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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pat McDermott: 'Family Matters' Book - Interview

One of the Australian Women's Weekly's most adored contributors - 30 years and still going strong! - has released her book called 'Family Matters', based on her three decades of columns for the iconic magazine. Pat McDermott's much-loved 'Family Matters' saga has unfolded on the last page of The Australian Women's Weekly for all these years, much to the delight of dedicated followers. Her hilarious observations on her own family (five kids!) and their dramas, from toilet-training to weddings and beyond (grandchildren!), her long-suffering husband (MOTH, the Man of the House), an endless succession of beloved and badly behaved pets and just about every situation a couple or family can find themselves in, have kept readers amused and entertained every month since 1984.
Now these generations of readers can relive their favourite 'Family Matters' moments and new fans can be charmed by Pat's warm, laugh-out-loud anecdotes and confessions in this book.

This is the perfect book for every imperfect family - a treasure trove of wisdom, love and laughter from one of Australia's most adored chroniclers of family life.

"Children between the ages of twelve and 25 find parents embarrassing 95 per cent of the time. Any younger and they're so uncritical they think you look good in swimmers. Any older and they drop in just long enough to leave their laundry and borrow $50. If you want to embarrass your kids you have to strike when they're teenagers," says Pat.
And here, Pat sits down for Josie's Juice (TwinnieWorld sister site - reproduced her for you, dear readers) to answer questions about family matters, and why family matters.
Interview with Pat McDermott:
You really are an Australian national treasure - do you feel like an Aussie now that you've been here from Canada for all these years? 

      I admit it did take me awhile to find my feet and get used to the summer heat. It seemed that every bit of clothing I had packed was WRONG! But now I’ve been here for 40 years and I cheerfully admit to tearing up when I hear ‘Advance Australia Fair’ ( I really like it!), enjoying a green Christmas and developing a hybrid accent - I use all the right words but probably still sound a little different.  I think having my babies here, going through all their school years, making so many friend along the way has made me a real Aussie. One of my kids is a member of the Australian Defence Forces - and I am very proud of that. It really is possible to love two places and it helps that Canada and Australia are alike in important ways. It’s true…home is where your heart is. My heart and my family is in Australia.

      You have such a huge following as a columnist for AWW - surely this is some kind of publishing record… have you looked into that? 

It has been suggested that 30 years of Family Matters makes me the world’s longest running columnist. However, somewhere in the world there might be another writer bashing away at their keyboard for longer. I don’t like to risk making a grand claim.  I never forget running up with my ticket at a school fundraiser, thinking I had won the raffle with Green B12, only to find the real winner was Yellow B12.  It was a long way back to my table! I will opt for modesty here - but I think deep down…I may be the champ.

What are the systems you had in place to manage the raising of five kids? Some tips and tricks and how you get all those schedules (plus your own) in place. 

Everyone’s family and situation is different. But here are some things that worked for me and still do!

a) A sturdy filing cabinet. We have a red one with five big drawers - one for each child. All their medical records, school reports, most interesting art work, merit awards, ribbons and any other important documents went in their file.  I could put my hands on their vaccination records in 5 seconds flat. No one ever missed a school camp or excursion. It went on to hold passports (GAP years), CV’s, applications, university papers, references and many other important/interesting information.

b) I have a large white board on the wall in my kitchen. ‘If you want to be dropped off or picked up…put it on the board.’ They also listed food or birthday presents to be bought, school concerts, birthday parties, sports days etc. 

c) I have always kept a diary. I carry it everywhere. I learned to do this as a young journalist and I would be lost without it. Every mum should have a diary. It makes life so much easier. 

d) Be organised personally as well as professionally. I remember a teacher telling me he could always tell a kid from a big family - they brought their notes back on time.  Perhaps the more kids you have the more organised you are.  I worked to deadlines in my work life I was used to meeting them elsewhere as well.  I hate missing things or arriving late. I wanted my kids to feel the security of an organised home life. 

e) Buy a collection of good-sized, sturdy plastic bins. I have five with a child’s name on each. This is an updated version of the lovely chests described in the classic ‘Little Women’. One bin per child to be filled with their personal memorabilia. Mine are fully loaded….merit awards, school ties, photos, weird art work, all the lovely stuff from their school years. They don’t want their boxes yet….but they will!

f) Participate. Put your hand up to help with the cake stall, the P&F, the soccer team. When you contribute you learn and grow and I have friends from those days who are still very dear to me and me to them. Your kids will love it and if you do have a criticism or a suggestion it will be much better received if you actually put your shoulder to the wheel as well. PS: put your volunteer experience on your CV.
g) Sort your wardrobe. It’s better to have a small collection of clothes that work that heaps of random stuff on hangers. I want to be able to dress in minutes. I was fanatical about keeping the kids’ clothes in good order and ready to go. Hideous trying to get ready for some function or event and the one thing you (or they) need in the wash. I washed EVERY day for years. I IRONED endlessly while I watched movies at 1am. 

On the whole, the little McDermotts  were in the right place at the right time.  The MOTH?? That’s another story.

      As a grandmother (how many grandkids?), do you impart your tips to your kids?
      At this moment I have two little granddaughters.  I am hoping for many, many more!  I follow my late mother-in-law’s advice….zip the lip!  She was a huge support to me over the years but resolutely refused to offer advice. If I asked her for tips or suggestions or just confided a problem I had, she would think quietly, reassure me that all would be well in the end and then, sometimes, gently tell me something that had worked for her.

      Have there been moments when your kids - and even grandkids - have been a little mortified at stories you've recounted?

      I hope not. Perhaps the boys were a little critical at one time or another. Some anecdotes and stories include our own experiences and those of other families and friends.  Sort of a lovely, mushy mix of everyone’s lives.  On occasion, one or the other of my kids would wag a finger at me to say ‘NOT THIS ONE!’ 

      What does MOTH think of all your success? 

      He seems a little bemused. He is a rather quiet, self-contained fellow except when he is telling (and re-telling) very bad ‘DAD’ jokes. He is famous for forgetting punch lines which actually gets him more laughs than his jokes. He thinks I am just a little crazy and over-the-top. Sometimes he winks at the family and blames it all on me being from ‘blizzardly cold Canada.’ 

      How does it feel to have many of your stories now published in a book?

      It’s a lovely feeling to hold a nice, solid, good looking book with your name on the cover. (“Almost as good as a nice cold beer,” says the MOTH.) I have had two other books published some years ago. One of some very early stories and another called Pardon My Parenting - both out of print. But ‘Family Matters’ is by far the best looking and the most comprehensive because it covers many years of columns from older ones to ones just published. Choosing the columns to include was very hard…rather like naming your favourite child….when you love them all the same!  It also makes me feel rather organised to see them all in one place.  I must put a copy in the filing cabinet!

      Pat McDermott is a long-running journalist for The Australian Women's Weekly and author of the weekly column, Family Matters.

Pat McDermott is the author of FAMILY MATTERS, published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $32.99, on sale now

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