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The grandparent gripe: How to avoid feeling sidelined

Belfast Telegraph writers Laurence White and Mary Johnston, tell the heir to the throne how they get the most of a very special bond

Prince Charles is reportedly frustrated that grandson George spends more time with the Middletons than him, but what's the best way to avoid feeling sidelined?

The bond between a parent and child is arguably one of the strongest human relationships there can be, forged as it is through the process of pregnancy, birth and countless midnight feeds and nappy changes.

For grandparents too, though, the joy of having grandkids come into their lives can be just as immense, and a profound reminder in their autumn years of the ongoing circle of life.

At a more basic level too, it's a chance for granny and granddad to rediscover their inner child in a whirl of playgrounds, birthday parties and overnight stays, not to mention the chance to spoil the little ones rotten - often to the chagrin of the parents!

And therein lies the rub for many new grandparents, as their sometimes differing ideas of child-rearing can often conflict with the more modern attitudes and expectations of the parents. There is also the issue of whether they will even be given the time to spend with the new additions to the family, as many parents try to compensate for not seeing their children during the working week by monopolising whatever free time they have left over.

Last week it was reported that Prince Charles was apparently frustrated he wasn't able to spend as much time with his grandson Prince George (left) - son of William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall - as his daughter-in-law's parents, Carole and Michael Middleton.

Given that even the next in line to the throne seems to feel sidelined in his grandparenting role, is this typical for other doting grannies and gramps?

Here, two proud grandparents give their own view on where the boundaries lie.

'Anything that Carole suggests is done out of boundless love'

So it’s being said that poor Prince Charles believes he is being prevented from seeing his first grandson and feels that Prince George is being “Middletonised” because of the amount of time he spends with Kate’s parents.

I say that's absolute poppycock and I don't believe it for one minute. I don't believe he said it, nor do I believe anyone's stopping him from spending time with little George.

Yes, it's certainly possible that grandfather Charles sees far less of the adorable looking little prince than "rival" grandad Michael does, but this is not an uncommon practice that may have its basis in the old saying "Your son's your son until he finds a wife but your daughter's your daughter for all of your life".

Adult daughters tend to stay closer to their mum (and dad in Kate's case) than adult sons and I reckon this is how it should be.

Once married, sons make their wife and family the centre of their life while daughters often feel the need to stay close to mum, particularly once they have a family of their own. Because of this, grandkids end up seeing more of mum's mum and dad than dad's parents.

Besides which, it seems that William is more than happy to spend time "en famille" with the Middletons. He finds their lifestyle relaxing.

Nobody had to drag him along to his mother-in-law's recent 60th birthday celebrations in Mustique and is it not within the realms of possibility that he and Kate spent Christmas at home and invited her folks because the girl is pregnant and could feel far more relaxed and content in her own home with mum on hand to help out rather than have to endure the protocol at Sandringham.

Camilla's even being included in the blame game of her husband not being allowed to see the little prince, with "sources" saying she and Kate don't get on.

Again, highly unlikely, as anyone who's ever met Camilla comments on how easy she is to get along with. The Duchess of Cornwall also has several young grandchildren of her own and is apparently great with kids.

Prince Charles was brought up in a Royal household where he spent much of his childhood in the care of nannies and hired help, being brought to say "goodnight" to Mama before bedtime. He hasn't a clue what it's like to be normal.

All his adult life he's been surrounded by sycophants who didn't ever dare disagree with anything he had to say, no matter how ridiculous it may have been.

He can apparently be extremely wilful, too. I remember reading once about him deliberately dropping things on the floor in the palace for his courtiers to pick up after him.

I feel a bit guilty saying that because I had the honour of having dinner with him at St James' Palace and found him to be charm personified, but I digress.

I'd wager that all Prince Charles, who leads a busy life, would have to do if he wanted to see his grandson is ask Kate and William when would suit. So-called friends have commented, like they did before, that life at Anmer Hall, where the toddler lives, is too "middle-class" rather than how the Royals do it, making out that this is a bad thing and of the Middleton's doing and influence.

Doting granny Carole is being dubbed "queen Carole'" amid claims she rules the roost and dictates what Prince George can and can't eat and when he must sleep and so on.

Based on grandmotherly experience, all I can say is anything she suggests or does regarding her grandson is done purely out of boundless love and caring about what's best for him. I have four grandchildren. My son and his wife have two little girls who visit me and 'Grumps' with their mummy once a week. Both parents work and the children go in to paid childcare. I babysit when I'm asked and enjoy that extra time with Holly (5) and Katie (3) when we can have good fun playing and singing, dancing and reading bedtime stories together. My daughter-in-law's parents have died, so we are the only grandparents they have and she and I are very close and get on really well.

My daughter and son-in-law also have two children we are fortunate enough to see a lot of, but rather than their dad's mum seeing less of them, as allegedly like Prince Charles and Camilla, their other granny, because she lives nearby, gets to see my precious little Emily and JJ even more than I do.

The bond between my grandchildren and me is almost palpable. They are a huge part of my life and I adore them. You don't have to be anything but yourself with your grandchildren. They love it when granny and Grumps act silly.

They don't even take offence when Grumps tells them off or is a bit strict for my liking, as he was with our own children.

I can imagine Michael Middleton acting the clown, rather than the crown prince with little Prince George and I feel sure granny Carole loves him as much as her own children and is devoted to him.

On the other hand, much as Prince Charles probably loves Prince George, can you picture him really being at ease or playful with him?

It isn't always the grandchildren's parents who are to blame for a deficit in quality time with the grandkids. Grandparents are sometimes too set in their ways, too self-centred or decide that having brought up their own kids, refuse to help out in any way.

Here's some final words of advice to Prince Charles and any other grandparents: "Where there's a will, there's a way".

By Mary Johnston

'Charles' desire to play a role in George's life is totally natural'

On Saturday, September 6, 1997, as the funeral of Princess Diana wound its way through the streets of London, most eyes were on her two sons as they walked in solemn stiff-backed procession with their father, grandfather and uncle Earl Spencer behind the coffin.

But as the cortege moved through Horse Guards arch, out of sight of the prying lenses of all but the television cameras, the formality was briefly broken when Prince Philip briefly patted the then 15-year-old Prince William on the back.

It was a very human gesture of support from a grandfather to a grandson, almost a metaphor for the role of grandparent in times when consolation is most needed. The moment was brief but the image and message enduring.

How ironic then that 17 years later Prince Charles is said to be concerned that he doesn’t see enough of his grandson, William’s first born, Prince George.

Last week the Daily Mail reported that the Prince’s maternal grandparents, Michael and Carole Middleton, are ever constants in George’s life at the expense of Charles, causing a sour outburst from the grandfather.

But that misses the point of being a grandparent. No matter how much they desire to be a part of their grandchildren’s lives, their role is, to an extent, by invitation only.

Of course it is not as formal as that and new parents are often only too glad to use the grandmothers and grandfathers as potential respite from the very demanding job of rearing a child. New mums especially seek out the help and advice of their own mothers, so it is natural that Kate should turn more to Carole and Michael than to Charles and Camilla.

And, as someone who has eight grandchildren, it is a role that is accepted with great relish in our family.

Grandchildren are a delight. They are the new twigs on the family tree, carrying on the line if not always the name, and to see them grow and blossom into their own individual characteristics is one of the greatest joys that anyone can have.

In the past year my wife Eileen and I have seen the birth of three grandsons and we have greeted each first tooth, each minor milestone such as clapping their hands, grasping their toys, sitting up unaided for short periods, with the same wonder and appreciation as we did when their mums and dad were babies.

Eileen, being infinitely better attuned to the nuances of grandparenthood than I, knows exactly where the line should be drawn. Feeding, changing or simply holding the babies is a privilege, not a right. Their parents are the pivots of their lives and even as very young babies it is easy to see that bond.

Yes, we sometimes sigh and raise an eyebrow when the new mum or dad expounds the latest “expert” opinion on how the child should be fed or entertained and express wonder at how we ever managed to rear six children of our own simply by taking on board advice from our own grandparents and learning from experience.

Our oldest grandson is now a teenager and with others in their primary school years the wonder of how babies grow into children and then adults still confronts us daily. We are fortunate that we see all of them frequently, sometimes all together which can certainly lead to a raucous atmosphere.

Given our experiences as grandparents it is easy to sympathise with Prince Charles as his desire to play a role in George’s life is entirely natural and to be encouraged.

Admittedly the Royal households — and the public duties of the Royal Family — are far removed from the way the rest of us live. Perhaps Charles wants to pass on his experience of how his grandson’s life will be. After all one day George will be King, something we can never promise our own little princes and princesses.

We are more likely to be called on for babysitting or child-minding duties while parents try to achieve some sort of work/life balance. It is an arrangement that works through mutual agreement and there are no hard and fast rules apart from the fact that parents top the pecking order and their desires are paramount.We can offer advice but never insist it is taken up.

And as my wise wife sometimes says — being a grandparent is more fun than being a parent. After all, we can always give the children back.

Perhaps William should recall that pat on the back all those years ago and ensure that Charles is there to support George when needed. In the natural order of things, grandparents are for now, not for ever.

By Laurence White

How to be a good grandparent ...

  • Accept the news gracefully - as joyous as the news may be that you're going to become a grandparent, it can also be life-changing in how you view yourself. But that doesn't mean you have to ditch wearing the latest fashion, or revving it up in that snazzy car you bought during your mid-life crisis
  • And the name - even the briefest scan through the gossip columns these days is a who's who of weird and not-so-wonderful children's names. So if you find your son or daughter asking you to help them pick between a gender-neutral moniker based around wine varieties, just grin politely
  • Don't spoil - this is the minefield in which numerous inter-generational relationships can come a cropper. Some might argue that it is a grandparent's place to provide a limitless supply of cuddles and treats, but this won't do the parents any favours when it comes to their own efforts to instil discipline and realistic expectations in their little darling back at home
  • Get the gear - there's nothing more annoying for a parent than having to lug baby's equipment between their home and yours if you're minding for the day/night, so make sure your home has the basic gear
  • Help out, but don't overdo - there's nothing more welcome than that basket of ironing being magically taken away and dealt with, or a quick nip to the shops, especially in those early newborn days. But the new parents also have to develop their own routine, so making them become too dependent won't do them any favours in the long run
  • Know when to back off - another golden rule. As well-intentioned as your advice and or offers of help may be, sometimes the parents just want to do things their own way. Learn to bite your tongue

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