children in selecting books in the school library. I was one of several helpers at the school, and other mothers were involved in a variety of activities including cookery and swimming lessons.

We formed the core of people who worked at the school summer and Christmas fêtes, and I believe we all benefited from helping. We were often asked to accompany children on school outings – the ratio of helpers to children is quite high at infant level – and these were always enjoyable. You may find, as I did, that when I did return to work the school was happy to give me a reference and there was something positive I could include in my CV.

Kay Nisbet

Cirencester, by email

Apply for a job

From your letter it is clear that you have a lovely and developed child, who is obviously enjoying school. Since you still want to be there for your daughter after school and during school holidays, have you considered applying for a job as a teaching assistant at one of your local schools or even as a parent volunteer? You will be working hours that suit you, and from your letter there is a strong suggestion that you are talented with children.

Alternatively you could look into courses at your local college for teaching qualifications. Many of these classes run during school hours, so you would be there for your daughter but also improving yourself, which sets a fantastic example to her. Hope this helps.


By email

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I am 58, recently divorced, and the father of three lovely teenage children. I see the kids every week or two, but increasingly they're preoccupied with their own lives. I want to emigrate to New Zealand but I am finding it difficult to decide how to balance my personal objectives with my love for, and involvement with, the children. If I stayed here for another three years, the youngest boy would be 15 – but I'd be in my 60s. If I went, I'd be able to see them about six times a year and have phone calls and Skype and email in between. What do you think?

Best, Colin

What would you advise Colin to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to, or go to Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a Belgian Chocolate Selection by Amelie Chocolat (

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