Monday, 30 November -0001

The right royal highs and lows of GRANDPARENTING

As Prince Charles becomes a grandfather for the second time, veteran Liz Hodgkinson shares her top tips for grannies and grandpas everywhere

Written by Liz Hodgkinson
Prince Charles has expressed his delight at becoming a grandparent, and although I can’t quite imagine him changing nappies or wiping runny noses, I am sure he will be an excellent grandfather in other respects – kindly, fun and indulgent.

As a seasoned grandparent of four teenagers and a 10-yearold, I am now in a position to pass on a few useful grand-parenting tips of my own.

Although I cannot say I have been by any means a perfect grandparent, I know that you must establish a continuing relationship with the children right from the start. You must do this however busy you are, and even if you are on the other side of the world, as many grandparents are these days.

This means calling them regularly on Skype or FaceTime when you can’t see them physically, and keeping them familiar with your face and voice. They may not say much – or indeed anything – of the slightest interest, but they will like to know you are thinking of them.

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You must also possess all the latest technology. Nowadays, there is nothing worse than a grandparent with an outof- date computer or decades-old television. They will expect you to have Netflix and to be able to use social media, and if you are hopelessly behind the times, then woe betide you. For even as toddlers, today’s grandchildren are experts on tablets, mobile phones and laptops – perhaps even before they can speak. And so must you be.

As they grow up, it will be your bounden duty to arrange day trips and treats for them, preferably without their parents. For these stern guardians, once your own dependent children, can easily put a damper on even the most idyllic day out by vetoing the third ice cream or another bag of doughnuts. Never forget that you and your grandchildren are co-conspirators, and you must make it clear, whenever you can, that it’s a case of PGL: parents get lost.

When my grandchildren were small, they enjoyed coming on their own to visit me at the seaside, where I then lived. They would romp around the beach, go on as many fairground rides as they could cram in (or that I could afford) and round things off with a visit to the amusement arcade. I know their parents would have frowned on the wicked indulgences I allowed, and I once got into real trouble for letting them do bungee jumping in Brighton. They absolutely loved it and I felt that the thrill was worth the risk.

I also used to take them to wildlife parks, zoos, tenpin bowling and on other fun days out. They are too old for such outings now, but they look back on them with huge pleasure. To be a good grandparent you really have to get into the children’s mindset and remember that you only exist for their amusement and delight.

We’d also go to the panto at Christmas and the cinema at other times. Thanks to the grandchildren, I have watched films I would never otherwise have seen, such as Wall-E, Kung Fu Panda and Ratatouille, and thoroughly enjoyed them. It’s also a good idea to take them to films that are slightly too old for them, and especially to latenight showings. Be careful, though, to space treats out, so that they do not become routine.

It also helps if you are not fanatically house-proud. I had to sit and watch helplessly as they laid waste to my living room, threw cushions at each other, put their sticky fingers on my newly painted white walls and trashed their bedroom. It is a cross you have to bear, but they do grow out of it.

They adore looking through your old photo albums and especially enjoy hooting at pictures of their own parents as children.

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When in charge, you have to be prepared for quarrels, fights and arguments, and it goes without saying, or should, that you must never have favourites. Although some of your grandchildren may be more likeable than others, never compare and con trast or ever appear to prefer one to another. They will pick up on this instantly and never forgive you for it.

Even then you can’t always win. I thought I had been particularly diligent in treating all my grandchildren equally, only to be told by one, ‘Of course, Arthur is your favourite, isn’t he?’ How do you answer that?

They will look to you for their best presents on birthdays and at Christmas, and once again you must not disappoint. I used to ask their parents what they would like, but now they email me lists. I am usually given a choice, depending on how much I would like to spend. Here again you have to be careful not to incur parents’ wrath. My son and his wife were not particularly pleased when I bought my then 11-year-old granddaughter some high heels and my 13-year-old grandson an 18+ video game.

In common with Prince Charles, I am a divorced grandparent, and this can have its pros and cons. Our grandchildren are lucky, as they get presents from both my ex-husband and me. My ex has also taken them for treats, so in a sense they have enjoyed double grandparenting. Divorced grandparenting is a fact of life these days, and you have to try harder to make it work. I know many divorcees who have completely lost touch with their grandchildren, and they bitterly regret it.

At one time, my own ex was in danger of losing touch, as sometimes years went by and he never saw them. He then made a special effort to get to know them, and as a result they have become close.

When trying to be a perfect grandparent, the question of babysitting will inevitably crop up. Here, you have to be strict. In common with many modern grandparents, I am working, leading a busy life, and am not on tap to babysit because the parents feel like going to Italy for the weekend. The parents will take shameful advantage if you let them, so you must ration your availability.

A few years ago my son Tom ranted in the Daily Mail that I was a terrible granny because I was never available for babysitting, instead following my own selfish pursuits. He also confirmed that I allowed them to eat forbidden foods.

As I see it, successful grandparenting doesn’t mean you have to be at their beck and call. I prefer to be an exciting, gracious presence in the children’s lives rather than an over-familiar old lady sitting in the corner. I like to spring surprises, and this can be difficult if you see the kids every day. The fine line between being part of the furniture and a stranger is a difficult one to get right and I am not entirely sure that I have.

But now, having often gritted my teeth during the early years when the grandchildren misbehaved, argued, had terrible temper tantrums or screamingly refused to eat their greens, I am on the upside. They are turning into polite and interesting young adults, full of opinions and ideas, and they feel able to confide in me their hopes, fears and ambitions for the future.

I am their ally, and I’m sure our easy and pleasant relationship has come about because I put in the effort to give them a good time when they were little and, quite honestly, a sore trial at times.

But more than that, they are now useful to their gran and the tables are turning. Arthur, 15, is my IT guru, and artistic Otto, 14, is providing artwork for my walls. The girls and I discuss fashion and books and they help me keep up with trends. I’ve tried to be a fun granny, and now I’m seeing the benefits. My grandchildren have become, with any luck, friends for life.

Although one does not choose to have grandchildren, mine at least are proving a precious gift, and I hope Prince Charles enjoys seeing his grow up as much as I have.



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