Grannies have strong views on child-bearing, and Sheila Kitzinger, natural childbirth guru, is no exception. But for her daughter, Tess McKenney, there is no escape. She lives in the grounds of her mother's home in Oxfordshir e, with her husband Jon, Sam 8, Laura, 3, and Joshua, 10 months.
Sheila Kitzinger

'I used to get in the playpen with my typewriter. It was

the only way I could get

on with my work'

When Tess first told me she was pregnant, she was working in the United States as an electronic engineer, and she was very low key about it. I remarked that she did not seem to be bubbling with excitement, and she said she didn't think I'd approve. She explained that I was so approving of her academic sisters and those who were carving out their careers that when she chose marriage and motherhood, she was worried that I might think it was second best. I do think it's a pity when women get bogged down in motherhood before they've sorted out what they want in life and who they are. But it was the right time for Tess, and she is a wonderful mother.

Immediately before the pregnancy, our relationship had been quite distant. I was probably closest to my eldest daughter, who is a psychologist, and my youngest, an academic who has done research on childbirth. But after Tess had Sam, I found I admired her a great deal, more than I had done before. I admired her spontaneous mothering: instead of coming in with theories and methods, she got to know this little person. And she gave a lot of herself. Tess has always had her babies in bed with her, and she breast-fed Sam until he was four - without being at all Mother Earth about it.

Sam was born in my house, with midwives who were friends of mine, and I cradled Tess's head as she floated in the warm water - her children have all been home births and water births. People say to me, weren't you over the moon? But I didn't get ecstatic. It's like when you see hyacinths coming up in the spring. Things grow; they have an inner power.

I don't know if Tess has read all my books - she's not a great reader - but she is my PA, and helps me run the International Home Birth and the International Water Birth movements from here. It's been lovely the way she has nurtured me. We are closer now.

I didn't think about being a grandmother very much before - but I enjoy it. I see the children every day, and there's always food here if they want it. I love feeding them, and I love bathing the little ones.

I do see myself in Tess - though she doesn't want to be a rerun of me, and she isn't. There are differences in the way we do things. I started writing when number four was born, and I used to get in the playpen with my typewriter. It was the only way I could get on with my work. But Tess wouldn't even have a playpen - she doesn't want to present any barriers to the children"n

'Becoming a Grandmother: A Life Transition' by (pounds 14.99) is published this month by Simon and Schuster

Tess McKenney

'Sheila must have been

desperate to do something apart from being a mother.

I don't mind biding my time'

I didn't think my mother would be particularly pleased when I told her I was pregnant, because she thought of me as a successful career daughter. In fact, I'd always intended to go straight back to work afterwards, but I lost my job when I was seven months, and decided to come back because I couldn't get a home birth in the States.

After that initial awkwardness, she was pleasantly pleased about the baby - but not ecstatic, like some grandmothers might be.

We hadn't really had an awful lot in common before I had the children. I did engineering partly because it was something my parents didn't know anything about. When I was growing up, I found Sheila's work very uninteresting - I'm much more impressed with her now. Being closer to the work she does, I can also see ways we do things differently. For instance, when I talk to a distressed woman on the phone, I talk about my personal experiences, whereas Sheila always brings them to a more political angle.

I did have some reservations about coming to live so close to her - and I'm sure she had some reservations, too. But it helped a lot going through the birth together, and unlike her own mother, Sheila doesn't really criticise.

The biggest tension between us is food. Sheila has food standards, and I don't. She'll make elaborate meals for us; I'd rather bung a pizza at them, and us all be relaxed - it's nice to do it at the children's level. But if she hears that Sam has had pizza again - well, I tell him not to tell her, basically.

I do have a child minder, but if I ever need to leave the children with Sheila, I sometimes feel I'm imposing on her time. But I'd much rather have that than have a devoted granny. I'm not setting an example to my children of a working mother, so it's nice to have her setting that example.

It took me until my third child to really accept the model of myself as a full-time mother, and I think I might be happier if I was working. But when we were small, Sheila must have been desperate to do something apart from being a mother - whereas I don't mind biding my time.

I suppose I always wanted a bit more of my mother when I was growing up. At the age of seven, we had to go to bed at seven o'clock because she said, "I need my space." I've only insisted on bedtimes as required by individual children. But sometimes I find it incredibly stressful to think that she coped with chronic asthma and five children, and I am sometimes not coping with three, and a chronic back. She is quite a lot to live up to"n

Interviews by Diana Hinds

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