Before they had children, Carrie and David Grant had a lovely — and hopelessly naïve — idea of what family life would look like.
Their kids wouldn’t be like those tearaways you see in restaurants, making other diners tut. They would have the sort of children you could, say, take to meet the Queen, confident that they wouldn’t disgrace you.
Given their musical background — they became famous as vocal coaches on TV talent shows, as well as for bands such as Take That and the Spice Girls — you’d certainly have expected their home to be a harmonious place.
Perhaps surprisingly, there are no musical analogies when they talk about their actual parenting journey, four kids (and one meeting with the late Queen) down the line.
Instead they reach for the natural world, speaking of being lost in a forest, or on stormy seas. ‘We thought our parenting route would be Dover-Calais, but then we found ourselves in the Pacific,’ says David, 66.
A very modern family: David and Carrie Grant at home in London with their children and dogs
Before they had children, Carrie and David Grant (pictured) had a lovely — and hopelessly naïve — idea of what family life would look like
Their children are now 28, 21, 17 and 13. Where are the couple on that parenting journey? Can they see land yet?
Carrie, 57, says: ‘Sometimes I think I spot the horizon, but it turns out to be a tsunami.’
It is from within the tsunami they have written perhaps the most extraordinary, sometimes troubling, parenting guide of our time.
Their book — an account of their own journey but also offering guidance for others — is called A Very Modern Family.
In it, they address a whole range of modern parenting conundrums, most of which previous generations would never have dreamed of.
First up: the gender issue. Today, Carrie rolls her eyes at how much time she and David spent choosing the names that would carry their children through life.
‘I was obsessed with what names meant,’ she says. ‘Oh, this one means ‘floating like an angel’ — let’s have that. We spent months on the silliness of all that.’ All girls names, too. ‘Before I had children, I was desperate for daughters,’ she says.
But agonising over names was pointless, given that their children have changed not just their birth names — which they consider deadnames — but their gender, too.
Where once this couple had three daughters, now they have Olive, who is non-binary (and prefers to be known as ‘they’); Tylan (who uses ‘he/him’ pronouns), and Arlo (‘he/they’).
The only child who has retained their birth name and gender is son Nathan, the youngest. He was adopted, though, so his name was not their choice.
Arlo — then aged 11 — was the first to say they ‘wanted to be a boy’. They would later decide they were non-binary.
Carrie didn’t even know what it meant when Olive, who is now an actor, wrote the words ‘I am non-binary’ on a piece of paper and showed her, in 2018. ‘I said, ‘That’s nice, darling’, which I shouldn’t have done,’ says Carrie. ‘I should have had the conversation then. I’ve learned a lot since’.
Tylan was the last to reject their birth gender. Also an actor, he appears in Hollyoaks, and in 2020 his part was amended to made the character non-binary, too.
What are the odds of all three female-born children in one family deciding they no longer identify as girls? We’ll return to that one, but it is not just on gender identity issues that this family’s had a tricky time.
In fact, the more you read of their story, the more it appears that gender-fluidity in this household has never been at the top of the things-to-worry-about list.
The only child who has retained their birth name and gender is son Nathan, the youngest. He was adopted, though, so his name was not their choice. Pictured: Carrie and David Grant at home
Indeed, all four children are also neuro-divergent. Two (Tylan and Arlo) were diagnosed as autistic on the same day in 2009, when they were seven and two.
Since then, Carrie and David have had to become armchair experts on a dizzying array of conditions, including ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and DMDD (Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder. Yes, that was a new one to them, too).
They have watched their ‘deliciously wonderful, creative, quirky’ children struggle with anxiety, depression, self-harm and eating issues. They have had to deal with school exclusions, bullying, police at the door and nights spent in A&E.
They tell me one social worker once asked them if they’d considered joining a local support group. ‘We run it,’ they replied.
Two of their children have been on suicide watch for years, not exactly at the same time, ‘but dovetailing’, says Carrie.
All this has been dealt with while Carrie and David have held down broadcasting jobs, including ones that involve going on TV with broad smiles. David has presented Songs Of Praise, for goodness sake.
Carrie recalls how, in 2017, she was on a plane, on assignment for The One Show, when she received a message from Arlo who had locked themselves in a bathroom at school, telling her he couldn’t go on. ‘It was the longest flight of my life.’
By the age of ten, Tylan had asked Carrie to kill him. ‘I answered: ‘No, I cannot do that for you,’ ‘ she says.
Carrie and David (at home) have watched their ‘deliciously wonderful, creative, quirky’ children struggle with anxiety, depression, self-harm and eating issues
All this has been dealt with while Carrie and David have held down broadcasting jobs, including ones that involve going on TV with broad smiles
Carrie has actually braced herself for the worst. ‘I stopped drinking about six years ago,’ she tells me. ‘It wasn’t a problem, but I knew if I lost a child, it could become a problem.’
Today, the Grant’s beautiful stucco-fronted home in North London contains not just a piano and selection of guitars, but also four locked safes which hold their children’s medication. Such has been their experience of self-harming, and other violence, that there are no sharp knives in their kitchen, no razors in the bathroom. Even pencil sharpeners have been banished.
It seems flippant to ask but how do they cut an onion? ‘With a bloody blunt butter knife,’ says Carrie.
Celebrity parenting guides can feel as though stating the obvious, with heavy emphasis on sneaking broccoli into pasta sauce. Not this one.
In places, it reads more like a warfare survival manual. Indeed, Carrie and David call themselves ‘warrior parents’, saying they have had to become so to help their children navigate a hostile world.
In places, though, it also reads like a cry for help.
They know only too well that some will read this interview and ask how much their parenting style has contributed to their challenges.
‘There are people who read about us and think: ‘This is woke parenting.’ That’s fine,’ says Carrie. ‘Maybe they will be lucky. Maybe they will have ‘regular’ kids who sit down in a restaurant and are well behaved and do all their exams.
‘We do not have those children, and there are lots of families like us who do not have these children either. To be all Judgey McJudgey is not going to help us, or our kids.’
Both singers, Carrie and David met in the 1980s. Their backgrounds were polar opposites.
David was born in Jamaica and came to the UK with his single mother when he was three. Carrie grew up in suburban Hertfordshire with a step-father who was captain of the golf club and a mum who was ladies’ captain of the tennis club.
David was born in Jamaica and came to the UK with his single mother when he was three. Carrie grew up in suburban Hertfordshire with a step-father who was captain of the golf club and a mum who was ladies’ captain of the tennis club
‘They were never going to shout racist abuse,’ writes Carrie of her parents. ‘Their response was a type of insidious racism that crept its way into conversation in subtle ways. They had a lot of changing to do.’
The couple are rightly proud of the home they worked so hard to create — warm, welcoming and open to everyone. Children? They wanted perfect ones, thanks.
At first, parenting the ‘traditional way’ (quite disciplined, ‘with a look from us if they were misbehaving’, says David) seemed to work.
But by the time their third child arrived, they were floundering.
Arlo seemed uncontrollable. Their health visitor was the first to say the word ‘autism’. They Googled it.
‘It wasn’t good,’ says Carrie. ‘But we soon realised that the traits we were reading about were also ticking a load of boxes for Tylan.’
In the summer of 2009, both children were formally diagnosed. ‘We had to accept our children were ‘different’. Some parents do grieve, yes, but then they move on, because your children are the same people,’ says Carrie.
They had to go through the same process when their children started to reject their birth genders.
‘I do remember thinking: ‘Oh. I have no daughters any more,’ ‘ says Carrie. ‘But now I have sons, or non-binary people, and that is fine, too.’
The links between neurodiverse conditions and gender dysphoria is something of a hot potato. Those who blew the whistle at the Tavistock GIDS Clinic in London (which has since closed) did so partly because they became alarmed at the overlap. And there is significant evidence to back up that theory.
More answers will doubtless come from further research in this area, but the ‘whys’ are largely absent from the Grants’ book.
‘For our child, their identity is not up for rabid debate,’ they write. ‘It’s part of their lived reality, not someone else’s hypothetical argument.’
When they wrote the book, none of the children had taken cross-sex hormones or had surgery
When they wrote the book, none of the children had taken cross-sex hormones or had surgery. David and Carrie said while they would not oppose it, nor would they encourage it. But last month, Tylan underwent ‘top surgery’.
‘With other parents we talk a lot about ‘holding the space’,’ says Carrie. ‘Giving the child — and the parents — time, and encouraging them to talk.’ They reject the idea that parents are rushing children down the transition route.
‘Fourteen years on a waiting list, which is the reality, is not rushing it,’ says David.
They also reject any suggestion, often made to them, that their children copied one another or were victims of a social contagion. ‘Honestly, no one would choose to have gender dysphoria,’ they write.
It is a fact, though, that their three girls decided they wanted to become boys (or non-binary) after they had adopted their son. Nathan joined the family in 2011, aged two. They knew the foster carer he had been placed with, and she asked if they would consider adopting him, knowing that, as a mixed-race child, he would struggle to find a forever family.
They have discovered they were ill-prepared for the challenge of taking on a child with more issues than their biological children. Nathan was the one they took to meet the Queen (both have been awarded MBEs for services to music and charity) at a charity function in 2018.
As Her Majesty approached them in the line-up, Nathan, then nine, dropped to his knees, and crawled out of the room, calling ‘bye’. The resulting picture went viral.
His parents were proud of him. To cope with his mood swings, they had been trying to teach Nathan that when he felt angry or frustrated, he should leave the room rather than lash out. That’s exactly what he’d done. David explains: ‘Other people might regard it as rude, or an example of bad parenting. For us, though, these moments are triumphs, because the alternative is that kid hitting someone.’
Since then, though, Nathan’s issues have become more complex. Now 13, he no longer lives at home but is at a specialist treatment centre, ‘being given the professional help he needs’.
They begged for this, after years of violent outbursts where he would attack Carrie, although she baulks at my description, saying ‘attack is a very strong word’.
How else to say it? She had specialist training in ‘how to lie on the floor and curl into a ball to protect my head’, so commonplace was it for Nathan to hit and kick when frustrated.
She ended up needing hospital treatment several times.
‘He is the sweetest boy,’ Carrie says. ‘I know he loves me — more than anyone else in the world. But often you rail against the person closest to you. Because Mum is strong. She’ll be able to take it.
‘Except I couldn’t take it. Other mums have lost their lives in these situations, and I have three other children I also need to parent.’
How close did she come to thinking Nathan was going to kill her?
They have discovered they were ill-prepared for the challenge of taking on a child with more issues than their biological children
‘For three months we had security guards, paid for by the local authority. I know this sounds crazy, but it happens. Big burly guys on your sofa. When Nathan did explode, the security guards were really scared.
‘One said: ‘Carrie, he will kill you. I have never seen anything like this.’ These were people who were used to dealing with these sorts of situations. At that point it became more . . . real.’
This is extraordinary, but, they insist, not uncommon. ‘Child-on-parent violence is swept under the carpet, but it is a huge problem, particularly in adoption situations.’
That they — and the other children — adore Nathan is obvious.
But even professionals involved with the family have clearly questioned their parenting.
In their book they cite one Social Service report which appalled them ‘because,’ writes Carrie, ‘all the emphasis was on me and David and our ability — or lack thereof — to manage Nathan’s challenging behaviour’.
Unfair, she says, given that they were screaming for help.
In some ways they are very brave to put this all in the public domain. They say they have written their book — ‘which is ultimately full of hope and love,’ says David — to reach out to other families, pointing out what worked for them.
Or what didn’t work, he adds. ‘There is a mental health crisis with our children, and all the systems — schools, mental health services, police — are overwhelmed.’
To write a parenting guide while you are still in the eye of the storm, though, is quite something. And involving issues that even the couple agree are ‘toxic’.
‘We haven’t got all the answers,’ says Carrie. ‘But show me someone who has? What I do know is that we are not unique. There are so many families like ours, dealing with exactly these things. They should not feel alone.’
- A Very Modern Family by Carrie and David Grant (£18.99, Piatkus) is out now.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-12104609/Carrie-David-Grants-soul-baring-account-parenting.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Fame Academy stars Carrie and David Grant’s soul-baring account of parenting