Taste of re­al­ity for the Yummy Mummy

Tam­sin Kelly on how a trend-set­ting au­thor learnt to sur­vive fam­ily life by em­brac­ing chaos, sleep­less nights and com­pro­mise

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Family -

Pub­lish­ers, eh? We find our­selves in the mid­dle of a back­lash against yummy mum­mies in which the mere men­tion of one is enough to pro­voke most real mums – you know, the ones who are still a bit porkier than they were be­fore preg­nancy and don’t have the fi­nances or in­cli­na­tion for a per­sonal trainer and ret­inue of nan­nies – into an out­pour­ing of ex­ple­tives. So what do they de­cide to call Liz Fraser’s new book? The Yummy Mummy’s Ul­ti­mate Fam­ily Sur­vival Guide.

“It’s a fam­ily sur­vival guide,” Liz says, in­sist­ing that I put my hands over the of­fend­ing words. “De­spite the ti­tle, this book has ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with be­ing a Yummy Mummy and I’m very keen to dis­tance my­self from that idea, be­cause it alien­ates a lot of peo­ple.”

So there we have it. Fraser, 32, is not and never has been a Yummy Mummy (even if her first book was called The Yummy Mummy’s Sur­vival Guide). She met her hus­band Harry, 34, a soft­ware en­gi­neer, at Cam­bridge and they have been mar­ried for 10 years. She was only 23 when she had her first child Emily, now nine, fol­lowed by Phoebe, seven, and Char­lie, three. Fraser suf­fered from bu­limia for 15 years, only free­ing her­self from the binge­ing cy­cles af­ter her youngest was born. “I’m now en­joy­ing the hap­pi­est time of my life,” she says. “Moth­er­hood cured me.”

Her in­ten­tion to­day is to re­vive the idea of fam­ily life. It’s not all “Fam­i­lies from Hell” pro­grammes and badly be­haved chil­dren be­ing put on the naughty step. “I want to put fam­ily life back on the agenda and back in fash­ion,” she says.

Her book is ar­ranged as a tour through a fam­ily house, with each chap­ter un­der a dif­fer­ent room head­ing. Read­ers are taken from The Front Porch to The Gar­den Shed, via rooms such as The Util­ity Room, The Pantry and The Mas­ter Bed­room. There’s even a floor plan at the start.

“Fam­ily life is such a huge sub­ject I didn’t want to write it as a dull A-Z ref­er­ence book,” says Fraser. “All women love nos­ing around other peo­ple’s houses, pok­ing into their cup­boards and ad­mir­ing their new bath­rooms.”

Each chap­ter con­tains Fraser’s tips for sort­ing out your re­la­tion­ship, along­side de­clut­ter­ing and or­gan­i­sa­tional ad­vice. She is not afraid to state the ob­vi­ous. In the chap­ter en­ti­tled The Cup­board Un­der the Stairs, for ex­am­ple, we are told: “You have to trust your cleaner one hun­dred per cent as she may well have ac­cess to your house keys.”

Then there is rather jar­ring ad­vice on “all the fam­ily is­sues you would rather not deal with”, in­clud­ing when to lie to your hus­band and when not. It’s all very odd.

“Peo­ple who know me re­alise that I’m the least ego­tis­ti­cal per­son,” says Fraser. “When I of­fer ad­vice, I al­ways fol­low it with a self-dep­re­cat­ing com­ment. You have to read the book as vaguely ironic, al­though there are ob­vi­ously se­ri­ous points, too.”

Irony can be tricky to pull off in print. Still, the book is un­der­pinned by the sort of com­mon­sense which only front­line moth­er­ing can bring. Most par­ents will agree with Fraser that fam­ily life is “75 per cent ab­so­lutely fan­tas­tic and 25 per cent pretty grim, but it’s so worth it”.

She ar­gues that peo­ple have un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions of their lives, which they didn’t have 30 or 40 years ago. We’re sat­u­rated with images of per­fec­tion – our houses, our chil­dren, our fam­ily life – and we’re too quick to trade up when it comes to ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions.

“Fam­ily life doesn’t work like that,” she says. “Hav­ing a fam­ily means sign­ing up for a com­pro­mise, dis­or­der, noise, sleep­less­ness and a fair amount of in­con­ve­nience, and that’s just be­fore break­fast.

“But, as enor­mous, ex­haust­ing up­heavals go, it’s just about the best one there is, and if it’s what you choose then you have to take on the chal­lenge – and you’ll en­joy it.”

Sur­vival course: Liz Fraser’s books might have ‘Yummy Mummy’ in their ti­tles but she doesn’t iden­tify with the role – all she wants is to re­vive the idea of fam­ily life

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