Editor’s letter: Parenting – the fantasy vs the reality

There’s a small, almost throwaway comment Sophie Ellis-Bextor makes in her interview with us that really resonated with me, speaking about her first-born son Sonny: ‘I thought it was all about what you put in. It’s not. I realised it the day I had him. I thought: “Oh, you’re Sonny and now I’ve got to help you show me who you are.”’

I had the same epiphany as a new parent – although admittedly it took me a little bit longer to get to it! I think my daughter was around two and well and truly in the notorious ‘terrible twos’ stage. In other words, developing her own free will and sense of who she was along with what she did and certainly did not like. Somewhere in there, as ludicrous as it sounds, it occurs to you for the first time that this is an actual person in front of you. I remembered the one piece of advice I’d read from an endless stream of baby books that was actually useful – something along the lines of, remember to parent the child you have, not the one you thought you would have.

I laugh now when I think of all my mother-daughter bonding fantasies in those early years. The comfort food I’d cook that she’d rush home from school to eat. The girlie shopping afternoons we’d take together when she was a teen and, because I work in fashion, she’d consider me some sort of oracle of style advice. I know, it was all a very twee, Little House on the Prairie kind of idyll in my mind! Well, to this day she’s a fussy eater who’s deeply suspicious of any kind of new food experience. She’d rather watch paint dry than spend hours traipsing around a high street, disapproves wildly of my love of fashion and thinks most of my clothes are ridiculous.

But in place of all that fantasy, I have the reality of getting to know my favourite human and all her personality quirks. She has a very sophisticated dry sense of humour and we bond over our love of the same comedies and comedians. Who she is surprises me constantly. As Sophie says, I have to help her show me who she is. We guide, discipline, advise and help, of course. But you can’t make that person something other than who they are. It’s one of those human truths that’s so simple and so complicated all at once.

I thought of all this because of another feature in this issue: few people have to confront that challenge in quite the same way as the mother who shares her story here. Fair warning: it’s a truly tough read. It’s heartbreaking to think that being a good, available, loving parent isn’t always enough to face off your child’s mental health problems. It must leave people wondering what they could have/should have done differently. But there’s that fact again: you have to parent the child in front of you, not the one you thought you had. This family’s resilience has floored me. Ultimately, however, it’s a story of strength, love and hope, and that hand in hand with the great losses of this strange year, it’s also given many people a much-needed reset. I hope you enjoy the issue.

Editor’s picks

A few things I’m coveting this week

blue Zara dressDear big, breezy dresses… sweaty women of the world LOVE you. Dress, £79.99, zara.com

gymshark sports braI’m super impressed with the quality and service from this brand. Sports bra, £35, uk.gymshark.com

Haiavanas swimsuitLooking at this, I can almost hear the sea calling. Swimsuit, £49.90, havaianas-store.com