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
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