Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective to a guilty mother, and a girlfriend who dislikes her boyfriend mentioning his ex

I'M so glad the summer is over and my kids have gone back to school. Although I don't work, the holidays have been difficult and, at times, I've been at the end of my tether. I have three very active children and the youngest is six. My husband works very long hours, especially during the summer months, and sometimes he needs to work during the weekends too. He helps with the children when he can, but it's never for very long. I've tried to keep the children busy over the past few weeks, but I've been so exhausted that I've often resorted to screaming at them to behave. Although I've never hit them, I've come close to it a few times recently.

Even though they've now gone back to school, I still feel that I'm very close to losing it. I'm not usually a negative person, but I feel that I've become a bad mother and wonder if my children might be better off in care? What else can I do? I don't have family nearby and the few friends I have either work or don't have children. – DN

Fiona says: Don't be too hard on yourself

Let's get one thing straight; looking after a large family is stressful and exhausting. I'm not in the least bit surprised ]you've lost your temper on occasion - that doesn't make you a bad parent, it simply makes you human. Yes, you have thought about lashing out - but you haven't. You've also recognised that you're stressed and that you need help. To my mind, that makes you a good parent, and certainly not one who needs to consider care as an option for her children. I know you're exhausted, but now that your children have returned to school, try to make more time available for things you enjoy doing. This might be a hobby, a sport, a club, or simply going for walks organised by groups.

It doesn't matter what you do, what's important is that you are able to focus on your needs and develop some new friendships that might provide additional support for you. When the next long holiday comes around, you will - hopefully - have more stamina and be better able to cope.

In future, before the holidays start, do some forward planning for trips out. Not only will it help you, but your children will also know what to expect and they won't pester you every day for an outing of some kind.

No one could afford to have a day out every day of the holidays, but having a few days of planned activity gives them something to look forward to. Perhaps you could ask the children to come up with ideas for things they want to do before the holidays start? Tell them you'll pick one from each list, so they don't expect to do everything.

Don't be afraid of just letting them play either - it's really important for kids to be able to play with toys and use their imaginations to build dens in the garden or create pirate ships from the sofa. It teaches them to be creative and to solve problems. It also helps them to learn how to get along with one another. Even if they argue, don't interfere (unless they come to blows) because they're learning about co-operation.

Finally, please consider contacting Family Lives ( This national charity provides advice and support for parents on the phone, online or through local support groups. It might also be particularly helpful during the school holidays if you can develop a network of other families or other parents at school, who could share the burden of child-minding too.

Why does my boyfriend always talk about his ex?

MY boyfriend keeps talking about his ex-girlfriend and how wonderful she was. I've told him that I am not interested and that it upsets me, but he keeps doing it.

I've also asked if he wants to go back to her, but he assured me that it's me he loves... so why does he need to talk about her all the time? I've had boyfriends in the past and they didn't feel the need to talk constantly about their exes, so I know that this isn't normal. How do I get through to him and make him stop? – LR

Fiona says: Consider giving him an ultimatum

His behaviour suggests to me that he's insecure and, for reasons unknown, wants you to see that someone else once loved him. However, what he's also got to understand is that he is hurting you in the process and, if he genuinely loves you, this must stop. He might realise just how hurtful it is if you start talking about old boyfriends. If that doesn't work, you may have to consider an ultimatum along the lines of, "Stop talking about her or go back to her". Stress that you love him and want to make this work, but that you're not prepared to let this continue to hurt you.

How can I get my friend back?

AFTER university I got a great job in the Far East, which meant moving away from friends and family. Unfortunately, I lost touch with a really good friend - someone I'd known since junior school. It was entirely my fault, but I was so busy, I was hopeless at keeping in touch with anyone - even my parents. I also wanted to make a fresh start and, having no intention of returning to the UK, severed all social media contacts.

Five years on, things haven't worked out as I had hoped, and I've returned to the UK. I'd like to contact her again but as not sure if this is a good idea? Do you think she might be angry? – KM

Fiona says: Why not email her?

She might, but good friends are hard to come by, so why don't you contact her? Explain how wrapped up you were in the move overseas and that you're sorry you didn't keep in touch. Hopefully she'll be glad to see you again and you can pick up where you left off.

However, five years is a long time without word, so you need to prepare for the possibility that she's moved on. People change and what was a good friendship for many years may no longer feel the same. Start building a new social life and contact other old friends and acquaintances too. Someone who was on the periphery of your social circle before you went away might turn out to be just the friend you need right now.

Why are my parents so overprotective?

I'M an only child and I live at home with my parents. I'm 19 but have no social life at all, as my mum and dad are very restricting and insist I'm home by 11:30pm.

When I was younger, they used to come and get me from parties and discos, but I was so embarrassed, I just stopped going. A couple of guys at college have asked me out, but I've turned them down, because I know it would cause no end of problems. I understand they want to protect me but, although I'm their only child, I think it's time I was allowed to make more of my life. – BM

Fiona says: It's time to stand up for yourself

You may be your parents' only offspring, but you're most certainly no longer a child. If that's how you see yourself, then it's not surprising your parents are overprotective. It seems to me that they haven't recognised you're an adult. It's time you started to stand up for yourself a little more, whilst recognising that you're living in their home, so need to abide by certain rules. That shouldn't mean doing without relationships and a social life though, and it's time you started to have both. Have you told them how you feel? In the age of smartphones, it's not difficult to stay in touch with your parents if you're out with friends.

Finally, I have to ask - are you using your parents and their restrictions simply as an excuse for failing to build a social life? Is it possible that you're afraid of failure, so you blame your issues on your parents? If so, please write to me again.

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.