Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: The baby blues


Dear Virginia, I'm a single mother and my baby is a year old. I love him, but I feel depressed and lonely. I'm exhausted after getting up in the night, and spending all day with him is really getting on my nerves. I don't drive and my parents live miles away. There is a mother and baby club nearby but I don't really like the other mums. What can I do? Yours sincerely, Angie





Virginia writes:

There can't be a single mother who doesn't identify with you. Mothers who live in busy housing estates, mothers surrounded by nannies, nurses and under-nurses, mothers who bung their tinies into creches the moment they pop out, mothers who have to fight off attentive grandparents day and night. Loneliness, depression, feelings of isolation and misery nearly always go with the job - at least for the first couple of years.

It really is a shame you haven't got a partner around to share some of the burden - and talking of partners, where is he? Couldn't he be persuaded to come over and do a day a week to give you a break? And if not, doesn't he have parents? Most grannies are gagging to have a turn, even if they've been initially disapproving. Or aren't there any lonely older women where you live? Ferret them out - your local church would probably be a good source of single older women - pop round for a cup of tea, and wait for them to beg if they could look after him one afternoon a week. I'm almost tempted to come over and help out myself, but I don't know where you live.

And what is all this nonsense about not liking the other mothers? You're not supposed to like them, you know, Angie. They're probably ghastly women who love the theatre, or, on the other end of the spectrum, have never read a book in their lives. Whether you find them intellectually sympathetic souls doesn't come into it. The questions to ask are: "Are they kind? Are they responsible? Are they well-disposed?" and if they are, just force yourself to find just one tiny point of contact, and then suggest a baby-swap.

Or start a mother-and-baby club of your own, in which you all meet in the park one afternoon a week. Put an ad in the paper outlining exactly what sort of other people you want to attend, and see if anyone turns up.

I remember as I wheeled my year-old son along the grey Shepherd's Bush streets of a Sunday (and all the rest of the days of the week actually, but Sundays were the worst) thinking whether it wouldn't be best for all concerned if I didn't just slit my wrists in the bath. I remember, too, everyone saying to me: "Oh, it won't last, you know! The years will just fly by! And you'll miss it all when he's older!" Although I felt like shoving their stupid witterings down their throats at the time, they were absolutely right. (Keeping a diary of your son's development might help, too. Then you can see how he has changed, even day by day.)

See your doctor to check you haven't got post-natal depression, haul your health visitor over and tell her how you feel, go and stay with your parents for a couple of weeks to give yourself a break, and slowly, as the days go by, and he starts to talk and become entertaining company, you'll wonder how you could have ever done without him. And if all this corny, predictable (but true) advice makes you want to make a model of me and stick pins into, then you're welcome. But only if it makes you feel better, of course.

Readers say:

Get a social life

I would recommend you search out your local Gingerbread group (Google it, or try your local citizens' advice centre). This is an organisation especially designed for single parents of all ages and kids of all ages. It's more about getting a social life for single parents than anything else. They help with activity days for kids and toddlers, group nights out for the parents and developing a friendly support network. I'm a single dad with three young kids, and without this I'd have gone mad a long time ago! There are also various online organisations like Parentsalready.com that do similar things but may charge, whereas Gingerbread is free.

Best advice I got: make sure you get out every day for an hour or two, even if it's just for a wander or window shopping. I know it's hard to get out the door with a one-year-old, but just seeing other adults will help your sanity no end!

Remember: you may be a single parent, but you're also single with a world full of single men to eat up! There's a lot of attached people would kill for that!

Paul Hennessey

Barnstaple

Help is at hand

You don't need to struggle alone. The charity Home-Start is there to offer you support and companionship. You have managed to bring up your lovely son by yourself so far but are getting more and more exhausted. Any mother would understand. You may want time to take a shower, do the ironing or have a well-earned rest. A Home-Start volunteer could look after the little one for you and give you time to recharge your batteries. You would be able to rely on a regular weekly visit and know that someone else is there to amuse the children, listen to your worries, share the good times and perhaps take you out when you have more energy.

Susan, by email

Take charge

You need to make some big changes. Your son is only a year old; you need to get your life on track before you start to resent him. Would it be possible to move closer to your parents or stay with them for a while? You would have their support and could try different mother-and-baby clubs.

Nothing will change unless you make it change. You must help yourself before anyone else can help you.

Joanne Bell

Bangor, Co Down

You need a nap

Being a mum is the toughest job in the world, and without any support it is extremely hard. I'm not surprised you feel depressed. Getting up in the night is leaving you overtired, and that will compound your feelings.

At a year, your baby should be sleeping through most nights. Does he wake for a feed? Maybe he needs to change his diet slightly to satisfy him for longer. Contact your health visitor for advice. She is there to support you, and will have lots of helpful tips, including how to overcome feeling lonely. She will also have a list of other mother-and-baby groups, so maybe there will be one to suit you. Talk to the other mums - you'll be surprised how many feel as you do, even those with family around.

In the meantime, when your baby has a sleep, join him! Chores can wait. It's a good chance to catch up on those missed hours.

Amanda Stone

Loughton, Essex

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

My wife and I are in the middle of a divorce, and she's employed these really ruthless, expensive lawyers. Whenever the two of us meet we get on fairly well, but the lawyers seem to be driving a rift between us. My wife says she'll change hers if I change mine - but mine is a family solicitor and very gentle compared to hers. He says he's never come across lawyers like hers before. What can I do?

Best wishes, David

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