Monday, March 21, 2011

Prince William..then and now…etiquette and travelling with children…

Prince William in Australia with his parents, March 1983

Prince William has spent the past few days representing The Queen in the earthquake ravaged city of Christchurch in New Zealand and the cyclone and flood affected regions of Australia.

I have just completed an interview with Radio 6PR about the manners of children when travelling with their parents. The producer advised that they were running the story in response to the 28th anniversary of Prince William first visiting Australia with his parents, Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, in 1983.

The interviewer asked me what I thought of the trip back then…if I was old enough to remember it? Such a compliment! I enlightened him by saying that my own daughter was 10 days older than Prince William, and so I empathised very strongly with Princess Diana and Prince Charles not wanting to leave their baby at home while they undertook a long and extensive overseas tour.

When Queen Elizabeth II came to Australia when Prince Charles was a baby she was obliged by protocol to leave him behind – heartbreaking I am sure, even for a Queen… first and foremost a mother.

Photo: Prince William in Newn Zealand March 2011

I was reminded of a trip to England in June 1985 when my daughter was about to turn 3 and I was 20 weeks pregnant with my son, who would be born in London. My daughter has always been wise for her years and on that Cathay Pacific trip between Australia and London she behaved like a little adult. I always packed a special bag of “surprises” – not lollies and tasty treats, but new toys, puzzles and books which I could share and read to her. And I was a strong believer in giving her a little Phenergan before she slept – probably quite politically incorrect these days! I tried to keep her timetable to that of the country in which we were arriving…a habit I maintain for myself today.

Some months later we returned to Australia with our four weeks old son…he slept like an angel in between feeds. I was so excited about returning home and showing off my new baby that I let my daughter be pampered by the Cathay Pacific staff in the lounge in London, a big mistake as it turned out. They gave her a “milkshake” with half cream. We had no sooner left London’s Heathrow bound for Hong Kong and she started vomiting. The poor little thing was ill for hours. I had an new change of clothes for the children and me so that we could change in the lounge in Hong Kong in readiness for our arrival in Australia looking fresh and revived to show off a grown up little girl and new baby boy…the best laid plans, as they say..go astray.

By the time we arrived in Hong Kong some 14 hours later my daughter and I were absolutely exhausted. The four week old baby was fine having slept most of the way, and the father was fine too having slept as well! We were able to shower and freshen before boarding our last flight.

By this time, the baby was awake, fretting because obviously his mother was fraught with exhaustion. But at no time did we as parents, let our guard down with our children, and allow them to dominate the proceedings of the flight for our fellow passengers.

And this is where I think the parents of today – excuse me if I sound a little too mature! – let their children down. I was recently on a business class flight from Singapore and no less than 5 children were allowed to run around in the cabin, leaning over chairs, wandering the aisles with handfuls of food and being very noisy. Should we blame the children? Or the Singapore Airlines staff, who were as always immaculate with their manners even when confronted by rude and inconsiderate parents?

No, it is neither the fault of the children nor the airline staff…it is the inconsiderate and ill-mannered behavior of the parents.

I am often asked if I think children these days are less well mannered than their parents? Absolutely not. They are products of the often ego-centered behavior of “time-poor” parents who would rather spend their free time over a social coffee than in reading, interacting and teaching manners to their children.

The young people I meet are on the whole charming and considerate…perhaps in spite of their “busy” parents, or in reaction to them…long may common sense reign in the new generation.

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