How did you get a job as an agony aunt?
I had worked for both the Family Planning Association and Brook Advisory Centres before becoming a freelance writer. Essentials magazine approached the FPA for a recommendation for a new agony aunt, and they suggested me. I was their agony aunt for a few years before the position came up at Woman’s Own and I was offered it.
Do you think you have any special qualities that make you a good choice for advice?
I’m empathetic, experienced, trained and can be direct. I also have qualifications – counsellor, Triple P (Positive Parenting Programme) parenting practitioner. I’m the author of 31 books on emotional and parenting issues. And, as John Stapleton used to say when he introduced me on his TV programme The Time The Place, an all-round smartarse!
Do you believe agony aunts should be qualified in any specific way?
I most certainly do. You don’t do your readers or yourself many favours if you don’t have some counselling training. I’m a Relate-trained counsellor.
What else do you do?
Write books, hold seminars and master-classes on parenting issues, spend time with my husband, drink coffee with friends, cook, walk, go to the gym, cycle, stroke cats. I’m a trustee for two charities; the family charity Family Lives and Become (for kids in care and care leavers) and patron of Unique Kidz, which supports children with various disabilities and their parents.
Are there any problems that come up more often?
Just about every problem is a riff on the same theme; lack of communication.
Is therapy or counselling something often suggested?
I suggest it all the time. And accessing the help offered by charities such as Family Lives as well as Relate.
Do you ever suggest using apps?
Not really – I do often recommend websites, for charities such as Relate or Family Lives.
What about self-help books? Which ones?
My own (so sue me! But they are good..and with 31, I’ve covered a lot of the issues that come up!) And books such as How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk (Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish) or Let’s Talk About Sex by Robbie Harris.
Do you think women are more likely than men to turn to an agony aunt for advice?
Yes. Although men are coming for help more now, and are often more willing to go to counselling.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Aim to be good enough, not perfect.
Do you think advice can be generation-neutral?
Yes, it should be. Most problems are, after all. And gender neutral too.
Does any time of year bring more letters or emails?
Absolutely. December and January, with the apprehension and anticipation of stressful family get-togethers and party season, bring loads. As do summer or other school holiday times.
In the time you have been an agony aunt, how do you think readers’ problems have changed?
Not really. People are more articulate and feel they have permission to be explicit, and able to ask for help. But in the 25 years I've been doing it, the core problems haven’t really changed. Although I do think digital technology and the internet is beginning the have some significant effects, both positive and negative.