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Dear Graham Norton: 'My stressed-out sister’s at breaking point – how can we take the pressure off her?' 

Graham Norton
Dear Graham Norton: 'My sister’s at breaking point – how do we take the pressure off her?'  Credit: Andrew Crowley/Alamy

Dear Graham

I was wondering if you could advise my sister. She is 43 years-old, married with two children, one of whom is autistic (he is nine, his sister eight).

Her husband is unable to work or drive for health reasons, so she does everything in the house and with the children. She works part-time and just about covers the bills. They have no mortgage, having both sold their previous houses, but still it’s a struggle financially.

We help out when we can, but it’s clearly wearing her down. She is talking about paying for someone to take her children out at weekends, as she says she can’t cope with them. But I don’t see how they can afford to do that more than once or twice.

I’m starting to feel concerned for her mental health but I don’t know what more we can do. Do you have any suggestions?

Anon, via email

'I imagine that one of the hardest things about your sister’s situation is how alone she sometimes feels', says Graham Credit: Andrew Crowley

Dear Anon

Obviously money is an issue for your sister; but it seems to me that the far more pressing problem here is time. She needs a break and, happily, she knows it and is planning to do something about it.

Perhaps it won’t be practical to pay for help every weekend – but just knowing that at some point she can step off the treadmill for a while is bound to improve her outlook on life and make the situation she finds herself in more tolerable.

You don’t specify whether the help you give her involves money or childcare: if it’s the former, that’s very welcome, I am sure; but maybe it would be even better if you occasionally took her children out for the day or had them for a sleepover during the week.

Be the person she can talk to

Although things are very difficult for your sister, they may improve once her daughter becomes more independent. Presumably she has already investigated what help is available from social services with regard to her son.

She needs to figure out a way of coping that she can maintain for the long haul. This is a marathon, not a sprint. After nine years it seems she has hit the wall, and it is time to re-evaluate things.

Be the person she can talk to. Allow her to vent her fury at life. There will be days when she hates her husband and her children, and you need to let her know that is OK.

I imagine that one of the hardest things about your sister’s situation is how alone she sometimes feels. She is single-handedly keeping the show on the road. No one expects you to join her every step of the way; but simply knowing that you have her back – and can offer an extra pair of hands occasionally – may mean the difference between coping and not.