Carole Middleton: the 'grounded granny'
Last week, we revealed that Irish grandparents were feeling the strain of looking after their children's offspring. But the imminent arrival of Kate Middleton's second child means a new role for her mother
As we learned in last week's Irish Independent, grandparents are providing an invaluable level of support when it comes to shouldering childcare. But it can come at a cost to their health, with grandparents who provide higher levels of childcare showing significantly more depressive symptoms, something Carole Middleton will want to be aware of when she steps up to the plate to help with the new Royal arrival.
Carole is currently busy at Anmer Hall - Kate and William's Norfolk home - preparing for the new royal baby.
It is certain that she has been a godsend to her daughter and son-in-law over the past 21 months, as a hands-on grandmother to Prince George, and that she is all set to help when baby number two arrives.
In the weeks after George's arrival in July 2013, Carole will have taken George off his parents' hands to give them a chance to sleep; she will have helped them to establish a routine; and reassured them every time he screamed for no apparent reason. As he has grown older, she will have spent time playing games with him, read him stories, sat on the floor with a jigsaw puzzle and taken his hand as he tottered round the garden. They will have drawn and painted together and might even have done a bit of cooking.
When he was just days old, George was taken to the Middletons' house in Bucklebury, in the Berkshire countryside, and they were there for several weeks. The first photographs released to the media of the new family, including Lupo the cocker spaniel, were taken on the lawn by Carole's husband, Michael. The pictures told a powerful story of an abnormal family in a very normal setting.
When the new baby arrives, Carole's focus is likely to be on George, and she will be invaluable. Kate is an old hand now and won't need as much advice - and besides, there's a nanny on hand, brought in when George was several months old and Kate needed to go back to her duties.
This time Carole will have a vital new role: stopping George having his nose put out of joint by his sibling.
As a first baby and the first grandchild and nephew in both families, not to mention the centre of worldwide attention, he has been the apple of everyone's eye. Like every first baby, he is in for a shock.
How well that is managed could colour his behaviour in the "terrible twos". It could also determine how he and his sibling get on in later life.
Speaking as a grandmother of five, there is something utterly magical about the bond between grandparents and grandchildren that even the best of nannies can't replace. William would be the first to appreciate that. He has a close bond with his grandmother, the Queen, and Prince Charles likewise adored his grandmother, the Queen Mother.
Less is known about Kate, but I suspect in a family as close as hers, there will have been great intergenerational bonds. Indeed, the announcement of her engagement to William, in November 2010, was delayed until after the funeral of her much-loved and last remaining grandparent, Peter Middleton.
It has been said the reason William, Kate and George see so much of the Middletons is because, without Diana, Carole is George's only grandmother. But I suspect that even if Diana was alive, Carole would still have been the one the family chose to stay with after George's birth.
No matter how good the relationship with her in-laws, a new mother instinctively turns to her own mother for help - provided, of course, the two of them get on.
There is no doubt that Carole and Kate are exceptionally close. There is also no doubt that William gets on well with the Middletons. He took to Kate's family right away, and has spoken about how "loving, caring and fun" they are, how "welcoming" they had been from the start, and how they had made him "feel part of the family".
Theirs was the sort of family life he had never experienced: informal, happy and relaxed. They did normal, mundane things that had never been a part of his abnormal royal childhood.
And it looks as though William is craving that sort of normality for his expanding family. He is prepared for them all to have a public royal role, but what he wants above all things is for a private normal life, too.
Fond though William is of his father, Charles's lifestyle is far from normal, and he is busy night and day. So while the Cambridges are always pleased to see him, Charles could be forgiven for feeling that the Middletons get the lion's share of their joint grandson.
Having had them to stay at Bucklebury, Carole went to stay with them in Anglesey for a while when William went back to work. And while George and his parents were at Sandringham with the Royal family for his first Christmas, last year they were at Anmer Hall and the Middletons came to stay.
They have been frequent visitors to the new house, and there have been countless weekends spent together elsewhere, and holidays. Kate took George off to Mustique to spend two weeks with her parents while William was on a course in Cambridge last year, and a couple of months ago all three of them were in the Caribbean again, to celebrate Carole's 60th birthday.
But it's not unusual for the daughter's parents to get the lion's share. Mothers tend to have stronger views on childcare than fathers, and, as a rule, they tend towards the model they grew up with. So mothers and daughters tend to be in tune, whereas mothers and mothers-in-law may have very different experiences.
And that is when nannies come into their own…