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Virginia Ironside’s Dilemmas: I miss my children so much

Dear Virginia,

When my wife fell for another man, life became so intolerable I had to move out. But although I see my children, aged five and six, for one day at the weekends, the separation from them is unbearable. I cry every day and miss them so much. My wife's a good mother and I don't want to upset the children's routine, which seems to work well for them. But how can I overcome this terrible emptiness I feel? If it wouldn't harm the children, I'd kill myself.

Yours sincerely, Rick

You have two problems here, Rick, both almost unbearable. First, you are suffering the terrible grief you feel from missing your children. Second, you are having to make the tremendous and admirable effort of putting up a good front for the kids when you do see them, and selflessly suffering, even though you can see an easy way out, because you know that suicide would make things worse for them. You are not only grieving, but denying yourself the one thing that would relieve you of suffering, through your love for them.

These feelings combined are almost worthy of a Greek tragedy. And you are, it seems, suffering entirely on your own. This is a time when you need to talk to friends, and talk and talk and talk, until you almost bore yourself with the topic, until you are quite cried out. You will never get over the pain, but you might be able to ease it by sharing it.

I wonder if seeing your suffering as a way of being a good father, as a kind of exemplary parenting, might help you find some point in it? If you were to put these children out of your life, it might be easier for you, but what a devastating effect it would have on them. If you were to break down and weep every time you saw them, again, how wretched that would make them feel. If you were to apply for more access, it would cause, almost certainly, more trouble with your children's mother, and, as you say, their routine seems to suit them very well. More access might suit you, but it might not suit them.

In other words, someone's got to suffer, and rather than letting your kids suffer, you are taking the burden from them, in a near-heroic way. Don't diminish your courage and your nobility.

Finally, I wonder if you experienced feelings of any childhood separation yourself, or perhaps alienation from your father, that might have been rekindled by this situation? If so, it could account for the severity of your feelings. Many fathers miss their children desperately when faced with the same situation. Not many feel like killing themselves.

Not only would seeing a counsellor give you a chance just to unload your misery onto someone sympathetic, but it might uncover something in your past that makes this ghastly situation even more unbearable than it already must be. Whatever, you must see your doctor. I'm not saying antidepressants will work, but trying them might well help you pass the time until the raw agony of this separation starts, slightly, to heal.

Readers say...

Establish a routine

If you have not already, find a place to live with an extra bedroom for your children. Then either pick them up from school yourself, or use an after-school club/after-school carer. If that is not possible, agree with your wife that you will collect them from her and put them to bed at your home, taking them to school the next day. Do this a couple of days a week, and have them over at weekends, too.

You do not mention divorce, but if you follow that route, you are almost certain to have more time with them than at present. You are struggling emotionally and need help – your GP or Relate are good places to start.

Kate, By email

Face facts and move on

The same thing happened to me. It hurt, but I soon found my relationship with my boys was, if anything, stronger, because of the more-focused importance of the limited time I had with them. Someone told me it would take five years to get over and they were pretty much spot-on. Accept that and move on. I am now remarried, happier than ever and have a great relationship with my sons.

Alan, By email


Don't worry, be happy

Rick, stop wallowing in your situation. Your children are coping and you see them regularly. As for wishing you could kill yourself – people, like me, who did in childhood lose a parent to suicide, boil with exaggerated fury at such irresponsible talk.

Brace up, try to enjoy the freedom this arrangement gives you, and stop being a misery six days out of seven! Those times can be very precious and important – for your children. You're in danger of spoiling that.

Name and address supplied


Stand up for yourself

Your wife cheated on you, yet you moved out, and you barely see your kids. Stop being such a doormat! You need to get real, get mediation and get legal advice. For your children's sake, for your equal rights as a father and for your own self-respect, you've got to make a stand.

Christina Burton, St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex