Virginia Ironside's dilemmas: I'm worried about my son's childless relationship with an older woman

It’s too late for them to have children, but it’s not too late for him to have children by another woman.

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

My son’s been living with a much older woman for many years. It’s too late for them to have children, but it’s not too late for him to have children by another woman. I absolutely crave grandchildren, not just for myself but because I’m sure he’ll be sad later to find himself childless and saddled with an invalid. How can I tell him that, although I really like his girlfriend, I think the long-term consequences of this relationship will be very sad for him and that he should now move on before he becomes an irreplaceable prop in her health and mobility?

Yours sincerely, Sheila

Virginia says,

Your letter reminds me of a friend who said to me once that he wasn’t going to mention the anniversary of a mutual friend’s son’s suicide, and sympathise with her, because he didn’t want to remind her of what happened. I felt like screaming “are you mad?” Did he really imagine that she wouldn’t be all too conscious of the date herself? As if she would forget a day like this and then, suddenly reminded of it by someone, be plunged in gloom?

Similarly, I feel like saying to you, Sheila: “Do you really believe your son hasn’t thought about this? Isn’t he all too conscious of the childless nature of his relationship? Don’t you think it’s dawned on him that, being so much older, this woman might suffer health problems relating to old age before he does?” I mean, do you really think that when you point all this out to him, he’s honestly going to say: “Golly, Mum, thanks a lot for mentioning this. You know, I never thought that she might get ill and I’d have to look after her. And now you come to say it, I realise I might well miss having children at a later stage in my life. Thank goodness you reminded me! I’ll leave her tomorrow.”

If you’ll excuse my saying, all you’re doing is pointing out the bleedin’ obvious.  And what you haven’t considered, because clearly you’re none too imaginative, or, perhaps, so driven by longing for grandchildren that you’re deliberately blind to them, are the less obvious aspects of this relationship. Perhaps your son is truly in love with this woman. He’s had numerous affairs with younger women in the past and now he’s found someone who he feels is his soul-mate. She makes him feel loved and at home. They’ve been able to live happily and in harmony for years. And for heaven’s sake, even you like her. She must be a bit special.

Perhaps he realises that it may well be he who will suffer some kind of illness or ageing before her. Men tend to die before women, and it’s by no means certain that she’ll be the first to crumble. And anyway, perhaps he’s looking forward to caring for her when she gets less capable. Maybe this is the sort of relationship he likes – being nurtured and then nurturing in turn.

Of course you’ll be sad if you don’t have grandchildren – and unless you have other children who might deliver the goods, it may be one of those sad losses in your life that you just have to face up to. Nearly everyone bears losses of some kind or another, and many are a great deal worse than not having grandchildren, painful as it will be. If only it could be enough for you that your son loves and is loved, and has found stability and comfort with a lovely woman whose company you enjoy so much. 

Readers say...

Be happy for your son

Back in the 1950s, I had two maiden aunts, then in their fifties. When one of them married a man who was 20 years younger, most of the family disapproved. But the couple adored each other, and their marriage flourished for nearly 30 years. Then my aunt woke up one morning and found that her husband (who had a heart problem) had died during the night. He was 62. Four years later, she died in a care home, utterly bereft and suffering a particularly painful form of cancer. So, what would I advise Sheila to do? Accept that she won’t be a grandmother, be happy for her son,  and stop worrying about a future that may never happen.

Brenda, by email

He has made his choice

May I remind you that your son does not exist to fulfill your desires, however much you would like to have grandchildren. He is an adult who has made his own choice of partner. There is no guarantee that someone younger would want children, or that she would be able to conceive. What makes you so sure he will end up with an invalid on his hands later on? I am an older woman who married a younger man and I can assure you that the opposite could very well occur, as it did in our case. I nursed my younger husband through cancer until his untimely death a few weeks ago. Look around you at the many broken relationships and be grateful that your son and his partner are happy together. Enjoy what you have and stop hankering after things beyond your control.

Melody, by email

Keep your worries to yourself

I’d worry that, if you tried to tell your son any such thing, there would only be one older woman he feels he doesn’t need in his life, and it wouldn’t be the one he lives with. Has it occurred to you that he may be the one who doesn’t want children? She may simply be the love of his life and they feel the two of them are enough for each other. So many people struggle to find happiness – please just try to be grateful your son is happy with someone he loves and who loves him. If you feel you must raise the subject, you could maybe say that they are truly wonderful people with such a lot to offer, had they considered adopting? But other than that, it would be very risky to intervene.

Karen King, by email

Next week’s dilemma

I’m having treatment for cancer and as I’m feeling very weak and low, a friend very kindly comes and helps me a couple of hours a week. The problem is that she insists on doing everything her way. She’s rearranged my cupboards, buys cleaning products I don’t like, such as bleach and caustic soda, plays loud music, and when she mowed the lawn and I asked her to keep parts of it long, she snapped: “Who’s mowing this lawn, you or me?” I almost dread her coming now, and think I’d rather live in squalor until I’m better. She thinks she’s being helpful, so how can I get her to stop coming? I feel so ungrateful.

Yours sincerely, Elena

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