The dilemma I’m a mother to a girl (four) and a boy (two) and I love my son more than my daughter. I know it’s common to love one child more than another, but what bothers me is that my daughter isn’t loved as much as she deserves, and not nearly as much as I would like to love her. I do feel love for her, I’m protective of her and her happiness, and her health and wellbeing are so important to me, but something is missing and I don’t know how to achieve it, or why it’s happened. When she was born, it took me several weeks to make a meaningful emotional connection with her – unlike with her brother, where it formed as soon as he was put in my arms. I feel like the nature of my relationship with both of them was forever formed right there and then. I hope that I’m wrong. It makes me feel guilty. She’s a wonderful, kind, intelligent and funny girl that I want to love, but something is blocking my feelings towards her. It breaks my heart. I make an effort to spend one-on-one quality time with her, which we enjoy, but it doesn’t help.

Mariella replies Bravo for your honesty. It’s not easy to accept that your feelings for your children differ and it’s equally challenging to admit it publicly in these censorious times – not that you have anything to be ashamed of. As you say, there are plenty of parents with similar qualms. I remember, before my second child was born, being terrified I wouldn’t have enough room in my heart for another baby, that somehow my daughter had used up all my emotional bandwidth. When I first laid eyes on my son and found my heart had expanded in that instant to encompass him I was surprised, relieved and reminded that biology is a miraculous thing.

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In the absence of psychological hurdles, when our hearts and minds respond as they are programmed to, instinctive behaviour can be relied upon. But like rivers that get clogged and fail to flow smoothly, our own channels can become diverted or blocked by experiences beyond those we are built to withstand. Although our capacity for love is infinite, it’s not always available in duplicate, and comparison may not be the best way to evaluate the level of our love. The situation you describe is one where nature isn’t kicking in as it’s meant to.

It’s frustrating to have to dig around for what might come easily to others, but the ability to overcome such emotional hurdles and achieve a deeper understanding of our individual hard-wiring is what earns us our crown as the most intelligent species. When the going gets tough we have the capability to overcome most obstacles and the ability to change and adapt. It would be nice if every child was equally lovable, if every adult was equally just and kind and if we, as a species, were close to perfection. But we aren’t, so when biology lets us down we need to use our brains to get to the bottom of that malfunction. You may feel you are uniquely cursed on this issue, but I can assure you that such perceived “failings” are common among parents, who are, as we occasionally forget, human beings first and foremost.

You may have experienced undiagnosed postnatal depression after your daughter was born. It would certainly, even at its most benign, have had an impact on how you and your baby connected, making it harder for those instinctive feelings to flow. You need to look beyond your emotional impulses and investigate what was in the way. There will be reasons, no matter how hard they are to unearth. What you were going through while you were pregnant, or went through after your daughter was born, are the historical details you haven’t addressed in your letter. If you look back on that period, particularly with the help of a counsellor or parenting professional, you’ll find clues. Your maternal love for your children, deep down, will be equally strong and ready for ignition when required.

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That your love doesn’t feel the same, that you struggle to experience it as instinctively and even that you doubt its presence, are all related to your state of mind, not to your connection with your child. When you say spending quality time with her doesn’t help, I wonder what sort of “help” you are expecting? Sitting by a swollen river, clogged with debris won’t ease the flow, only the hard labour of removing obstacles gets things back on course. So it goes with the human heart and all its tributaries, which in a real and metaphorical way we need to declutter to avoid catastrophe.

You have two children whose wellbeing and future happiness depend on the success of their childhood years, so it’s imperative to discover where you went off course and how to get back to first base with your little girl. As time goes on and your children through childhood into the people they will become, you’re likely to find your daughter evolves from being your responsibility to being the best friend you’ll ever have.

If you are affected by any of these issues, contact your local parenting support group at gov.uk

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





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