As a mum with two daughters who have never listened to a word of advice I’ve given them, I’ve been reading author Barbara Toner’s new book, Because I Love You – A Mother’s Advice to her Daughters, with avid interest.
While I haven’t finished it yet, I can report it’s hilarious and absolutely correct in the advice it gives ... if only a daughter, any daughter, but especially my two, would read it and take it on board!
I found myself nodding and laughing at the same time at the succinctly sage advice which is helpfully grouped into sections and chapters around themes such as social skills, how to be successful, where gender gets you, feminine wiles and motherhood.
At each chapter’s end is a rule: Also funny and also helpful.
Barbara is Aussie-born and raised and divides her time between a home on the south coast of NSW and London in the UK.
The lovely thing about books like this is you don’t have to read them from front to back, you can dive in anywhere. So I naturally went straight to the chapter on love, sex and marriage – so like my daughters in that respect.
Can you fault someone giving their daughters marriage advice as follows? “Having children together is a bigger commitment than walking down some aisle. Check that children are on the cards if that’s what you want, and in a time frame that makes sense to you. The important thing is that the arrangement suits both of you and you’re clear what the terms of the arrangement are. Like who owns the dog.”
The book was published in an earlier form when Barbara’s three daughters were younger and more appreciative of it, she believes.
“The book was first written in 1997 and was called A Mother’s Guide to Life. It was written on the back of a column I was writing for the (London) Mail,” she said.
“They were then in their teens and early 20s and when they read it. It was quite important to them and they clung to it. They love all the emotional stuff – like how to find a husband, for example.”
Some 15 years later, Barbara showed the book to a literary agent who suggested updating it.
“It’s based on all the mistakes I’ve made. I made lots of mistakes. I am a show off, an exhibitionist and a know-it-all and I was trying to say ‘don’t make these mistakes - being bossy and controlling’!”
Barbara’s three daughters are now in their early 30s and she has ‘loads of grandchildren’.
Barbara started her writing career at the tender age of 16 as a copy girl for the Melbourne Sun.
A defining moment came when she had a dramatic “falling out” with a sub editor.
“He sent me down to get some orange juice and I came back with a tin of orange juice, and he said ‘I don’t want a tin, I want a carton’ and threw the orange juice at me. I threw it straight back and said ‘get it yourself’. Then I had to resign as a point of honour.”
She married at 19 and moved to England with her new husband.
When she had her first child at 25 she found herself looking for advice on how to juggle a career with motherhood.
She found nothing, so Barbara wrote her first book, Double shift: A Practical Guide For Working Mothers.
“I got slammed. People said ‘how dare you encourage mothers to work?’
“It kind of earmarked me as a feminist writer before feminist writers were being taken seriously.”
Now the former columnist has 14 books to her credit and is planning her next one – an historical book on the town of Bomabala in the Snowy Mountains.
Because I Love you: A Mother’s Advice to her Daughters
is published by Allen & Unwin.
*This story was first published by Fairfax Regional Media in November, 2012