Books by Sheila Kitzinger

Released: Sept. 1, 1996

An uneven contribution to the collection of volumes on celebrating a feminist old age: how to be a grandmother in an era of long-distance and blended families. Kitzinger has previously written about sex, birth, and motherhood (Ourselves as Mothers, 1994, etc.), in that order. Now that she is a grandmother, she offers both personal reflections on and studious analysis of what she sees as a major life transition. Moreover, she says, for many women, the challenge of becoming a grandmother is compounded by its proximity to the hurdles of menopause. Among the demands when a grandchild arrives: Grandmothers must rework their relationships with their children, define the boundaries with daughters- and sons-in-law, determine whether they want to model themselves on Grandma Walton or Auntie Mame, and bring themselves up to date on trends in child-rearing. According to Kitzinger, grandparenting is a minefield. Chapters discuss daughters who feel rejected, age gaps, favoritism, oversensitivity, the in-laws, and ``The Reluctant Grandmother.'' Even willing grandmothers will throw up their hands at Kitzinger's view of the complex balance of sensitivity, wisdom, and creativity that grandparenting demands. It's also unclear what generation the author is addressing: Few, if any, new turn-of-the-21st-century grandmothers will have raised their children without benefit of washing machines and disposable diapers, as she suggests several times. A final chapter of suggestions on playing with grandchildren recommends basics like reading aloud, cooking, and singing, but there's no mention of the new tools, like e-mail and video, that will bridge distance and bind grandparent and grandchild (not, admittedly, as satisfying as baking chocolate chip cookies together, but worth exploring, nonetheless). There is something to be said about the changing roles of grandparents at the turn of the millennium, but this muddled compendium says too much about the problems and too little about the solutions. (photos, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1994

Anthropologist Kitzinger's (Women as Mothers, 1979) dreary picture of the current state of motherhood in the West leaves one wondering why anyone bothers anymore. New mothers, she says, are devalued by society and perhaps by themselves, prey to the exhortations of the medical establishment and so-called parenting experts, and plied by the media with images of unattainably perfect motherhood. She contrasts the West, where medicalized birth is ``depersonalized,'' with traditional cultures, where childbirth remains a ``social act.'' No doubt a society, such as ours, that still views motherhood as a deviation from the norm needs some attitude adjustment. But the question still seems open as to whether a woman would rather have prenatal care in the form of regular, if alienating visits to the obstetrician or in the form of exhortations, made to Jamaican women, not to drink soursop juice to avoid excessive labor pain. Kitzinger provides an unusual and enlightening tour of mothering practices around the world, from India to Zambia, Israel, and China. She is suggesting that we combine the best of mothering traditions from pre-and post- industrial societies—but how to accomplish it must be the subject of another book. Read full book review >