The Fabulous Mum's Handbook by Grace Saunders

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The Fabulous Mum's Handbook by Grace Saunders

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Category: Home and Family
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: A chirpy and chatty advice book for new mums with an identity crisis, often useful & recommended for a first-time, urban mother who works an office job, enjoys fashion, chick-lit, food fads and glossy magazines: it deals with clutter, shopping, sleep, fashion and sex and might open your eyes to some facts of life not mentioned by Cosmo.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 320 Date: February 2007
Publisher: Century
ISBN: 978-1846050435

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The Fabulous Mum's Handbook is one of these books that start with the premise that motherhood, especially the first time, is a novel, frightening experience that will throw in your path innumerable anxieties and almost inevitably, result in a major identity crisis: a tragedy in our times when 'who am I' seems to be the ultimate question.

Most of the new-mother advice books deals with baby care as well as devoting some space (varying from almost half to just a few pages) to the mother. The Fabulous Mum's Handbook leaves the details of baby care to others and concentrates on the challenges of the new life as a mum.

Grace Saunders used to be a fashion journalist at Elle before going freelance after the birth of a second child. Now, I don't like glossy 'female' magazines. I don't like fashion. The idea of shoe shopping fills me with dread, not excitement. I dislike girly chat and I don't own a television. However, I was rather positively surprised on reading The Fabulous Mum's Handbook. It's better than I thought and I think many expectant and new mothers might find morsels of useful advice there.

The book is divided into topical chapters and each of the chapters consists of the main text by Grace Saunders, interspaced with boxes relating real mothers' experiences and is followed by a concise advice from an expert in the field, with top tips and a list of dos and don'ts.

Amongst the best chapters is the one about fitness and exercise and the one about shopping for baby, dealing with the overload of toddler toys and creating and managing space in your home in a way that makes it child-friendly but doesn't turn it into a kindergarten. They are full of optimistic, realistic, sensible advice that pretty much anybody can adopt.

There is an extensive section devoted to balancing work and mothering, and I think many women would find this one quite useful too. It goes on at length about the raging guilt apparently every woman feels when going to work if she has a small child (I must be a psychopath but I never felt anything of the sort) and it's overall more geared to women working in executive level or at least office-style jobs (so worries more about power-lunches and meetings than night shifts and having to work on weekends); but for those agonising over choices it makes useful points and describes alternatives and things to consider.

Another useful chapter deals with sleep deprivation and sleep organisation as well as making excursions into the subject of routines in general: it's the only one that has any baby-care advice; it exudes reason and covers middle ground on what can be a very emotional subject where ideological strongholds are often too clearly defined.

None of the above offer any groundbreaking solutions, nor are comprehensive enough to be the only mothering book you will ever buy, but they won't do any harm and author's practical chirpiness might provide a welcome bit of common sense when trying to prepare for the 'new life' after the birth.

The section on 'grown up time' covers sex, friendships, going out and finding time for adult socialising in general. It's sensible about sex and relationships (though I personally think that men who feel resentful because the baby is the centre of attention should be told to grow up and behave responsibly); it makes numerous references to this strange British custom of a 'girly night out' (I could never understood why grown up people beyond the teenage years, and often even in their late 20's-30's insist on socialising in singe-sex packs, it must be to do with sex-segregated education, or something). I found most of the subjects and attitudes covered in this chapter bit hard to relate to, which is a personal thing and for many people it would be more relevant.

Both the food and clothes chapters are where Saunders' background as a London fashion journalist shows the most and thus the ones where I was most tempted to check my alien from another planet credentials.

The Food section covers advice for pregnancy and baby-rearing and on one hand, it's rather sensible in comparison to obsessively puritanical approach of books like the American What to Expect When You're Expecting. This is to be applauded. On the other, it's full of sweeping statements like "benefits of no pesticides go without saying" (erm, they don't actually: there is no reliable studies that show that tiny pesticide residues present in food have any adverse effect on health and that organic food is healthier) and advises taking vitamins and supplements while pregnant and after birth, which (apart from the folic acid) is nor recommended in the UK for normal, healthy women and which fuels the market in unnecessary nutritional supplements. The advice from the guru is definitely better than the main text in this section (though also refers to mythical superfoods). The main problem with the food chapter is less its food-faddism (organic is, after all tastier and eco-friendly) but the fact that the suggestions take no budgeting demands into account: not many mothers live in a world in which organic salads and tuna steaks can be the order of the day.

The Clothes section is afflicted by similar problems as the food chapter: anybody who lists H&M and Accessorize as a source of cheep and cheerful stuff must have a seriously unrealistic view of normal budgets (and I am basing this opinion not only on my behaviour but also on what London-office-working friends buy too). My main problem with the clothes chapter was personal though: I found the initial, sincere expose about how incredibly important clothes are to our identity, self esteem and well-being rather laughable. But then, I dislike clothes shopping and fashion (I quite like having reasonable clothes, ideally the same for the rest of my life) and thus the suggestion that my first few baby-free hours would be well spend buying clothes on the high street seemed like a dreadful joke. But if clothes are important for you and you think about them in terms of 'outfits' that you 'put together' and 'accessorize' and try to have something called 'personal style' and find shopping for them fun rather than chore, this will probably be your favourite section.

Is there anything missing? I would happily see a section on housework: how to manage and rationalise everyday chores. Personally I find the amount of laundry to wash, dry, fold and put away the biggest (and not entirely expected) housework challenge of having a family of four including a constantly dribbling baby, a five year old with a penchant for changing clothes three times a day and a mate who refuses to go out to the garden in jeans with slight staining. This was also the reason why I gave up on reusable nappies.

The Fabulous Mum's Handbook is written in the extremely chatty, upbeat, super-chirpy style and suffers from terrible exclamation mark overload: I think there are pages with 4+ of them; and the recipes refer constantly to 'my' avocados and 'my' basil (why?). If you can't enjoy or at least cope with this kind of style, don't get this book: it's one of its major features.

However, I would still recommend buying this for a first-time, urban expectant mother who works an office job, enjoys fashion, food fads and glossy magazines: she's bound to enjoy it and it might prepare her for some facts of life not covered by Cosmo and be an occasional lifesaver. Otherwise, borrow before purchase or (if I put you off completely) get yourself an escapist novel instead.

Two and a half personal stars (mostly for the anti-clutter advice), three an a half Bookbag ones from the point of view of book's target market.

The Fabulous Mum's Handbook was sent to us by the publisher.

What to Expect: the First Year is another book that deals with the challenges of new motherhood and includes extensive baby care advice as well as tips for mother self-care (but beware food fascism!)

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Pippa Gavey said:

I think Magda's review hits the nail on the head. I too found the author's style rather annoying - the over-use of the exclamation mark is exhausting but also the incredible amount of waffle ... You can read for pages before getting to the actual point. Initially I thought the summary sections at the end of each chapter were just a good idea but after reading a few more chapters realised that they were actually essential if you were to have any hope in taking anything away from reading it. I also sometimes queried the author's sincerity/credibility (hard to believe there are many new mum's agonising over fashion in quite the same way) but suspect that she is indeed very sincere and that I am just on Magda's planet rather than the author's. Halfway through the book I decided I would be donating it to a charity shop (damning from me indeed as I am a notorious book hoarder) but - annoyingly - there is just enough useful information in there to earn it a place on my bookshelf.