Main photo: me yesterday, with a fake smile, trying to work out a tough chemistry question that my daughter asked me about. I broke out in cold sweat.


My mum has some very lovely ideas about the home and the family. One of her loveliest philosophies is that we must learn to garden to truly know how to cook. And it is only when we love cooking that we begin to know about being a parent….it’s all about nurturing and giving freely.

Photo: my mum’s gardening stuff. How she loves her garden.


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When I was in my late teens, I used to scoff at her outdated views. But she persists, in her gentle way. Only last summer, she asked me, “So Jac, when are we going to make soufflé again then?”

My soufflés always flop (ditto my pavlova) but my mum is not giving up, though I am now 50 and my youngest child is nearing home-leaving age. I still have to learn how to cook and garden properly. Also last summer, I nearly poisoned my family for mistaking a toxic alum for garlic…they looked so alike!

I was thinking about my mum’s philosophy today, after sending my daughter off for her exams. She is under tremendous stress, as it seems like her whole future depends on these few days….two years of hard work culminating in a few short hours of answering randomly selected questions from the syllabus, with so many variables hanging around that could change the outcome. For her chosen course (Medicine), there is no margin for error.

Her father and I have been doing our best to alleviate the stress she is placed under: we keep on reassuring her that there are other options available, so many things she could do apart from Medicine, and that we are already so proud of her. Our love for her is independent of her achievements.

But she gets annoyed by our reassurances.

Because she thrives on stress.

She rises to the challenge.

But not all children are like her. I caved in when I was under similar pressure. Though I was predicted 3As by my very experienced teachers for my A levels, I ended up without a single A. I just scraped a C for mathematics, my strongest subject.

I was close to a breakdown in the months preceding my exams: I would literally bite my family’s heads off if they said the “wrong” thing. I made everyone’s life a misery. In short, I was no good at exams.

A recent article in The Guardian about what the stress of GCSEs is doing to a generation of children:

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And this is what I have come to realise after 5 children: young people respond to stress differently, depending on the “stuffing” that’s inside them. And there is nothing you could do to change the stuffing. They were born with it. You can only help them to grow stronger by nurturing them with love and patience.

In the first year at university, I just passed Anatomy 101. I ran down Oxford Street, Manchester, screaming with happiness. I was fortunate that my tutor understood me and helped me a lot.

Later, when the course became more practical and hands-on, I started getting better and excelling, even. That’s the stuffing I am made of 🙂 Exam stress is just not for me.

Thus, what you could do is tailor the environment to encourage your child to achieve his or her best, rather than trying to change who your child fundamentally is.

Just like gardening. When a plant doesn’t grow well, you coax it by moving it to a warmer place or adding more nutrients or less water. You might tell it lovely things. That’s the best you could do to get it to bloom, rather than expecting it to do something it is not meant to for.



And here’s the thing: exams /high stress /the top position, etc, is not for everyone. But there is enough space in the world for all of us to be successful in our own niches. Support your child in finding hers. That’s the gardening part of parenting 🙂