In this compelling, insightful collection, journalist Claire Halliday gathers the stories of a diverse selection of Australians to find out what their mother taught them. Each story imparts the wisdom passed down from many different mothers from which we can all learn.
Some of those Halliday speaks to, such as dancer Li Cunxin and writer Kathy Lette, have the fondest memories of their mothers. Others, such as chef Adrian Zumbo, recall hard times during adolescence but frankly relate how they came to appreciate all their mothers did for them as they grew older.
While there are many heartwarming stories here, it’s not all feel-good stuff. These are warts and all narratives, forthright and authentic, and of course not everyone’s mothers are brimming with pearls of wisdom. Some of these personalities have learnt from their parents how not to be as an adult and how not to parent. Not everyone interviewed had happy childhoods, and some had mixed blessings.
Similarly, not everyone’s birth mother is the key mother figure in their lives. For the editor of this collection, Claire Halliday, it’s her adoptive mother who remains the maternal influence in her life, after unsuccessful attempts to bond with her birth mother. “I’m an adopted person so when I think about the lessons my mother taught me, I think of two women…two mothers…multiple stories,” she says in a recent interview. “One thing my birth mother has taught me is the difference between nature versus nurture. I think nurture has a power that is hard to beat.”
For Jacqueline Pascarl, it’s her godmother who remains the real mother in her life, after years of abuse from her own mother. It was her godmother who taught her how to parent. “I made a conscious decision to talk to my children as though they weren’t idiots because my godmother always spoke to me like I was an intelligent, but smaller person.”
Some themes recur through these stories, with many expressing belated gratitude for all that their parents did for them. Poignantly the realisation comes too late for some. Says television personality, Shaynna Blaze, “The thing is, now I want to say to her: ‘Wow, thanks for giving me that rope and letting me do all these things,’ but I can’t. She’s been in a nursing home for fifteen years. She’s got Alzheimer’s.”
With such a wide range of Australians speaking to Halliday about their mothers – including journalist Benjamin Law, The Rosie Project author Graeme Simsion, actor Greg Fleet – Things My Mother Taught is a book that many will relate to. After all, the mother-child relationship is universal and one of the most significant in our lives. From this book, we can all pick up wisdom on how to live, how to parent and how to appreciate our own mothers. It’s a beautiful book and an ideal gift.