Sunday is Mother's Day. And, over the years, mothering has changed beyond recognition. Today's mothers could not imagine having to bath seven kids in a tin bath in front of an open fire, or scrub clothes clean on a wooden washboard. And the mums who raised their children in the depression or the war years would have been bowled over by the washing machines, spin dryers and instant hot water which are a fact of life for modern mums. Helen Mead spoke to two sets of mums spanning three and four generations to find out how their experiences differ

GREAT GRANDMA Margaret Petcher has seven children, 26 grandchildren, 40 great grandchildren, and two great, great grandchildren.

Her eldest daughter Valerie Barrett, 56, has five children and 12 grandchildren. Valerie's eldest daughter Karen Rumbles, 38, has a son, Jack.

Margaret, great grandmother

Bombs were falling when Margaret, of Great Horton, had her first child. It was 1941, and she was 19. "It was a nightmare," she recalls, "Because of the air raids we were sent home from hospital quickly for our own safety, but we had visits from the midwife, who was brilliant.

At home things were basic. "I would put a pan on the open fire to boil water and scrub clothes clean on a washboard, or the kitchen table top. Coal was in short supply, so we didn't always have heating. We had an outside loo and used to recycle everything - I used the bath water to swill the yard." All seven children bathed in the same water, in the tin bath in front of the fire.

She adds: "Washing machines are marvellous, it's so different nowadays - my daughter's dishwasher broke down and you'd have thought she'd had a bereavement."

Life was not made easy for new mums: "We had glass bottles for the baby's milk, which the Government provided. One had a teat at each end, and if you broke one it was hard to get a replacement."

Before the war ended Margaret had two more children. She recalls: "I had to queue for hours with our food coupons, and three babies, it was dreadful. And there was no Family Allowance, I'd make food last - I'd do things like bread 'pobs' - with pieces of bread, boiled water, milk and sugar."

Mums were given 30 shillings (£1.50) from the Government, which had to go to the midwife.

Like most mums, Margaret didn't work, and in common with her neighbours, had set days for certain tasks: Monday washing, Tuesday ironing, Wednesday baking, Thursday cleaning and Friday shopping.

Valerie, grandmother

When Valerie, of Heaton, gave birth to Karen in the early 1960s, time had moved on, but life was still a struggle. "There were still no washing machines - I had a dolly tub like mum, and a roller-ringer which Karen got her hand caught in one day. And there was no central heating - to warm the bed I would wrap the oven plate in blankets

She was just 17, and, with no transport: "There were no baby shops, only pram shops, but most of us had second-hand clothes. I had a big old pram with a false bottom for shopping. We didn't have rockers, play pens and things like that.

People still had set days for housework. She says: "In our street in Shipley you could only hang your washing out on a Monday, but it had to be in by lunchtime." On baking day I would make more than 100 buns, as well as pies, cakes and savouries.

Like her mum before her, she used terry nappies. Because they did not have a television, the children played outdoors a lot and used their initiative: "They would go fishing using a net made from old tights and skip and play ball and things like that. TV has spoilt all that, and people daren't let their kids out anyway. You can't leave the pram outside the door like we did."

Karen, mother

Karen, of Heaton, who has a seven-year-old son, is horrified by the experiences of her mum and grandma. "I can't imagine it," she says, "If I can't be bothered to cook I'll take my son to McDonald's, and now you can take children into family-friendly pubs."

She adds: "New mums have so much, there is a huge amount of choice - all the baby equipment, there's more temptation to spend. Children are fussy too, with all the TV advertising. Karen used disposable nappies - "and I just stick clothes in the machine." Unlike her mum, she works full-time, returning to her job as a laboratory technician, three months after her son was born. The family go abroad for holidays. Says Karen: Often it's as cheap as staying here."

How neighbours helped Nellie, 98, start a long line

Great great grandma Nellie Elphee, 98, has six children, 17 grandchildren, 20 great grandchildren and one great great grandchild. One of her three daughters, great grandma Gwynneth Moorby, has four children, eight grandchildren, six step-grandchildren and one great grandchild. Jayne Leighton has three children and one grandchild. Her daughter Nicola Simpson has one child, eight-week-old Daniel.

Nellie, great great grandmother

Nellie had her first child at home in 1935. Her husband Edwin had to walk from Harden to Bingley to fetch the doctor. It was a forceps delivery, and Edwin had to rinse the instruments under the tap.

In a book of memoirs, Nellie, who is 99 in May, writes: "In those days you had to stay in bed for two weeks after the birth, eat plenty of gruel and drink lots of milk."

She is full of praise for her "good neighbours." "Without them I cannot think what I would have done. Everyone was so kind. The lady who kept the greengrocer's in the village brought us lamb chops and all kinds of vegetables. It was appreciated especially as we were new to the area."

The midwife called often with useful tips. Nellie, who lives in a nursing home in Wilsden, had a secondhand pram and used their clothes basket as a cot. Washing was hard work, with her "Peggy tub posser," rubbing board and upright mangle with wooden rollers and a big wheel to turn.

Gwynneth, great grandmother

Gwynneth wanted nothing more than to become a mum. She was 19 when she had her first child, in Shipley and Bingley Nursing Home, where she stayed for eight days and was well looked after. In common with other mothers her age, she did not have a washing machine. Neither did she work. "I used to walk to from our home in Harden to Bingley with the pram - you could walk much further in those days without the worry of traffic. And the buses ran more often, if you didn't feel like walking."

She adds: "The children used to play out more - they had dens, and played with toys like whips and tops and skipping ropes."

Jayne, grandmother

Jayne, of Riddlesden, gave birth to Nicola in 1979. The boom in baby goods still had not begun, but there were signs of it starting: "We got a 'bounty' bag in hospital, but it was very small." New mums did not frequent charity shops. "There was a stigma attached to them in those days," says Jayne,

Nicola, mother

Nicola, of Keighley, finds charity shops a useful source of affordable toys. She says: "We have got everything we could possibly want, and it is easier in a lot of respects, but there is more pressure on mums to spend."

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