PRUE LEITH: I‘m a bad granny and I refuse to feel guilty about it!

I‘m a bad granny and I refuse to feel guilty about it! In an astonishingly candid confession PRUE LEITH says she‘s never remembered a birthday and couldn‘t care less about sports day

Confession: I am a really bad granny. I have four grandchildren; my husband John has three with another on the way. The eldest is 12, youngest two months. In the way of presents, educational kits, and birthdays, John‘s lot fare much better than mine.

I don‘t think I have ever remembered a grandchild‘s birthday. This is not a proud boast, I am ashamed of it. In my defence (can this be a defence?) I seldom remembered — or remember — my own children‘s birthdays, or my husband‘s either. Or our wedding anniversary. Or Father‘s Day.

And as for doing all those things grannies are meant to do like go to football matches, plays, concerts, forget it. I‘ve only been to one ballet performance by my granddaughter and have never been to any of our grandsons‘ events.

But then, what would you expect? I‘m a granny as I was a mother, a hard- working main breadwinner with a ton of responsibilities. I don‘t think my children, brought up as they were, expect me to be anything different, and I bet many working mums and grans are much the same.

The problem is society‘s expectations haven‘t kept up with reality, leaving us with a guilty conscience at not fitting the stereotypical gran sitting in the corner knitting baby clothes.

Plenty of grannies I know are secretly a bit resentful at being expected to do so much — the school run, babysitting, taxi service, nannying, outings. Parents just assume that is what their mother is for: free childcare. (Now lockdown has meant parents are forced to do all of it themselves, plus schooling and housework, and without the boon of parks and playgrounds, zoos and museums. Maybe, in future, they‘ll appreciate the good grans a little more.)

As for me, I‘ve only once been to a sports event to watch a child and decided once was enough.

My daughter Li-Da was rowing in her school team. I thought it might be rather fun, like the Henley Regatta or the Oxford and Cambridge boat race. I was soon disabused. A muddy field in horizontal rain and freezing wind with a child in the distance unrecognisable from the other sodden rowers, did the trick. My only other attempt at being the properly supportive mother was when Li-Da won a prize in her final year at prep school in Leamington Spa.

By the time the prize-giving happened, she was at boarding school in Oxford. She was granted the afternoon off and I dutifully collected her from school. We stood on the Oxford station platform for what seemed a very long time before I realised we were on the wrong one and had missed the train to Leamington Spa.

Desperate by then, I hired a taxi at huge expense to get us there. We arrived in time to see the school streaming out of the gates, children clutching prizes.

The truth is, I‘ve always been more interested in what happens at home than in school events, which are 99 per cent about other peoples‘ children and only marginally about yours. Besides, they are often, let‘s face it, boring. Writing this, it seems I ignored Daniel‘s school life even more than Li-Da‘s.

I do have a solitary picture of him at about five, dressed as a judge, with curly paper for a wig, so I suppose I must have been to at least one school play.

I‘m comforted though by the fact that, when he was about 11 and I won businesswoman of the year, he said, on reading the newspaper with a big spread about me, ‘But Mum, this isn‘t true is it? You don‘t really employ all those people and have a cookery school and restaurant and catering company, do you?‘

I asked him why he didn‘t believe it and he said, ‘Because you‘re always at home.‘ He and Li-Da were weekly boarders and, because I was the boss, I could take weekends and holidays off. That he thought I was a stay-at-home Mum made me feel a whole lot better.

Still, when I sold my company and ‘retired‘ and the grandchildren came along, I thought that I‘d be a better granny than I was a mum.

Without a business to attend to I saw us playing endless Monopoly and Scrabble, I‘d teach them to ride and play tennis, we‘d have family cricket on the lawn. All dreams, of course.

If anything, I‘m a worse granny than I was a mum. I am happy to have them join me in doing stuff that interests me, such as gardening. They are dab hands at pulling off dandelion heads to prevent them seeding, or weeding a border. I‘m less keen, in fact not keen at all, at doing what they like to do, like playing with Nerf guns or on-screen adventures.

I‘m often asked if I cook with my grandchildren. I always say ‘Yes I do‘, which is true, but an exaggeration. I cook with them when I can, which is when we are all together, when I‘m not doing something more urgent and when they feel like it. Which means not often.

I also claim to make necklaces with them. Again, true-ish.

We‘ve made some great necklaces, but it‘s not a regular event. (Malachi‘s efforts were imaginative, slightly off the wall including safety pins and keyrings, corks and cotton reels; Scarlet‘s were delicate, pink, sparkly and pretty; Gabriel‘s were started gamely, but quickly abandoned in frustration.)

The truth is, I‘m as busy as I ever was. Even with lockdown, I seem to be endlessly doing little videos in support of charities I think are important, or for the Government about handwashing, or for small businesses trying to stay afloat.

I do voice-overs, TV and interviews through the dreaded Zoom, Skype et al (all of which put me in a vicious temper because I cannot make them work and our broadband is rubbish). So even if the children and grandchildren were with me, I doubt we‘d be making daisy chains on the lawn or toasting crumpets on the fire.

In one respect, I have improved my grandmother performance. At the instigation of Li-Da, I have a daily FaceTime chat with her newly adopted little boy.

He‘s two, and we are keen to maintain the bond we‘ve all had for the year she and Matt, her husband, have had him.

But he is only interested in ‘the wuffs‘ and once he has made kissing noises at his mother‘s screen and our spaniels have snuffled and slobbered all over mine, he‘s off and I‘m sanitising my phone.

He does deign to offer me a virtual cup of tea from his toy kitchen set, or sometimes demonstrates his cleaning skills with pretend bucket and mop. But generally, blowing kisses to Nana is understandably way down his list of top things to do.

I do admit that Zooming with children, providing the technology works, can be a huge boon to grannies. But it can also be frustrating: the kids get bored and scoot off, and seeing them on screen only intensifies the desire to hold and hug them. But it‘s a lot better than nothing.

I do deeply miss our grandchildren and our children. I long for them all to be here at our Cotswolds house again.

I like nothing better than seeing my garden awash with grandchildren, their friends, everyone‘s parents. Then I‘ll be doing what I do best: mass catering.

Do I feel guilty? Yes occasionally, especially when I miss birthdays. But on the whole, no.

But that feeling of inadequacy comes with children. It‘s not just ‘bad‘ grannies who feel it. It‘s the same for all the working mothers I know. They feel vaguely guilty, for not being with their children enough, for being short-tempered out of exhaustion or for failing on the school event front.

They absolutely should not feel guilty. They have done nothing wrong. Almost all mums and grannies do their damnedest, and that‘s all they — we — can do.

Sometimes doing what you yourself want to do, or need to do, is more important. Who wants an unhappy, unfulfilled and possibly resentful Gran?

And anyway, does any of this matter? What is a bad granny or a bad mother? My own belief (or maybe my self-serving justification) is that all that matters for children is that you love them, and they know you do, and they feel safe.

I don‘t think, ultimately, it matters if you spoil them rotten or are super-strict or see them daily or very seldom. They will grow up just fine as long as they are loved.

Sorry to be banal, but love is the only thing.


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