A birthday letter to my 11-year-old son

Isaac 11th birthday

Oh, Isaac. How on earth is it your 11th birthday already? That means it’s time for me to write my traditional letter to you, looking back on the last year and forward to the next one.

In many respects, things have shifted only incrementally over the past year: more evolution than revolution. With added hormones. Enough said; let’s not dwell on that.

But it has also been a year of massive change in other respects. So what’s different now compared to when I wrote to you on your tenth birthday? I’d say there are three big themes, plus one characteristic I hope you will focus on and develop over the next 12 months.


You’ve really asserted your independence over the past year. We finally granted you your own bedroom so that you could have your own space and go to bed later. You can venture out to the shops with your friends unaccompanied. And we’re okay with leaving you at home on your own for short periods (as long as you don’t go all Kevin from Home Alone on anyone).

We trust you to be sensible and you have repaid that trust with your growing maturity. With every passing day, you’re more of a young man than a boy.

And you’ll also always be a big brother to Toby and Kara. Yes, I know they annoy you sometimes. But they both look up to you and your love for them is all too obvious at times. I hope that never changes.


With greater independence comes a desire for privacy. This was one of the key motivations behind getting your own bedroom but it’s about more than simply being able to close the door.

Looking back over the last year’s worth of photos, it’s noticeable how few you appear in compared to both your siblings and to previous years. You’re more reluctant to have your photo taken these days. And you’re more conscious about appearing in blog posts or on social media. I write about you much less these days.

That’s okay, although it’s a shame because I have so much enjoyed writing about you over the years. But I would never want you to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about anything I publish online. You have a right to privacy and I respect that. Even if it means that one day – probably sooner than later – I stop writing about you altogether.

It’s understandable. You are at that age where some of the things that make kids distinctive can be weaponised against them. I want you to be strong enough to feel that you can do your own thing regardless of what your peers may think. But at the same time I recognise why you’re wary of that too.

So, yes, there are a few things we have agreed I won’t share publicly, even though I’ll continue to stress that you should never feel guilty or embarrassed about your choices. They are your choices and as long as you are making them for your own reasons your family will always support you 100%.


You have always been driven to achieve and take great pride in your accomplishments. And rightly so. Every year you have achieved something noteworthy – and your 11th year was no exception.

I mean, you’re now a fully fledged learner driver for starters!

Isaac 11th birthday

Academically you continue to excel, as you have always done. Passing your grammar school entrance exam was a huge achievement and hopefully you will now have the luxury of choosing which secondary school you go to.

More than academics, though, you’re becoming a more rounded individual too. Okay, in terms of sporting prowess you’re more David Baddiel than David Beckham. However, I’m delighted you’re sustaining your non-academic interests.

You’re smart, articulate and (mostly) thoughtful and considerate. I think that, as much as your academic ability, is why you’re now Head Boy. It’s impressive how easily you’ve taken to this new role. Showing people around on open days, making presentations – you were even unfazed when grilled by Ofsted inspectors. It took me over 30 years to build that level of confidence; you have it already.


Speaking of confidence, if there was one thing I would ask of you, it would be to believe in yourself more.

I think sometimes you don’t know just how amazing you are. When you were working towards your entrance exams, you were plagued by self-doubt. It was painful to watch you beating yourself up for not being perfect and I think you surprised yourself with how well you performed on the day. Even if you hadn’t passed the exam, we saw how hard you worked over the summer and we know you tried your absolute best. That’s all we ever ask from you.

In fact, maybe the challenge for you is not so much developing confidence as showing resilience. So many things come easily to you and you’re such a perfectionist that you sometimes struggle when things are only 85% right. But here’s the thing: as you get older, you will find that perfection is increasingly impossible to achieve. Failure is an inevitable part of adult life. And if you never fail at anything, you’re not stretching yourself enough. So treat failure as a necessary precursor to success. Be resilient enough to keep learning and trying until you do succeed – which you will.

If there’s one lesson I want you to carry forward into the next year, this is it. Ability alone is nothing without the commitment to improve yourself and the resilience to overcome setbacks. Put all three together and you will be unstoppable.

You’re about to embark on a year which will see huge changes for you. A new school. New friends. New challenges. Don’t shy away from them; embrace them. If you can do that, you’ll be just fine – and we will be so proud of you.




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