I live with my teenage children and my mum, who had to move in because of ill health, having lost my dad a few years ago. My divorce goes through next week – I’ve been separated for a year – and I have a new partner who I met at work. Working full-time means I’m juggling home and family life. It’s a constant cycle, as many people will know.

I like to spend time with my partner at his place, as it’s much quieter, but I feel guilty because I know I have stuff to do at home. My mum helps out where she can but is quite overbearing and tries to take over, which my kids rebel against.

I struggle for money because I try to please everybody – the kids want to go on holiday and there is always something fashionable they want me to buy. My new partner doesn’t ask me for anything financially or emotionally, and I feel like he gets left out time– and attention-wise a lot. However, he doesn’t offer to come to mine as he doesn’t like the noise and hustle and bustle. My ex calls round occasionally to take our youngest child out – she is early teens and has autism so doesn’t like being away from home, or me, for very long.

I feel I don’t divide my time equally between any of the components of my life. When I’m at work I have my work hat on, but don’t have time to work at home on weekends, even though I am probably expected to (other colleagues stay up till midnight catching up). I’m constantly swimming against the tide. The only “me time” I have, to think and just breathe, is driving to work.

I went to UKCP-registered family and couples psychotherapist Nicola McCarry, and when we sat down to discuss your problem it was clear you have a lot going on: your dad died, your mum is ill and has moved in with you, you’re divorcing your husband/your children’s father, and there’s a new partner in the mix. Plus you work full-time and have two teenagers. That’s really quite a lot for all of you, but I’m particularly mindful of your children. It’s been, as McCarry pointed out, “a whole restructuring of the family”.

When we are in a situation that makes us emotionally and physically tired it’s very hard to step out of it and look at things objectively. From your mother’s point of view, if you go to your new boyfriend’s house and leave her in charge, it must be difficult for her to tread that line between helpful and overbearing. Hard for your children, too.

McCarry wanted to know “how you learned to deny your own wants and needs and prioritise those of others?”.

This is something we want you to really look at: a mother/daughter who is always available never really is. McCarry thought it was time for a bit of restructuring, starting with weekly family meetings (which I am a big fan of). She suggests picking a time you are all available, and hopefully receptive and calm, and then you can not only discuss the logistics of the week but any emotional issues too.

This is great modelling for your children, but not only this: having things planned means you can look forward to them. Your daughter who has autism would especially benefit from this routine, and everyone knowing who is where and what is expected of them is a good practice to get into. Perhaps you could then schedule in times you go and see your boyfriend so that your mum and children could make it a special night together. There’s also something about having things in the diary that helps alleviate guilt, rather than the firefighting day to day you seem to be doing. But in these meetings, it’s important that everyone has a chance to talk and be listened to.

McCarry felt it was important to support your ex and youngest daughter in spending time together and maybe he needs to look at what might make it easier for her. (If he calls round ad hoc that may be too destabilising for her, so, again, planning is important.)

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Talking of guilt, McCarry wondered if you were trying to please everyone “because you fear losing love and connection if you don’t?” She also pointed out that if you feel guilty about – for example about not spending time with your children – you’re more likely to spend money to compensate, but what are you teaching your children here?

It’s OK to say no to others. Saying yes as a form of appeasement is actually not as kind as you think.

“Responsibility to your children doesn’t mean caving in to them,” said McCarry. “Neither does saying yes to them all the time make them into successful adults.”

While we have to be realistic about how much you have on your plate, routine can bring a sense of order and give you some wriggle room.

Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa, please send your problem to [email protected]. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.

The latest series of Annalisa’s podcast is available here.



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