Book Review: The Guilt-Free Guide to Motherhood (by Kirsten Toyne)

As mothers, we constantly measure ourselves against our own elusive (and often contradictory) ideals of perfect motherhood. We know those ideals aren’t real but their power over us can be so strong that we are left either feeling like a failure or warping ourselves out of shape in a doomed attempt to conform to those ideals.

The Guilt-Free Guide to Motherhood by Kirsten Toyne is a great antidote to that futile search for perfection. It is also a wonderful exploration of the troubling feelings that can come with adjusting to being a new mother. It is a book grounded in real women’s lived experiences of pregnancy, birth and the baby years that aims to showcase just how diverse and OK our different feelings and experiences of motherhood actually are.

This is a fundamentally kind and thoughtful book which models a non-judgemental attitude towards others – which is exactly the way Kirsten Toyne believes mothers should regard ourselves if we are to escape the guilt trap. Don’t get me wrong, this book is not all reassurance and touchy-feeliness. It certainly doesn’t pull its punches about the trauma of post-natal struggles and life with a new baby. The section on sleep deprivation paints a grim picture of how all-encompassing and destructive lack of sleep can be and its knock on effects on relationships and self-esteem. But, in Kirsten Toyne’s view, accepting the realities of real mum’s lives can help us all to escape the guilt trap.

This book reminds me in its intentions of Life After Birth by Kate Figes which is my number one recommended book for all first time mothers. The Guilt-Free Guide to Motherhood doesn’t quite have the same depth or breadth of voices but it has a kindred spirit of diversity and inclusiveness.

In the end, that spirit of inclusiveness means that you may not find the answers you are looking for in this book. This is not a ‘How To’ guide and you will be disappointed if you are looking for an off-the-peg formula to guilt-free mothering. But it is a book that will help you reflect and think and that reinforces the message that we all have to find our own way through parenting, being kind to ourselves (and non-judgemental of others) along the way. It’s also a great read for professionals supporting new mums.

The Guilt-Free Guide to Motherhood is aimed at mothers during pregnancy and the first year or so of baby’s life. However, just like Life After Birth, I suspect that a lot of this book’s content can’t be fully appreciated until you find yourself in the situation of having the intense feelings of a new baby. So buy it while you are pregnant, certainly. But you might find that lots of the chapters are best read during that adjustment phase in the first six months. (That is if you can fit in reading around the sleeplessness and intense demands of a new baby….)

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This review reflects my genuine personal opinion of this book. However, I do need to declare an interest: my blog is listed at the back of this book as recommended reading. This post contains affiliate links (see Disclosure Notice for more information).

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