An apology: I was wrong in my "down with supermums" column last week. I railed against the oppressive expectations which make middle-class successful women and mothers forget what really matters - turning them into neurotic vein-bulging stressbuckets. I must say sorry. Because it turns out, this is not just about women.

The letters I got from men were many and varied, but surprisingly, at least to me, just as heartfelt as those from women. They agreed with the theory that children would rather have you there at bath time than away at work but coming home in a flasher car. And these men wanted to support the women in their lives and see them chill out.

From a "whanau father": "My superwoman wife needs to read this, I admire her work ethic and the outstanding mother she is to our three teenage children, but often worry about her stress at work. Her many roles include: supervisor, early childhood educator, sister, friend, sexpot wife, no problem there, she could wear a daggy old shirt and gumboots and I'd still swoon! So I am taking a copy home for her to read.

"Women need to hear this from other women, I have a teenage daughter and want her to read it too."

A 60-year-old husband of a stay-at-home mum, parent of two happy grown kids, approved, but said: "I'm not cheering you from the 'keep the women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen' brigade. It's just that 'having it all' is an illusion."

And some men said they felt the same pressures. "I am a 54-yr-old male ... and a new father, and an academic ... I could work 24/7 and still have a mountain of tasks demanding attention ... I have seen colleagues having breakdowns and have been very close to meltdown myself."

A 62-year-old male surgeon said: "I can promise you that your own children will reward you more than you could ever dream." A child psychologist said: "I sadly am a first-hand observer of kids doing too many after-school activities, some of them come to me for an educational assessment and they are quite tired and find it hard to concentrate for any period of time. Some of the wee things may have two 'activities' on the go on any one day."

The letters from women were poignant in how harassed they sounded. "I finally read your column late last night at the end of yet another week of semi-controlled chaos. That is my life ... sort of failing on all fronts. This week's highlight involved flying from Auckland to a high-powered board meeting in Wellington, interrupted by my phone silently flashing 'Primary School' across its screen, leaving me with that awful sinking feeling that all those carefully made complex childcare plans were going out the window. The 5-year-old had fallen off the playground, smashed his teeth and some other poor kid and was now crying and bleeding 610km away."

One 50-something woman who had been around for the first phase of career-is-all women's lib had changed her priorities. "It is difficult not to fall back into the old 'do it all' mode but I am happier, less angry and frustrated. I am spending time with my children and grandchildren as I see this as my last chance. I think this needs to be the new women's movement. Take time out!"

There was an emphatic call for mothering to have more status. "Our biggest task is to ensure that the next generations are equipped to do their task of running the world. I don't mean mothers can only be home and hearth. I have five kids and for most of that time have had working responsibilities outside of home-making. But producing well-rounded confident kids is a wonderful legacy to the world."

Another woman confided: "Your article gave me goose bumps as I was so near to being a Catherine Bailey [the London lawyer who took her life], but something halted me in my tracks and I sat at home for years bringing up three sons. I had many very boring jealous-of-working-husband days, but now with sons, three gorgeous men, I am SO glad I did and to see my relatively normal happy family is worth every day of staying at home. I absolutely know this would not be the case if I'd attempted supermum status.

"I fear for families I constantly witness filled with dyslexia, attention deficit problems and so on and I believe all this is down to having supermums who also, I might add, need to be avoided on the roads."

After reading my bulging mailbag, I can't help wondering if part of the problem with all this relentless pressure is the self-improvement mentality which insists that you can achieve anything if you just try harder. You can be thin, glamorous, clever, rich, philanthropic etc if you just boost your self esteem. This if-you-can-dream-it philosophy is a crock. We are fragile animals, not Transformers. Maybe we need to dream instead of having ordinary lives; to believe in just getting by.

Writer G.K. Chesterton was certainly disdainful of the idea that you should just "believe in yourself". "Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? Lunatic asylums."

deborah@coneandco.com