Q. I love my children more than anything, but I don't really like being around them anymore.

They are 9, 7 and 3 and well behaved at school and with other family members but extremely difficult and stubborn with me. My kids can turn almost any situation into a struggle or a fight -- much more often than other children do.

We create a scene wherever we go and it is so tiresome. I stay home more and more because I don't have the energy to go out with all three of them.

Although I pick my battles carefully and focus on things that truly matter, I can't get through the day without some conflict. One child hates the park we have chosen and throws a fit the whole time. Another has a tantrum because he can't bring a friend. And at least one child explodes because I won't buy what he wants at the store.

My children are also extremely rude and disrespectful to me and hit me when they're mad, or say that they hate me or that I'm stupid or an idiot if they don't get their way. I pretend that these words don't hurt me, but they do and they know it. They feel bad after their fits, they say they love me, they apologize, then say that they can't help it.

I'm not much better because I lose my temper and yell at them frequently -- which I hate and so do they -- and then it's my turn to apologize.

My husband is a devoted father and a good but passive person, so he seldom defends me or corrects the kids. He's the fun one and I'm the disciplinarian. He watches them willingly, however, and often encourages me to go out with friends.

I feel overwhelmed and a little depressed. I've wanted to be a mother ever since I can remember, but now I don't like it very much. That makes me so sad.

I'm afraid my children will look back on their childhood and think their mother was crazy. Or I will look back and wish I had never had children.

I'm starting to hate the person I've become.

A.You're definitely overwhelmed and more than a little depressed.

All mothers have anxious days, dreary days and will-this-ever-end days, and they all have to deal with a few conflicts every day, but a hug or a loving word from their children usually rights their world again.

This magic cure doesn't work for you, so you have to find out if something else has triggered your depression.

Begin by getting a complete medical work-up from a first-class, board-certified internist. He will test for low thyroid, hormonal imbalances, mononucleosis, anemia and many other conditions that can cause depression.

If he can't find a physical problem, he may prescribe an antidepressant or suggest a little psychotherapy. Or both.

Next, you have to make some changes at home.

Go to a parenting class with your husband, so you'll learn how to indulge your children less and how to make them use their words instead of their fists, and how to choose those words with care. They shouldn't call you bad names, nor should you chastise them too long or too vigorously if they do.

What seems like a correction to you can seem like verbal abuse to them, for parents wield such enormous power.

Your children are more likely to discuss, negotiate and compromise if you compliment them when they're being good, rather than criticize them when they're bad, and give each of them 10 minutes of individual attention every day, even if you have to take them with you, one at a time, when you run errands.

You and your husband should pay attention to your relationship, too. Go on a picnic or out for dinner one night a week, just the two of you, and get away for the weekend every three months. A marriage, like a garden, won't thrive unless you cultivate it.

And finally, make some time for yourself. Hire a sitter for a couple of hours, two or three times a week, even if you have to cut back on something else.

She can take the children to the library or the park while you nap or walk around the mall.

And when they won't behave and you want to explode, go to your room instead, shut the door firmly, turn on soft music, lie down for 15 minutes and tune out, no matter how much yelling you hear. You don't have to be a mom all the time.

For more advice, read "Taming Your Family Zoo" by Donna Jones (Revell, $12.99), a fine book to help parents teach respect and good manners to their children.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.