Caroline West-Meads: ‘My family’s demands are making me ill’

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Q. After bringing up two children by myself and working full time, I finally moved in with my new spouse and have now retired. With the children off my hands, I thought I would have some time to relax – but they seem to need me more than ever. My son runs his own business and needs cover if his employees let him down. My daughter had a baby a few months ago and has just gone back to work – so I babysit some days until her partner comes home. My parents, who are in their 90s, also need help. However, my own health is not so good any more – I have heart and thyroid problems and diabetes. Plus my husband is much older than me. I am running round after everyone and am exhausted, but I don’t know how to say no. Please help.

A. You sound like such a good and kind person, but you don’t have to be a saint. Although it is understandable that you want to look after the people you love, you need to look after yourself as well – especially as your own wellbeing is suffering. I don’t want to scare you, but you could be putting your health at risk. Obviously, if anything were to happen to you, not only would your loved ones be devastated but they would have to fend for themselves anyway. Saying no can be difficult.

Your children might rely on you through habit – perhaps because you’ve been so competent for so many years raising them singlehandedly – but they may not realise the toll it is taking. So explain to them how tired and unwell you’ve been feeling, and ask what changes they can make so that they don’t have to rely on you as much. It can be tricky when parents are elderly because they often become anxious – and are sometimes resistant to help from anyone other than their own children. But when their children have other commitments it is not possible fully to meet the parents’ needs. Talk to them and explain your situation. Tell them that, though you wish you could help more, you’re not well and that they need to let others give them support too.

If you can afford carers for an hour or two a day, that is one way of lifting your burden. There are also many charities such as or that provide volunteer befriending services. Please contact for advice and support. They can advise you on claiming Attendance Allowance or Carer’s Allowance, which would help to fund additional care. They will also help you see that you have no need to feel guilty about delegating some of the care. Clearly, your family all need help, but that doesn’t mean that you always have to be the one to provide it. See your GP if you’re struggling. With so much on your plate, it wouldn’t be surprising if you were suffering from anxiety or depression – and you might need support for that. You could also contact for help.

‘I’m infuriated by his snide comments’

Q. I am in my late 40s and got married for the second time four years ago. I don’t have children but I get on well with my husband’s teenagers. (I was not the reason his first marriage ended.) However, one of my husband’s male friends doesn’t accept me. He is never outrightly rude, but when we meet up with his wife he makes snide remarks about me being young (they are only in their mid-50s) and implies I’m naive. My husband says to ignore his friend and that, though he can be a pain, he’s OK really. I’ve tried that, but the sniping still bugs me. I overheard him asking my stepchildren, ‘How is your lovely mother?’ which I felt was pointed. Should I tell my husband that I don’t want to meet as couples with his friend any more?

A. His friend may be older but he’s not very mature, is he? This is a bit like playground bullying – I wonder what’s behind it. It could be jealousy of his friend having a younger, attractive wife, or perhaps he feels protective of your husband’s first wife (even though you didn’t break up their marriage). You could tell your husband that you don’t want to see them, but he might resent this. However, he does need to listen to how you feel.

Your husband could have a word with his friend and ask him to stop because he is making you uncomfortable. Though his friend doesn’t sound sensitive enough to take any notice. Or you could play this man at his own game and tease him about being old and creaky-kneed. If he sees that you give as good as you get, he may back down. Ultimately, he’s not important – what matters is that you get on well with your stepchildren.

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