Being Mama: India Hicks
Former model and current designer and entrepreneur is mama to five kids, ranging in ages from 20 to 8. While four of India’s children are biologically hers, the fifth – and oldest – isn’t. She speaks to The Tot about finding her son, Wesley, and what it has meant for her family.
When your godfather is Prince Charles (yes, the Prince Charles – is there any other?) and you were a bridesmaid at his wedding to Diana Spencer when you were just 13, is there any way to go but down? India Hicks laughs when we put it to her that she may have peaked at the ripe old age of 13. “Oh dear. I really hope not!”
Of course, it’s not at all true. The designer and entrepreneur behind India Hicks, her eponymous lifestyle brand, has led something of a bohemian existence that’s taken her from modelling for Pucci in the late 80s to restoring homes in the Bahamas now. And in between all that, India has managed to be mama to – count them – five children.
“I always wanted a big family, and I credit that to my own childhood. There were always so many people in our house, it just felt very normal to me.” India describes her childhood as a “wild, tomboy existence,” saying she was “dressed in jodhpurs for at least the first 15 years” of her life. “It was a big house and we were raised by nannies, largely. My father was a mad eccentric, in every sense of the word. He was very flamboyant and I thought that was very normal. You know, I just thought everyone went to school in a Rolls Royce!”
While she was keen to emulate the fullness of her childhood home, India was adamant she would be more hands on than her own parents. “I’m very blessed to have such a beautiful relationship with my mom now,” she says. “We share the same sense of humor and we both have a real zest for life that defines us. When I was young, though, our relationship was very formal. It was a product of the time. It was expected that nannies would bring up your children and you’d be quite hands-off. Now, I’m very hands-on with my kids.” Though she’s always had nannies, it was out of necessity. “I’ve always worked, and so I needed nannies to help me,” she says.
With four children to partner David Flint Wood (the couple aren’t married; India says she “never saw the need”), plus a vibrant career, India’s life was already full when Wesley, now her son, came into it. When she tells me the story of how Wesley – now 20 – came to be part of the family, she’s matter-of-fact: adopting him was simply a choice she had to make. “Wesley has been around our family since he was two. His mother was a waitress at a restaurant we used to go to, and we became friends as our children were around the same age. Because his mother worked so much, Wesley started spending more and more time with us. Eventually he spent Christmases and other holidays with us.” Five years ago, when Wesley’s mother Lynne died of breast cancer, India saw no choice but to take him in. “It just seemed natural that he would come to live with us. His father is somewhat preoccupied with his other family, and so that wasn’t really an option.” After Wesley had been with the family for a while, India began thinking about long-term options. “It became important to me to show Wesley that I was serious about taking care of him for the rest of his life, so we went to speak to lawyers about adoption.” Unfortunately, in the Bahamas, where the Hicks-Wood family reside, adoption is something of a bureaucratic mess. “When we realized how difficult it was going to be, Wesley and I looked at each other and realized that we didn’t need the papers to prove that he was part of our family. For all intents and purposes, he is my son and I am his mother. Of course, I will never replace his own mother, but I am here for him for as long as he needs me. We were very lucky to have found him.”
With five kids now, and a thriving business, India says she does find it tricky to give each child the attention they need. “I try to have as much one-on-one time with my kids as I can. It’s hard when you have a big family, but you have to make time for it.” She says that she tries to avoid feeling guilty as much as possible, too. “As women, it’s unbearable to try to calm your conscience. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. When you’re at work, you sometimes feel like a terrible mom, and when you’re at home, you sometimes feel as if your professional self is entirely lost. To my mind, the best thing to do is just ignore those thoughts. I always think that I’m a better mom because I worked. I think if I didn’t, I’d be very overbearing. I was able to channel my energies into something other than my kids, and I think that helped all of us – my kids and me.”
While India says that motherhood has “changed her forever”, she also acknowledges that the goal posts are always shifting. “The thing I’ve found,” she says, “is that when the kids are little, you have a much clearer idea of what your role is, and what you can do for your child. As they grow, things get a lot more muddled and it’s harder to know what your job is. And the worries – ugh, they only get worse. I have an eight-year-old and a twenty-year-old, and I can tell you, I worry about them both equally!”
As for the challenges of parenting, India says the hardest part for her is saying no. “It’s so tempting to want to be your child’s best friend, but I think they have enough friends their own age: they need you to be their parent. And that involves saying no from time to time. I do find that hard, even now, after so many kids! I think every child thinks their parent is the world’s strictest, so don’t worry too much! They’ll think you’re strict even if you’re not.”