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Why granny throws out the parenting rule book for her grandchildren

Grandmother-of-six Mary Johnston happily admits that she indulges the next generation, while her daughter and mum to three of the children, Emma-Louise Johnston, says it was very different whenever she was growing up

Retired journalist Mary Johnston, (69) has four grown-up children, Simon, Emma-Louise, Peter and Lucy, and lives with her husband Pete in north Belfast. She says:

Do I spoil my grandkids? Not nearly enough, I'd say. As someone who never had the pleasure of having a granny, I intended to enjoy mine when they arrived. Although my dad's mum lived until I was about 16 and not a million miles away, sadly I have no fond memories of her.

She was most definitely a hands-off grandmother who didn't even allow us to call her granny. Cold, distant and uncaring is what I remember and it's because of her that I want to be the exact opposite.

So far I've been blessed with six grandchildren, four girls and two little boys.

My eldest son and daughter each have two daughters and a son and I'm not ashamed to admit I'm obsessed with them. I simply adore them all, just like most grandmothers I know.

I'm thankful that although a relatively old granny (there are some still in their 30s), I'm well and fit enough to get down on the floor and play with them (not so easy getting back up, mind you), to dance and bounce on the trampoline with them, to enjoy walks together and to splash about with them in the sea when we're on holidays. What joy.

Now that three of them are at school and one in nursery, I can't see them as often as I'd like but when we're together, it's such fun and you couldn't wipe the smile off my face. They're like the best 'high' ever.

I pick up my son Simon's children Holly and Katie from their primary school every Friday afternoon and their baby brother Peter from creche afterwards and we head to granny's. Friday afternoons are sacrosanct to Grumps (yip, that's what we call him) and me.

Grumps gets the treats in and the goodies come out as soon as they've their coats off. If their parents knew the half of it! It does bother me a bit that I've already turned them into choc addicts like me. Holly (8) and Katie (6) like to play games or Solitaire on the computer with Grumps and are very competitive, but so is he.

Peter (2) is almost as addicted to Friday sweeties now as he is to Peppa Pig, and how do I wean him off them without him hating me?

Emma-Louise's oldest is Emily, who's six. She's very outgoing and friendly and I've never in my life seen a child show such enthusiasm for life.

Emily embraces every minute with delight and I've never heard her say she's bored. She's the type of kid who befriends all her wee classmates and doesn't yet understand the concept of being cool. Her brother JJ, who's four, is reserved and inclined to watch and learn, very astute. Baby Lucy is two and looks like she's going to be Emily all over again.

Although all the kids will happily eat their way through the goody bag at granny's, they'll sometimes inform me that they just drink water or milk as they're not allowed sweet drinks. Where my lot used to get a Pot Noodle or a crispy pancake as a snack, this lot like chicken goujons, melon and mango.

With me having been brought up to hate waste, when our kids were little, I used to insist they cleaned their plates, saying 'There are children starving in the world'.

Now, it's 'Only eat what you want'. Nothing they do really annoys me, unlike when I was so narky and impatient with my own children at times.

I'm the type of person who infuriates my daughter by wanting to clear away the dishes almost before they've finished so I can clean up and yet, when little Lucy puts her entire hand into the yoghurt pot to get out every last bit and has the creamy mess all over her and the table, it makes me laugh, she looks so pleased with herself.

Her mum shakes her head, as I don't rail on as I would have with her, but explain that Lucy's just experimenting and discovering different textures and feelings. The only thing I do insist on from our grandkids is good manners.

When the Crawfords (Emma-Louise's kids) who live in the country come and have a sleepover, don't let on but they are never in bed by 8pm. It's the same when I babysit the Johnstons in Jordanstown.

The kids are always knackered after spending time with granny and I must be doing something right as they often hide when it's time to go home.

Thankfully, I haven't yet been reprimanded by the parents for my overindulgence. I look forward to additions to my brood as we've another son and daughter who have yet to start a family.

It's my secret wish and intention to treat all our grandchildren to a 'trip of a lifetime' to Disneyland while their granny is around to enjoy seeing how happy it makes them."

'The children get fancy cupcakes from granny... we got an orange or a biscuit'

Emma-Louise Johnston (40) lives in Maghera with husband Jonathan Crawford and their three children Emily (6), JJ (4) and two-year-old Lucy. She says:

We had to walk uphill there and uphill back when I were a lass. Not quite, but we definitely had it tougher than my kids.

My mum would have happily chucked us out to play in the rain no bother, with the cry of 'You'll not melt' in my freezing, wet ears. If my kids were to watch a bit of rain on the TV while sitting, snuggled on the sofa with a mug of hot chocolate, Mum would run to get them a brolly! And if one of them is a little cheeky and I reprimand them, she'll say 'Awk, the wee pet didn't mean it' or 'Don't be so hard'.

My parents were insane sticklers for manners and we got away with nothing. My mum was big into Dunnes Stores specials when we were kids and thought buying us clothes from M&S was going upmarket, whereas with my kids, she's all Boden and brands. 'Sure if I can't spoil them, who can,' she says.

Over this summer, if we were out at a park and there was an ice cream van, the children invariably asked for one.

I would be on the verge of repeating what I heard growing up, which was 'No, you can't, there's plenty of ice cream in the house', while Mum is hastily getting her money out. Where's the justice?

As for treats, we would have been given a mandarin orange or if Mum was in a super decent mood, maybe a Penguin chocolate biscuit. No offence, but Penguins weren't my favourite in the biscuit stakes.

My children get fancy cupcakes and an array of treats and delicacies any pastry chef would be proud to serve.

We're obviously so much more aware of childhood obesity these days, so while my parents treat them, Mum's also on at me to provide plenty of fresh fruit, organic vegetables, fish and the like.

That's all fine with my daughters but, alas, my son only likes beige food at the moment - nuggets, chips, pasta and the slightly more 'exotic' pizza. I'm told he'll grow out of it (and apparently grinding my teeth and pulling my hair out won't expedite that result).

When my husband Jonathan and I go out in Belfast on a Saturday night, we all stay at my Mum and Dad's.

I always laugh at how tired the kids are on a Sunday because I know my folks have been enjoying their company so much that they let them stay up late. They love sleepovers at Granny's.

This time of the year is obviously insanely exciting and the children are dying to open a present from under the tree. As I bark "No wayyyy" Mum will say 'Would you not let them open one?'.

We would have lost a digit had we moved one of the presents under the tree.

Everyone had a wee poke at the paper, of course, but it was on pain of death if you actually opened one early, besides the mandatory new jammies on Christmas Eve.

Mum paints with them, reads to them and plays with them at length (which I must admit, we had the joy of experiencing as kids too).

Dad reads to them, takes them out to the garden to feed the fish or to help him pick his homegrown tomatoes and is always recording kids' movies or programmes he thinks they'd like. Granny and Grumps could tell you the names of every kiddies show on TV.

We're all very spoilt and this period of our lives makes me feel so damn lucky.

I think both my folks need a wee 'fix' of the kids as often as possible. I couldn't ask for better grandparents for them."

Belfast Telegraph

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