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Great expectations

Mum of four, Lucy Cavendish, is finally finished with nappies, pull-ups, bottles and sleepless nights. She looks back over the past two decades.

Before I had children, I thought bringing them up would be a piece of cake. I’ll never forget seeing a woman lying on her front in Hyde Park. She was reading a book and, lying akimbo on her back, was a small golden-haired little girl reading her own book. It was the sweetest sight. I decided then and there that I wanted to have children, as many as possible, as soon as possible.

Twenty years ago, my Raymond popped out in to the world. However, he was nothing like the golden-haired girl. He was noisy, rowdy and full of colic. My life was turned upside down and,  for many years, I wondered if it would ever look like getting back to normal again. 

I wanted him to have everything, to be brilliant and talented, to be fulfilled.

So now this is what I know. There is no such thing as ‘normal’. Life with children is like a roller coaster ride; sometimes it’s exciting, your heart thumps, you feel full of emotions and then, suddenly, you’re careering downhill and feeling out of control.

I have four children now, three boys and one girl and they are all different. They have all liked different things, done different things, reacted to each other in their own separate ways. They also have their own special relationship with me.  

Little boy pretending to be an aeroplaneThe thing that all my children really respond to somewhere deep down in their unconscious – and hopefully lodged in their psyche – is that they are loved unconditionally. This is important. If they get the message that they are only loved, and loveable, for being brilliant at Kumon maths/swimming/being pretty/being sporty, then they will not grow up with a great sense of themselves. Somewhere down the line they will always see themselves as being ‘lacking’ in something or as a disappointment.

My success as a parent was intertwined with Raymond’s success as a child – to his detriment.

I tied myself in knots over Raymond, getting him a French tutor, taking him to every extracurricular activity possible. I spent a small fortune both in time and money carting him off to kayaking, swimming, guitar lessons and now, although he can do a bit of everything, he always asks me why I did it. Yes he can strum a guitar but he’s no Eric Clapton. 

I suppose the answer is that I wanted him to have everything, to be brilliant and talented, to be fulfilled but he says he was just as happy hanging out making cupcakes with me. That is the major lesson I have learned. Mykids just want to be who they are. They want to be allowed to do what interests them rather than what interests me. Once I realised that, for me, my success as a parent was intertwined with Raymond’s success as a child – to his detriment – I found I could let go of my unrealistic expectations.

My kids just want to be allowed to do what interests them rather than what interests me.

So this is the most I know – your children have to be allowed to be themselves and be loved precisely for that. It doesn’t matter what you want them to be. It doesn’t matter if your best friend’s child is more clever and popular than yours. Your child is exactly who he or she is meant to be and that is worth celebrating and enjoying. 

Kids playing with a washing basket on the stairs


1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. If we worry about every tiny thing, we’ll end up in an early grave.
2. Someone else’s child will always do better than yours. Raymond’s cousin just got four A*s and a place at Cambridge University. He is happy for her. This is the best way to get over minor disappointments.
3. Don’t get involved in school gate politics. Your children will grow up and leave school and those friendships may not last so don’t worry about investing too much time in them.
4. Be open and honest with your children. They can sniff out a lie from a thousand paces and children get insecure when they are lied to.
5. Show your children some trust. Small children grow into big children and teenagers need to separate from you. You are giving them a huge boost in their confidence if you can show them you trust them to behave in an appropriate fashion. 
6. Finally, have some fun! Time together as a family is important so enjoy it. Do some fun things, laugh together and build memories that last a lifetime.

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