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Book review: The Wilderness Years by Camille Blyth

I infrequently laugh out loud when I read. I have never laughed when reading a baby book.

This is where Camille Blyth’s take on life as a mother is different to all the other parenting books I have read. The Wilderness Years (First Mate Books, $17.99) is refreshing. It isn’t a how to guide on how to raise your child or routines. It’s about the reality of motherhood: how it changes you as a person, how it changes your relationship with your partner and about how you may function and survive as this new family unit.

I love the introduction, which is written in the style of a job advert. I quote:

“Position vacant. Personal assistant required to unquestionably perform all aspects of care for an unspecified number of very unreasonable people. …The position is full-time with no holiday….Salary $0.00p/a.”

I liked this intro so much that I had to read it to my mum over Skype. It made me laugh but it also brought a little tear to my eye. Being a mum is the best and most rewarding job in the world but it is also the most exhausting, stressful and overwhelming one.

Survival guide

The book centres on what Blyth terms The Wilderness Years – roughly the time between your first child turning one and your youngest starting school. It’s billed, quite rightly, as a survival guide but you’ll find it in the parenting section not next to Bear Grylls.

Blyth focuses very much on the effects motherhood has on you, as a woman, so don’t expect much about the joys of motherhood. I believe her angle is, those elements are a given, so there is no need to write them down in a guide. What isn’t a given, and what is rarely talked about, is how frequently motherhood can be lonely, isolating, frustrating and sole destroying!

I am a stay at home mum-of-two and I could quote again and again from the book as there are just so many elements of her experience that ring true in my life.

The 13 chapters of the book range from an insight into the various ‘family’ relationship through to advice about parenting advice. Blyth starts by  introducing the concept of the Wilderness Years and the Family Beast (Blyth’s metaphor for a family functioning with offspring). There is are four chapters on relationships: your kids, partner, family and friends (aka Blyth’s tribe) and very importantly with yourself.

Superpowers

My favourite chapter is the one on Superpowers, which all mothers develop. I especially like, Torque, I quote:

“It looks like 0 to 160 kilometres an hour in less than a second…A child’s wail in the dark of the night and throw you into immediate action. There is vomit all over the bed, everyone is wailing…but even with the baby on your hip, your have dialled the hospital, changed the sheets…and made it back to be next to your solidly snoring partner in 15 minutes flat.”

I also share Blyth’s confidence in ‘mother’s intuition’ or what she metaphorically describes as the ‘Parenting Gem’; a tailsman that you carry around with you. This chapter is a critque of the vast amount of often confusing professional advice which preys on new parents lack of knowledge and/or confidence. As a mum who can blame Gina Ford for my baby blues – I ended up throwing her away (the book, not the baby) – I can’t help second all that Blyth says in this chapter and the one on Advice which also addresses the concept of parental guilt.

Blyth also critiques the media in her chapter, Mumtopia v Equamumity and marketing in the chapter, Influence. She sheds some clear light on celebrity mums and the pressures to be the perfect mum in today’s society.

“Parenting is, by its very nature, imperfect…Imperfection creates individuals…flaws are interesting. Imperfection should be celebrated, not avoided.” And touches on television as the vehicle which brings commerical marketing into our homes to our children before they can even read.

The final chapter looks at life after the Wilderness Years and returning to work if you haven’t already. I also see the seed of another book from Blyth which is hinted at in the epilogue.

I am four years into The Wilderness Years so I can look back and laugh at certain elements discussed in the book. I am not sure, if I read this book as a new mum, I would get it as much enjoyment from it as I do now.

As a blogger on a parenting site I am guilty of adding to the wealth of advice out there for unsuspecting parents. I believe we are lucky to live in a world with so much help and advice at our finger tips. I suppose the trick is to find your own way, using your “Parenting Gem’ but also borrowing bits from different books, friends and family, eventually creating your own unwritten childcare ‘bible’ to help you navigate the new and scary world of parenthood.

The Wilderness Years is one of the few parenting books I would advise new parents to read. I am definitely sending one to my best friend who is due this month and my sister-in-law who has a one year old. I am sure she found me irritating when I said the first year is the easiest. Well, here’s proof in the written word!

 

You can buy the The Wilderness Years here.

Further information: thefamilybeast.com/the-book/


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