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Daisy Turnbull reflects on parenting

Australian Women's Weekly logo Australian Women's Weekly 27/01/2021 Juliet Rieden
Lucy Turnbull sitting on a bench: Daisy Turbull teaches history, business studies and religion in an independent girls' school and also recently became the director of wellbeing which is sort of how she ended up writing the book 50 Risks To Take With Your Kids. © Provided by Are Media Pty Ltd Daisy Turbull teaches history, business studies and religion in an independent girls' school and also recently became the director of wellbeing which is sort of how she ended up writing the book 50 Risks To Take With Your Kids.

Alice is out with Mummy and Gaga, scampering barefoot around the impressive Wild Play adventure garden in Sydney's Centennial Park.

The four-year-old is pretending to be a scary monster creeping up behind her elders as she runs along a slatted wood and rope bridge and then disappears into the bushes giggling.

Alice is both the centre of attention and mistress of her own destiny as she dashes around the woodlands.

It's a joyous scene, albeit set up for The Weekly's 'three generations of feisty Turnbull women' photoshoot, that underlines the power of good old-fashioned outdoor fun.

Daisy Turnbull thinks our children need more of this sort of play – climbing trees, building camps, bush walking and scraping knees and there's no question Alice is having a ball as she throws herself into the garden's bamboo forest, banksia tunnels and squeals with delight when unannounced the artesian water play area spurts jets of water high into the air.

It may all sound very Enid Blyton, but Daisy knows what she's talking about. As a secondary school teacher and mum of two she has witnessed how an era of helicopter parenting and mother guilt has resulted in a lack of confidence and independent spirit in our children which at worst can develop into anxiety and mental health issues.

Daisy teaches history, business studies and religion in an independent girls' school and also recently became the director of wellbeing which is sort of how she ended up writing the book we are here to discuss – 50 Risks To Take With Your Kids.

Lucy Turnbull et al. posing for the camera: Three generations of Turnbulls: Daisy (right), with mum Lucy (left) and daughter Alice (centre). © Provided by Are Media Pty Ltd Three generations of Turnbulls: Daisy (right), with mum Lucy (left) and daughter Alice (centre).

This informal accessible guide postulates risk-taking – in a controlled and definitely not traumatic way – to be extremely valuable in childhood development.

Daisy outlines a whole raft of risks parents might encourage their children to take in their first 10 years to help enjoy those precious early learning years and at the same time be more prepared to face the challenges of adolescence and adulthood ahead and become "excellent humans".

It's what we all want, but in today's uncertain world having the courage to let go as a parent is harder than it seems.

Daisy is super smart, dripping with qualifications, but her book is no academic text. It's fun and well… really useful. Of course, it's based on educational and psychological research but suggests things like letting your kids do the washing, go to the local shops and catch the bus.

"I am not a perfect mother. My children are far from perfect children… But I do believe in developing autonomy in the kids," writes Daisy.

"We want our kids to develop skills to pick themselves up when they fall, to know when to ask for help and who to ask, but also to be confident that they can solve a lot of their problems themselves."

Daisy is the daughter of businesswoman and former Sydney mayor Lucy Turnbull and former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and I suspect learned some of her most potent lessons first hand in her own childhood.

Her parents, though very busy, gave Daisy and brother Alex a childhood filled with outdoor activity and weekends of "sacred family time" that have certainly shaped her own parenting of son Jack and daughter Alice.

The idea for the book started when Daisy was joking around with her Dad's book editor Arwen Summers. While Malcolm sweated over his post politics memoir, Daisy and Arwen would chat.

"She has young kids as well and we were saying, there's so much stuff on resilience but really what we need is a list of stuff you need to do before you're an adult."

a close up of a sign: Daisy Turnbull is releasing a new book named 50 Risks to Take With Your Kids. © Provided by Are Media Pty Ltd Daisy Turnbull is releasing a new book named 50 Risks to Take With Your Kids.

Daisy shared the idea with mum Lucy who tells me she wishes she'd had a book like this when she was embarking on parenthood. Mother and daughter are incredibly close and as I soon discover love to chat.

Lucy recalls relying heavily on parenting books when at the age of 24 she gave birth to Daisy's elder brother Alex - "You're so terrified you're about to kill them or cause some terrible injury," she says laughing.

Alex's birth was long and he was immediately very vocal – "a little boy from the get go and very feisty" she says. With Daisy it was a bit different.

"She was born a few weeks early and was very, very under-grown, so was in the intensive care nursery for about the first four weeks of her life. They thought there was something wrong with my placenta but they never really got to the bottom of it. It was a shock for us. The nurses and doctors were amazing but when you have a baby in the neonatal nursery it's still a stressful time."

Lucy will never forget the frantic drives from their home to Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital to check on baby Daisy.

"Probably partly as a function of those first weeks, she was an incredibly gorgeous cuddly koala type when she came home and she would always want to sleep in the bed with me."

Lucy always knew she wanted to be a mum and Daisy was the same but had issues conceiving.

"It was hard. I was angry at my body," she explains. She and husband James endured rounds of IVF hanging on the results. It's a traumatic heart-in-mouth process and to help her through the rollercoaster Daisy started crocheting which has become a personal passion. She's crocheting now as we talk, her needles pausing when the chatting takes over.

When she received the call to say she was pregnant, Daisy was "so happy and I also felt protective," she admits. And when son Jack was born "he was healthy and perfect and gangly."

Lucy remembers the day well.

"That was a pretty special moment, holding your grandchild for the first time. Becoming a grandparent was one of the best days of my life."

Maternal feelings run deep with Lucy and Daisy but both also knew working was equally important to them.

"When Alex was six months old I went back to uni to do an MBA, a post grad degree. Malcolm was great. He would take Alex for half a day or a day so I could do my work on the weekend."

Consequently, for Daisy, working and parenthood was the norm.

"I'd seen Mum do it and when Jack was very young, I realised I wanted to be a working mum. I wanted to do both if I could. I really love what I do and also I think the kids enjoyed going to day care."

a person standing next to a tree © Provided by Are Media Pty Ltd

Of course, it hasn't been easy.

"It is far less exhausting now because Alice is four and Jack's seven, but it was exhausting when they were little and they weren't sleeping and you're still going to work. But it's so worth it, when you're out the other side and doing something you love."

Daisy was also lucky because waiting in the wings were Lucy and Malcolm who despite their high-profile public roles, proved to be very hands on grandparents.

"I would not have been able to do anything without them," she admits. "Frankly, Mum and Dad were amazing from the day Jack was born. When Jack was eight months old Mum had him one day a week every week and then I think it was fortnightly the next year."

"I only stopped doing that weekly when Malcolm became PM. It just became too hard to do with the other things I had to do," Lucy chips in.

"Then when I was pregnant with Alice, Mum would take Jack for sleepovers and Dad loved playing with him… And this year Mum and Dad have had the kids every Thursday which has been brilliant."

Daisy and husband James recently separated and while she doesn't want to discuss the split, it's clear her parents' input has been a huge help.

I ask Lucy if issues like mother guilt and helicopter parenting existed in her day or are they a modern creation.

"I think every single mother has guilt if they're trying to combine a career and parenting," she says.

"It was even more intense when these guys were growing up because it was less normal for women who didn't have to work for economic reasons to keep working. But I knew it was really important for my own self-esteem and therefore for the family's wellbeing for me to be engaged in the workforce.

"As for helicopter parenting, sometimes I got a bit nervous. I remember once going to the farm; Alex was riding a horse and suddenly it took off and – you have those moments of terror but I don't think I was a helicopter parent.

"Far better to have moments of terror than living your life in constant terror," adds Daisy.

When Lucy was growing up she recalls her parents being more open to taking risks with their children than parents tend to be today.

"I remember I used to walk down our road, across a busy street and then to the chemist or the supermarket when I was quite young, five or six. I don't think people would do that now but it was a different world. I remember the sense of joy I got from being able to do things on my own."

And when Daisy was about six years old Lucy says she would let her collect pizza from the friendly local take-away or croissants from the bakery both across the road from home.

"I remember she had that same feeling of agency and self-sufficiency doing that. I think it's a really important thing to do and that's one of the things people sometimes forget gives kids a lot of confidence and strength-building."

Technology has changed things considerably since Lucy's day and not necessarily for the better she says.

"I do remember Alex going out with friends and coming home late. And it's terrifying because you have no idea where they are, but it's flipped to the other direction now where you probably know too much so they don't have that autonomy. A lot of the points Daisy makes are all about giving kids agency over their own risk taking and their own lives. That makes them build their own sense of what's responsible, what's appropriate, what's going too far. You don't get that easily if you are over-parented."

It's easy to see where Daisy learned some of her ideas for the book and I ask her what she thinks the most important thing she has learned from her own childhood.

"I think just to be strong. Mum is really strong and she works so hard, having the strength of your own character is really important and I've seen Mum and Dad in various ways, people tend to toss them around in the media and they are so strong. Having each other and family and love."

Malcolm Turnbull et al. posing for the camera: Daisy says she gets her strength from her mum and dad. © Provided by Are Media Pty Ltd Daisy says she gets her strength from her mum and dad.

As for Alice, watching her play she certainly seems to be another chip off the strong women Turnbull block.

"I think Alice is very self-contained, whereas Daisy was pretty self-contained but she was cuddly," muses Lucy.

"They do have different personalities. Alice and Daisy are close but they're not the same. A bit like Daisy and me. We're very close but we're not the same."

The mother-daughter relationship is a powerful one and in this family it's certainly treasured.

"It's amazing how it grows and grows, especially through the experience of having a child yourself," says Daisy.

"Mum and I talked all the time when Jack was a baby and when Alice came I just felt so much closer to Mum all over again."

Daisy's crochet needles are starting to tap again and Lucy is watching on beaming.

"Daisy is a natural born nurturer and carer and teacher, so for me she's very warm and loving and emotionally intelligent and intelligent person.

To see her flower as an educator and as a parent because of her very loving and nurturing and supportive personality has been a real treat."

50 Risks To Take With Your Kids by Daisy Turnbull, Hardie Grant is on sale from February 17.

Read more in the February issue of Australian Women's Weekly, on sale now!

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