8 questions with Diana Patchett

As a mum of four sons, and “mother” to 850 girls aged 2-18, St Margaret’s College executive principal, DIANA PATCHETT, shares her experiences of parenting.

What is life like being “mother” to 850 girls?
My parenting life was happily dominated by boys, so I am so grateful to be the leader of a girls’ school. It offers me a tremendous opportunity to provide an environment free from gender expectations, enabling ‘my’ girls to step into any space to which they aspire and allowing them to admire the incredible diversity of talents among their female peers. Here we celebrate girls who are good with technology, girls who write poetry, girls who are fierce on the sports field, girls who bring you to tears with their musical prowess and girls who are a lovely mix of everything!

What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt as a parent?
Don’t sweat the small stuff, pick your battles, and amplify the positive messages you share whenever you can. It can be too easy for our young people to feel overwhelmed by the challenges and the issues of global concern.

Encouraging our children to know and play to their strengths, be open-minded and flexible thinkers, have confidence in their own skills and abilities, practise well-developed interpersonal and collaborative skills to be able to work well with others, and perhaps most importantly, demonstrate the resilience to embrace failure as a necessary means to realising a solution to new challenges – these are invaluable life skills for all ages and ones that we can assist with developing at home.

In this way, any concerns for the unknown aspects of their future can become a tailwind that propels them forward and not a headwind to hold them back.

What sort of things do you enjoy doing with your own family?
We are a close family, and stay in touch with each other regularly. However, with our boys now spread around the world, getting together is more often done via a group FaceTime chat, having fun with added comic filters, comparing time zones and current scenery.

Our family will never suffer from ‘nature deficit disorder’, so when we are together we take every opportunity to enjoy time outdoors. The boys’ preferred habitat involves saltwater – surfing on it, sailing over it or diving under it! So, setting up camp at the beach is high on our list of family adventures. 

Best advice you would give to any parent, through your own experiences?
Look for the win-win in parenting. Empower your children to develop skills that will help set them up for success in the long term, and make family life easier in the short term. From when our sons were in Middle School, they were expected to cook a meal a week and each boy had one household job that they were ‘trained up’ to do well. While it certainly eased the load on their working parents, it also set them up with valuable flatmate skills as they stepped out of the family home with a few easy recipes under their belt and the ability to clean a bathroom properly.

What was the thing that surprised you most about parenting when you first became a mum?
It is said that when you choose to have a child, 

you choose to have your heart walk around outside of your body for the rest of your life. The unconditional love that ties you to another little human right from the start took me by surprise. And following the birth of each of my children, it amazed me that I had the capacity to love even more. Perhaps that is why the left lung of mothers is smaller than our right lung. It has to make room for our heart. 

What is your favourite family tradition?
With four boys, our special holiday times were spent camping at the beach, so we modified my traditional Canadian Christmas traditions to suit our Antipodean family life. A mango replaced a mandarin in the bottom of stockings and cold prawns replaced hot ham for lunch. Even under canvas though, Christmas still involved singalong carols on Christmas Eve, and it remains the youngest’s job to pass out the presents in the morning. 

What are you reading at the moment?
I Am An Emotional Creature – the secret life of girls around the world, by Eve Ensler. It is a collection of fictional monologues and stories inspired by girls and an inspiring call to action for girls everywhere to speak up, follow their dreams, and become the women there were always meant to be.

What is your favourite quote?
What inspires me at the moment are the words of Coco Chanel, “A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”

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