Bel Mooney: Three ages of motherhood"s wise advice for a new little life

Three ages of motherhood's wise advice for a new little life: Be fearless. Have adventures before you marry. And don't wear too much pink!


01:38 GMT, 30 October 2012



01:39 GMT, 30 October 2012

The birth of a baby provides joy to any family — and a chance for relatives to reflect on the important life lessons they want to pass on. Kitty Dimbleby gave birth to her first child, Chloe, on September  19 this year. Here, Kitty, 32, and her delighted mother and grandmother share their hard-earned wisdom with the newest member of the family. Kitty, who lives in Bath with her husband, Ed Hodges, 32, an Army Major, says:

What do I want for my daughter, beyond her being healthy and happy I want the world for her.

Looking at her perfect face, feeling the heavy, trusting weight of her in my arms, I want nothing ever to hurt her.

I want her to be loved and to love, though I know that when she is too big to snuggle safely against my chest, there will come the day when I have to let her go out into the big, bad world.

Shared values: Bel Mooney (left), Kitty Dimbleby (centre) and Gladys Mooney (right) with new arrival Chloe

Shared values: Bel Mooney (left), Kitty Dimbleby (centre) and Gladys Mooney (right) with new arrival Chloe

I have to let her be independent and, sadly but inevitably, that will mean I also have to let her be hurt and let down.

How to help her live the best life she can There is one quality over all others that I hope my daughter will possess, and that is to be brave — brave enough to be herself and stand up to others, and for others, when necessary.

I also hope she’ll be brave enough to do the things that scare her most. I was born to high-achieving parents, and am not as academic as they were.

When I was 16, I wrote myself a letter to read when I was older, listing the things I dreamed of achieving by the time I was 30.

Mother's wish: Kitty Dimbleby hopes her daughter will be brave enough to be herself and stand up to others

Mother's wish: Kitty Dimbleby hopes her daughter will be brave enough to be herself and stand up to others

My list included a desire to travel the world, fall in love and get married, be a journalist and report from a war zone, write a book and work for a charity.

Never imagining I’d complete this list, somehow I had ticked off everything on it by the time I was 31.

I hope Chloe is as lucky in realising her dreams, and I know that being brave will help her to achieve them.

You need to be brave to trust friends, to fall in love, and to achieve most things in life, whether professionally or personally.

Despite somehow finding the courage to do the things in life that scared me most, I hope Chloe is braver still than me, less needy, and able not to worry what others think about her.

My only regret in life so far is that I would have gone further were I not so afraid of confrontation, of annoying people, of not being liked.

I hope Chloe has a thicker skin and tiptoes less than me as she travels down whichever path she chooses.

I have been pondering the most important lesson I will pass on to my darling baby girl, and I think it is that you can only get the most out of your time on this earth if you face your fears.

It’s important to jump out of the metaphorical (or actual) plane and smile while screaming as the blood pumps around your body, reminding you that you are alive.

I want to wrap Chloe in cotton wool and keep her safe from everything that could possibly hurt her. I know I can’t and I mustn’t.

Just as my mother did for me, and her mother did for her, I must help Chloe stand tall, and wave her goodbye with a smile on my face when she goes out to face the world.

Bel Mooney, 66, lives near Bath with her husband, Robin. She says:

There’s something special about the female line in my family, four generations now, and I’m in the middle, looking back to my mum’s world and forward to what I want for my new granddaughter.

I carry within me not just my mum’s work ethic and joie de vivre, but the values of my own grandmother, too — Chloe’s great-great-grandmother, Ann, who worked hard as a dinner lady, then a cleaner, and always placed family at the centre of her world.

Despite my career, I do the same. I look forward to sitting Chloe on my knee and telling her real-life stories about her great-grandad and his motorcycle exploits in the war; about her great-grandmother’s brilliant tap-dancing and gold medal for ballroom; about there being 50 pupils in Granny’s primary school class in post-war Liverpool and tough tests every week; about mini-skirts and rock ’n’ roll, and what a handful her mum sometimes was.

Mother and daughter: Bel Mooney (left) and Kitty Dimbleby (right) on Kitty's wedding day

Mother and daughter: Bel Mooney (left) and Kitty Dimbleby (right) on Kitty's wedding day

But my family story isn’t just a glorious mixture of hard work and good times: it’s also proof that imagination can improve your life.

My grandparents had the pride and vision to create a cosy home when they were quite poor, knowing that how you present yourself to the world matters, and that there’s no excuse for not being spruce.

My parents believed passionately in betterment, and so the radio stayed off while I did my homework at the little second-hand desk Dad did up for me, in the corner by the fire.

They made me believe you could be whoever you wanted to be, no matter what your background — and didn’t think it odd that when I was 11 I wanted to catch the bus to the Walker Art Gallery by myself and read five library books a week.

My biggest regret is that I never had the chance to travel when I was young, and that, when I married in 1968, my husband and I concentrated on establishing our careers.

I wish we’d gone on an adventure somewhere remote in the world. I was so pleased that my daughter did, and I’d like Chloe to do the same.

You can’t help worrying about the society into which your grandchild is born.

My biggest nightmare would be Chloe growing up in an even tackier celebrity culture, where the finest books, paintings and music aren’t valued any more, a world cheapened by the loss of everything my parents valued.

To hell with computers, TV and pop culture — I want her to read books, write stories and poems, paint pictures, make models, sew clothes for her dolls and teddies (I’ll help!) and take part in a Nativity play each Christmas.

'To hell with computers, TV and pop culture - I want her to read books' says Bel Mooney

'To hell with computers, TV and pop culture – I want her to read books' says Bel Mooney

If they’ve banned them at school by then, we’ll put one on at home.

I want to read to her the great children’s classics, and talk about the characters in those make-believe worlds.

I want her to love the natural world, too. To play in the wet grass with her cousin Barnaby, perhaps picking up snails and learning about their little lives.

Climb (small) trees and splash in muddy puddles in her wellies, go blackberrying and climb on a chair to make pastry for the pie.

I don’t want her to be one of those pink-princess girls. If, when she’s 14, she wants to wear Dr Martens and stomp about protesting, as her mother once did, because the bulldozers are digging up the green belt, that’s fine by me.

I hope I’ll be there right beside her, an ever-galvanised granny!

I want the precious messages contained within family life, culture and nature to feed Chloe’s imagination and encourage her to believe in a better world. No matter how much evidence there is to the contrary, I hope she’ll always cling to that dream.

Gladys Mooney, 88, lives in Bath with her husband, Ted. She says:

The most important life lesson I can give my great-granddaughter is to understand that you have to work hard and make the best of things. Nothing comes on a plate: you have to earn it.

My father died when I was two-and-a-half. I was the youngest of ten children and although money wasn’t plentiful, I never wanted for anything.

Everyone in my family had a job: no one was out of work in those days.

Three generations: Bel Mooney (left) with her mother Gladys and daughter Kitty in 1984

Three generations: Bel Mooney (left) with her mother Gladys and daughter Kitty in 1984

None of us thought of travel or anything like that, but I remember being a happy child, contented with my lot, and I hope Chloe is, too.

I left school when I was 14. I wanted to bring home a wage, so I got a job as an office junior at Crawford’s Biscuits in Liverpool. Now I wish I’d continued my education.

Leaving school so early is probably my biggest regret. What I want more than anything for my great-granddaughter is for her to have the education I didn’t have, and take full advantage of the opportunities available to girls nowadays.

I got married in 1943, when I was 19, and had a son, then a daughter, within three years.

We lived in a small rented house with my husband’s parents, but his mother helped with the childcare, so I was able to go back to Crawford’s almost immediately.

I loved my family, but maybe I was a little young to become a mother. Ted and I always worked hard so we could give the best to our children and grandchildren. We both went to night school — he worked at the English Electric Company and studied for his Higher National Diploma so he could move another rung up the ladder. I learned shorthand, so I could leave the typing pool.

When I retired, I took GCSEs in English literature and English language, and an A-level in maths.

I was also able to help Bel with childcare, just as my mother-in-law had helped us, so she could continue her career as a journalist and broadcaster as well as being a mother.

Bel was always academic, and my husband and I encouraged her as much as possible. We weren’t rich, but she always had all the books she needed. I wanted her to go further than I did.

We paid for her student lodgings when she went to university in London and we made sure she had everything she needed, including nice clothes.

When Bel married her first husband at the age of 21, they were both still students, but I didn’t worry that she was marrying young. I knew they’d both go far.

Now it’s wonderful to hold my great-granddaughter Chloe in my arms, and see her wearing one of the little outfits I’ve bought or knitted her.

I always advised Bel — and, after her, Kitty — to live life before getting married, to have an education and a career before becoming a wife and mother.

I’d advise Chloe to follow their example, taking the chance to learn everything she can and enjoy some adventures before settling down.

I hope she wants to learn and work as much as I did. I want her to appreciate her education, and realise that it’s a means to a good life rich in choices.