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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 65    

                             September 2007

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.


Caring, a duty, an honour or a curse?

Carer’s Week came and went earlier this summer with barely a mention in the national press. For me, it coincided with a visit from an old friend for whom it has been very difficult to travel and maintain anything but the most local of social circles. That Annie was able to drive from Devon, across the Home Counties and into London was a major event for her.

We met as students in the 60s and kept in touch, as we made our way into the world of work and family life. When Annie’s children were young, her frail mother was widowed and Annie, being an only child, moved her family into her mother’s house. At the time, it was a great financial help to the young family, and it meant that Annie could care for mum.

For six years Annie looked after her mother as she became increasingly lost to dementia. I never heard her complain, not even when the cleaning became overwhelming; her back had given out yet again and the children needed extra attention. Annie’s nursing career was, by this time, long past. Mother entered a care home for her final two years, leaving Annie wracked with guilt and doubt. It was hard to lose not just the physical presence of mother, with whom she had been exceptionally close, but the role that had become what felt like a natural state of being.

She felt guilty for allowing someone else take on the personal care of her beloved parent. For some time, her loss of confidence made it hard to go out, to socialise and make decisions unfettered by duty. She described the feeling as being almost socially disabled. For her, as for many, it was hard adjusting to a freer world.

Anxiety, panic attacks or fear of going out are not uncommon in carers who are learning to be themselves again. Guilt, too, is mentioned by so many. Reducing it seems an unavoidable part of the recovery process needed by the selfless family members who take on the role of carer.

Annie was always attracted to the caring professions, and she finds the work rewarding. But lifting and bending to help her mother had damaged her back. After trying many treatments, she turned to a spiritual healer. Her back recovered and she later became a well-known healer herself.

“It is as though I’ve become a professional carer. Caring has defined me. It is what I am naturally good at doing, though it has been hard at times. I willingly did it for my family and have never seen it as a sacrifice. Even though I did snap at mum and lose my temper occasionally, I would never have raised a hand to her, although she did hit me once or twice.”

Eleven years ago, Annie’s adult daughter developed paranoid schizophrenia and Annie became her official primary carer. “After Sally became ill, the leader of our self-help group advised me to get ‘onto the system’. Once registered with Social Services they assessed my needs. They provided mobile phones for my daughter, my husband and myself because it was important that we were always in touch.

“Then, we started an evening meeting at the local Carers Group. Though I no longer need it, it’s vital for those who can’t leave their charges until a ‘deputy’ is home from work. I’ve found that there is funding for carers’ holidays too, which is great news. I’ve been lucky to have had excellent support from my GP and Social Services, but I know not everywhere is as well set up.”

Now things are slightly easier at home Annie is able to offer regular healing to other carers. The local Carers group organiser comments that she sees people going in rigid with tension when going in to see Annie, yet floating out with relaxed smiles. Annie’s love and care for her mother and daughter is an example of selfless devotion to family, but it has cost her a career and at times her physical and mental health.

And now, it appears, her income. “The one negative thing for me is that I have not been able to build any financial security through a work pension. I must rely on the State for any pension provision.”

Yet, when her tiny State pension began, her small but vital Carer’s Allowance was stopped. She remains her daughter’s official carer but the payments for a job that would otherwise have cost Social Services or the NHS thousands have ceased. Why? It is government policy that no-one is paid two “allowances” at once, officials said.

But since when is the State pension an “allowance”? Though reduced because she devoted more years to caring than to paid employment, Annie’s pension is not an allowance. It is her entitlement. So now, at 62 years of age, Annie is obliged to find part-time work that fits with the needs of her vulnerable daughter.

But should she have to? Is this how we reward people who devote their lives to the care of others and, by doing so, relieve the NHS from taking in another expensive “unit of care”?

Finding Support

Carers can become isolated so it's important to have contact with the outside world and time for yourself. Your GP surgery or council may list local carers groups. Look in the phone book to contact the council or visit their website.
Council websites can be found from search engines or are usually:   (so for example, ).

The BBC and Community Network run a service for carers to chat once a week on the telephone. No special equipment is needed - just a phone. Sometimes leaving the house for an hour to go to a carers group or social event just isn't possible. Ring around carers chat on the phone for less than an hour once a week with other carers. It's easy and it's free.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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