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How royals mums broke palace protocol to be more hands-on and modern parents

From Kate Middleton to Princess Diana...

modern royal mums
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Bringing up a baby in the palace isn't simple, as generations of royal mothers have found. From the Queen to the Duchess of Cambridge, they've had to balance centuries of tradition with their own maternal instincts. Princess Diana has been credited with showing her children life beyond palace walls, but already during the Queen's childhood subtle changes were taking place.

In Europe, we can look to Monaco's Princess Grace and Princess Charlene as well as Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden for creative approaches to parenting. As Mothering Sunday approaches, we salute the caring royal mothers who raised happy children while respecting protocol.

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Princess Diana

In centuries past nannies were the norm and the emphasis was on raising a royal heir with dynastic relevance rather than a child with individual needs. Being a good mother meant training sons to rule and daughters in the wifely virtues necessary for a suitable marriage.

princess diana with sons at theme park© Photo: Getty Images

Princess Diana was keen to give her boys William and Harry a carefree childhood

But Princess Diana, a nursery assistant before her marriage, wanted more than anything else to give her boys Prince William and Prince Harry a carefree childhood. She organised playdates involving jelly fights and for one of William's birthdays she set up a bouncy castle in the quadrangle of Kensington Palace. The Princess of Hugs, she broke royal custom to sneak the little Princes out to theme parks and cinemas. Diana did the school run herself to give her boys something resembling normality, her official agenda organised around their day. Her friend Lana Marks explained: "She would drop everything when the boys came home from school. It didn't matter which head of state she had to see or what gala she had to attend. Those were secondary."

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Her daughters-in-law have followed her example. Meghan, on tour in South Africa, explained that her agenda had been organised around Archie's feed-times. Since retiring from royal duty, as well as planning their future humanitarian work, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have spent most of their time chilling out with Archie and their dogs, being homebodies.

princess charlotte with mum kate middleton and prince george© Photo: Getty Images

Kate is a doting mum to Princes George and Louis and Princess Charlotte

The Duchess of Cambridge

After giving birth to Prince George, the Duchess of Cambridge whisked her newborn away from the royal fishbowl to her parents' country home in Berkshire. Kate has now created an idyll for George, six, Princess Charlotte, four, and Prince Louis, who is nearly two, at Anmer Hall, the Cambridges' country home in Norfolk. Their lives involve incognito visits to zoos, the Natural History Museum and even last year to a supermarket to buy Halloween costumes. The future Queen loves sharing vignettes of family life featuring pizza making, football and staying up late to make her children's birthday cakes herself.

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Where constitutional history would once have been top of the curriculum for a young Prince, Kate is vocal about the value of wellbeing, respect for others and kindness. "I think they're just as important as excelling at maths or sport," she says. Talking about 'mum guilt' recently, Kate, whose work focuses on the early years, said that instead of aiming for perfection she tries to focus on simple pleasures with her family: "I remember from my childhood – doing simple things, going for a walk together. That's what I try and do with my children because it strips away all the complications, all the pressures …. I've got one photo of Charlotte smelling a bluebell, and it's moments like that that mean so much to me as a parent."

the queen with her children© Photo: Getty Images

Home movies show the Queen and Prince Philip playing with their brood

The Queen

The Queen was only 25 when she ascended the throne so she had little time for games with her own children. Nevertheless, Charles and his siblings have fond memories of their childhood. Home movies show the Queen and Prince Philip playing with their brood in Sandringham and Balmoral. In one, Princess Anne is buried up to her neck in sand on a beach. In another, Philip teeters on a tricycle and zooms down a slide on the Royal Yacht Britannia. "Because you were so far away from everything it was a really magical time," recalled the Queen's niece, Lady Sarah Chatto.

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princess grace of monaco with albert© Photo: Getty Images

Princess Grace of Monaco with her son Prince Albert

Princess Grace of Monaco

The big change in royal childhood began when women married in, who'd grown up in more informal homes. If we think of Princess Grace of Monaco, who before her Hollywood career had a middle-class American upbringing, she often took her children back to visit family in the States, where they also attended summer camp. The reigning sovereign, Prince Albert, has never forgotten those holidays. "It was a sense of freedom that we probably wouldn't have had in other places," he says. "In those days there was no talk of any security, so we would run off with our cousins on the beach or on the boardwalk. And when we needed to be picked up we called home and someone would come and pick us up."

princess charlene of monaco with daughter© Photo: Getty Images

Princess Charlene with daughter Gabriella

Princess Charlene of Monaco

Now Albert's children, five-year-old twins Jacques and Gabriella, have the run of a country house, which is home to plenty of animals. According to his South African-born wife Charlene, sometimes the twins and their pets end up in bed with them. "The kids fight over who'll sleep with Mum. They love to climb into our bed, suddenly we find ourselves cramped. And all this without counting our dogs, Poppy and Harley!"

princess victoria of sweden with kids© Photo: Getty Images

Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel want their children to have 'normal' experiences

Princess Victoria of Sweden

Hands-on parenthood like this gives royal children the self-confidence to be themselves, knowing that they're loved for themselves. Today's little Princes and Princesses spend lots of time with Mum and Dad, who often cook for them, bathe them and help with their homework just like millions of other parents across the world. It means, too, that these children can relate to their subjects' lives, something more important than ever before.

Sweden's Princess Victoria is passionate about her children Estelle, eight, and Oscar, four, having normal experiences. Amid the photocalls and ceremonies that are part of their lives, she emphasises time in nature, muddy walks and body positivity. Her husband Prince Daniel, a gym owner before he married into the monarchy, encourages them to take public transport. "You need to know how the metro works, what it's like to travel by bus and to stand in line, and what it's like to experience the passion of a football game."

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