Tuesday, 05 November 2013
Television presenter and vocal coach Carrie Grant tells us how being a mum to her four children – each with a special need – is as thrilling as any rollercoaster ride
Did you always plan to be a mum?
No, I didn't actually. When David and I got married, we thought if we have kids that'll be great, but if we don't that's fine too. From the time we met to when we had our first child was eight years. We really wanted to enjoy one another and we didn't feel children were something you had to have in a marriage. It happened when we were in Jamaica – it was David's first time back on Jamaican soil since he was three. I guess he was thinking, 'This is my country of origin, I must make family!'
Describe birth in one word
It's agony and ecstasy all at the same time.
Who's your biggest parenting influence?
My mum. I grew up with just my mum from the age of seven. Every day of my life, she told me I could do anything I wanted, that I could do whatever boys could do.
Best advice you've been given?
It's not so much advice I was given, but something I learned organically. Each child is unique, and it's your journey as a parent to understand their uniqueness and to encourage them to be everything they can be. Our children are so contrasting because they all have special needs. Olivia has ADHD and dyspraxia; Talia has Asperger's and dyscalculia; Imogen is autistic; and our little boy, who's adopted, has attachment issues. So we never could have had a 'one size fits all' approach.
What's the best thing about being a mum?
Just holding my child, all the way from the age of 18 down to three, breathing them in – I can't describe it. It's an exquisite love.
Perfect family day?
Everyone at home, everyone eating round the table, lots of noise, lots of laughter. Simple stuff.
Any advice for brand new mums?
Be yourself and trust your instincts. There are too many opinions, you can end up feeling like a failure and that isn't helpful, is it?
What have you had to give up?
I've given up a lot of my relationship time with David. I think that's our one bone of contention – you know, we say, 'These kids are going to be here for the rest of our lives! Will we ever get any time together?' So we have to make that time.
Biggest mistakes you've made?
So many! But the thing is with mistakes, you learn from them. I think the biggest one was to do with Olivia: we realised she had special needs, but I had assumed her school was taking care of all that stuff. Actually, they were a bit paying lip servicing to it. I wish I had known that it's OK to intervene, to ask or demand what they need.
What were your children's first words?
I think it was pretty much 'Dadda' then 'Mamma' with most of them. But Olivia, when she was about one year old, developed this little phrase, 'What're ya doin?' which she would say all the time, in a sort of Scottish accent. Children are so brilliant with their words aren't they? This morning my little boy and I were talking about crabs and he said to me, 'My favourite crab is a taxi crab!'
What makes them laugh? My husband – he's the butt of every joke! Thank goodness he can laugh at himself; he has a really good sense of humour.
Any embarrassing moments?
Plenty! I mean, how do you discipline all these children, with all their various needs, in the middle of an airport, with people filming you on their cameras? Sometimes I want to put a big sign above all our heads saying, 'Actually this is a good day!'
And your biggest panic?
When Talia was about three, she got her hands on some weed killer and started sucking the end of it. We had a massive panic and rushed her to hospital, but thankfully she was absolutely fine. And my son, well I panic every day with him. He jumps off everything. I had no idea how different boys were to girls.
What fictional characters would they be?
They'd all be a character from Winnie the Pooh. Olivia would be Tigger, she never stops moving. Imogen would be Eeyore, she just wants to sit down and relax and be stroked. Talia would be Rabbit, she's a bit shy and a bit different. And my little boy would be Piglet.
What could you do better?
There's always stuff to learn and improve on, and I could constantly be thinking I'm not good enough, or I can't cope. But I've committed to not beating myself up. So I try very hard to keep myself in that mindset and say, 'You know what, you're a great mum, you're doing everything you can for them.'
What does David do better than you?
He's really good at making people feel relaxed and joined up and getting everyone to chill. Our home is always bustling with people because he has this amazing welcoming attitude.
Do they sing?
Oh yeah. In our house there is always someone singing somewhere. Last Thursday Talia picked up a guitar for the first time, Olivia taught her a few chords, and now she's playing every day, singing and accompanying herself. Creativity is hugely important.
What sort of music do they like?
It's really eclectic, because David and I listen to a lot of different styles. I say to him, 'What are they going to do if they want to rebel?!' because we listen to everything. I guess they'll have to get into opera or something.
What would you like to pass on to them?
Wholeness. Almost everyone you meet will say they just want their kids to be happy, but I don't think it is possible to be happy all the time, there are always times when you're going to be sad. That's OK, they are allowed to be sad and I don't want them to think they are letting themselves or me down if they are sad. If they are whole, then they will be able to cope with both happiness and sadness.
What have they taught you?
How to read people, how to be intuitive, how to laugh until I cry, how to worry until I cry.
If you could invent something for new mums, what would it be?
A device to make your child sleep for 12 hours. Trying to keep your child awake during the day and asleep at night – wow, it's so hard!
What do mums have to accept?
That they are on a rollercoaster. Worry, laughter, joy, sadness, panic... If you can learn to live on a rollercoaster, things are good.
Carrie's new Jump Up and Join In app is out now.
Carrie was chatting to Pip Jones.