Hannah Shuckburgh is a talented writer (we love her book, The Set Table) and editor (she was Features Editor for a national magazine before she had her first son). I worked with her and she was – and is – charming, brilliant and driven. For now her drive is devoted, for the most part, to her adorable children, two-year-old Adair and Cecil, 9 months (yes, natty knitwear definitely runs in the family). She wrote this article for The Telegraph’s Stella Magazine about her decision to become a stay-at-home-mum – and it had a huge response when we posted it on our Facebook page. “I do it,” she wrote, “because it makes me happier than I’ve ever been, and because no alternative feels right. I have found something I love that does not rely on the applause of others. I feel grounded, no longer questing for improvements or searching for change. I don’t miss the office. I feel liberated from it.” I admire her hugely – and was delighted when she agreed to share her 5 things I’ve learned about parenting.
1. When I was pregnant with my first baby, a friend told me, “Nothing you do will be wrong.” It didn’t mean anything to me at the time, but now I’m a mother of two, I realise it was the single most useful and comforting piece of advice, and I think of it often. Some babies just prefer sleeping in slings, some need dummies, some like to be rocked to sleep. Just go with it and do what you have to. Love them, keep them fed, warm and dry, and nothing you do will be wrong.
2. I’ve always tried to involve my children in the things I love. I’m a full-time mum at the moment, and I think I would go mad if we had to do “child-friendly” things all the time. My children are 9 months and 2 and a half, but I almost never take them to soft play or baby music classes. We go to galleries, museums, take the train to new parts of town – things I loved to do before I had kids. We have no nursery or childcare yet, so I am never without my children, but I can still carve out my own space within that. Full-time parenthood can consume you – the endless production of meals and clean clothes – and so it’s important for me to remember who I am, aside from being their mum, and look after that, too.
3. Modern parents are duped into thinking they need endless kit in order to have a baby. First time around our house was stocked to the beams with special muslins, nightlights and so on, so it’s been especially interesting to see how much less stuff I needed when our second was born. It turns out babies’ needs are incredibly narrow; they need almost nothing but a few sleepsuits and access to your boobs. No baby actually needs a nursery papered with cloud wallpaper, furnished with changing tables and feeding chairs and dehumidifiers and God knows what else. It’s been so freeing to scale it all down.
4. One of the most powerful and affecting books I’ve read since becoming a mother is Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. I’ve bought it for countless friends. Louv argues that a whole generation of children have lost connection with nature – that riding bikes through the woods, climbing trees, picking wildflowers (free-range pleasures that were so much a part of my own upbringing) are all but missing from modern childhood. It’s a sad truth, but an encouraging book; he argues you can carve out “nature” for your children even in the most overcrowded metropolis – by looking up and learning the names of birds, say, or by bypassing the concrete playground for the wilder bit of the park. It’s stuff I felt compelled to do anyway, but it’s a timely reminder how young lives can be enriched by being outside.
5. I know my two children better than anyone, but I think there will always be an element of mystery about them, and I think that’s what excites me most. I see characteristics I recognize in both of them, but lots that I don’t. It is the most extraordinary journey watching their personalities develop: two brand new people who are somehow simultaneously the sum of their parents, and also nothing like us at all.