I don’t think I’m doing enough for my children and I feel I’m failing them – The Guardian

The dilemma I’m writing this in tears. Every day I try my hardest to do my best by my three children and every evening I feel I have failed them and end up riddled with guilt. I have three young children all with different educational and emotional needs and I’m struggling to meet them all. I try my best to divvy up my time equally, but I do worry that my youngest – who is very dominating – ends up demanding more of my time and can’t help thinking my middle child is missing out, especially since her anxiety is through the roof at the moment. I’m worried senseless that I’m doing some lasting emotional damage to my children and try to lavish them with love and attention to make up for my other shortfallings. Ultimately I just feel like a failure and don’t know where to turn.

Mariella replies I’m so glad you wrote. And I’m sure I won’t be alone in thanking you for articulating how many of us end up feeling on a bad day. Welcome to motherhood and, so that my male readers don’t feel rejected, let’s simply call it parenting. Nonetheless I don’t think the majority of them will recognise your condition. You don’t mention a partner. It could be that he’s not around at all or he’s one of the many millions of men who are hands-on with the part-time and therefore more enjoyable bits and find it hard to comprehend the downside of parenting.

He may well be out there in the big wide workplace making a living, which is noble and necessary, but also creates a gulf between your daily experience and his that is hard to bridge over supper – especially after a tedious day offering little sense of achievement. Certainly the workplace can be a brutal, dog-eat-dog environment with few rewards and much bruising. It’s also true of parenting, and if you’re immersed in it full time with children at a demanding and difficult age, I truly believe there are few harder jobs in the world.

What makes this even more arduous is the popular mythology that motherhood is natural, fulfilling, and you should simply be cooing over your children’s achievements and celebrating their every syllable. The reality of caring for children on a daily basis is far more emotionally complex than its image suggests, and you are one of many millions of stay-at-home parents finding it hard to reconcile the expectation of the outside world with the reality of your daily life. You desperately need support and you’ve taken a huge first step in honestly articulating how you are really feeling. Writing to me is just the beginning, and it’s important that you don’t stop here.

Along with a frank conversation with your partner (or ex if that’s why he’s not mentioned), I recommend an immediate trip to your GP to discuss your current state of mind. There is help available and you have every right and urgent need to avail yourself of it for your sake and the sake of your kids. Don’t be deluded into thinking your feelings are shameful or unique. There are also many support groups (search for a local group online or try Family Lives on 0808 800 2222) that can offer you valuable listening time and practical advice on what to do when you’re struggling to keep afloat. There’s way too much romanticising of parenthood in our society, leaving those who find it less than a Disney experience feeling abandoned. It’s a mystery why in our educated world complaining about a difficult day at the office still remains more acceptable than confessing to a hard day in the house. Full-time parenting requires back-up and support from your partner, friends and family wherever possible. It sounds like you are floundering in isolation, and that is not sustainable.

It’s definitely time for you to reach out beyond the front door. There’s no such thing as a “natural carer” of either sex, though certainly some people find it less onerous than others. I’m not ashamed to admit that my maternity leave, despite my joy at the birth of my two kids, was not my favourite period and I was very happy to escape to work after a short few months.

Gratitude is not in a child’s vocabulary, and at the end of the day there’s too often a sense, not of goals achieved but of a summit to conquer all over again as soon as they wake up. You’re not alone in your frustrations and there are plenty of places to access the support you deserve. I really hope I’ve propelled you to call on it immediately.

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to mariella.frostrup@observer.co.uk Follow Mariella on Twitter @mariellaf1