Exclusive interview with Princess Madeleine of Sweden: ”I want to be at home with my children as much as I can”
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The last few weeks have been very busy for Princess Madeleine. She has just arrived back in Stockholm from Miami, where she has been living for the last year, and she recently made her debut as a children's author, which has received a lot of attention in both Swedish and foreign media. The children have been ill, but now they are back at home in Sweden again for the holidays – finally.
– Getting them here hasn't been easy this time, they have all been ill with the flu, one after the other. So in the end, Chris had to stay in the US with the sick children and Adrienne came with me, which meant I was able to come home for the book launch.
A couple of days after our big photo shoot for the front cover together with all the children, mama meets Princess Madeleine again – who is recovering from a bad cold herself. She is dressed in a blue-grey jacket and a white blouse, and has a thin necklace around her neck with small lockets containing her children's names and that of a patron saint. She still has a few assignments left before she can have time off together with the rest of the family.
– The children have been looking forward to coming to Sweden for such a long time, to their rooms and to their things. But also because we are outside so much more here than we are in Florida. It's so hot there, and you can only be outside for short periods, so for them to be able to be out in the forest and run around, it's a dream. And it's something that I have really missed myself.
Nowadays we are used to see our Swedish royalty together with their families in various official contexts, and the children are often the focus of the cameras. We have seen Princess Leonore, oldest of the siblings at the age of five, charm the world's press at both her aunt's. Crown Princess Victoria's, 40th birthday celebrations and at her younger sister Princess Adrienne's christening.
– She has a lot of energy. Several teachers have said that they have never met a child with so much ”free spirit”. However, I can see now that once she gets involved in something, she can sit for a long time and concentrate. She loves painting and craftwork, making bracelets and necklaces with beads. It's a nice time because I enjoy painting and crafts too, so it's a wonderful mother- daughter moment we have together.
What else do you like to do together with the children?
– I would probably describe myself as fairly ”hands-on”, I try to be involved as much as possible, regardless of whether we are in the park or at home. Obviously, if we are at home there are so many other things that have to be done, but I certainly try to be involved in most things when I can. It is important, otherwise you miss those little moments.
How do the children's personalities differ?
– Leonore is the lively and frisky one. Nicolas is much calmer and more sensitive with a big heart, a real mummy's boy. He's the one I get all the comments from! He might say ”Mummy, you look beautiful!”. Adrienne is very simple, happy, calm and harmonious, and just tags along. She is 16 months now, so you can start to see more characteristics, she is very quick-witted and tries to keep up with the others with her little legs.
Which of the children is most like you?
– Well, my husband says it ́s Leonore, ha ha. She can stamp her foot when she gets angry. I was probably a bit like that too when I was little, very determined, so yes, I would say Leonore.
And who is most like Chris?
– Chris is very emotional and soft, so I see that side in Nicolas. Chris also sees the details, which Nicolas also does and likes nice things. Chris is my best adviser in matters of taste, I always ask him when it comes to clothes, for example.
This ”baby brain” thing, I hadn't expected that it would hang around so long
Princess Madeleine is always on the verge of laughing when she recounts anecdotes about the children and their small eccentricities. When I ask if there is anything about parenthood that has surprised her or taken her unawares, she has to think for a while.
– This ”baby brain” thing, I hadn't expected that it would hang around for so long, this bubble you feel when your head doesn't really keep up. I can forget words and feel that I'm not at all as quick-witted as before. You ́ve heard that it might last for a few months or when you're breastfeeding, but for me it stuck around for longer than that.
But after all, you do have a little one now as well, so it might not be that strange?
– Yes, that's true. OK, so if I give you vague answers, I'll blame it on baby brain, ha ha!
Baby brain or not, in recent years Princess Madeleine has written and launched the book ”Stella and the Secret” together with her friend and colleague Karini Gustafson-Teixeira and the children's author Marie Oskarsson – a project which grew out of Princess Madeleine's involvement in the World Childhood Foundation and the issues regarding vulnerable and exploited children that are addressed in the foundation.
I think it is tremendously important that the children understand and respect bodily integrity
A children's book which deals with questions regarding sexual abuse of children – that sounds like a difficult task?
– Yes, it's been a long process! In my work with Childhood I have been involved in campaigns in order to increase awareness of child sexual abuse. My colleague Karini and I realised that despite the fact that we have reached out to thousands of people and organisations, it is difficult to reach the children with these messages. It was then that the idea of writing a children's book was born. We wanted to reach out to the children directly, directly to the home where we know that everything starts, both good things, but unfortunately also bad things...
Have you and Chris started talking about these issues of integrity with your own children?
– Absolutely. I think it is tremendously important that the children understand and respect bodily integrity, and that you don't touch people on certain parts of the body – you respect the private areas. We talk about it.
What responsibility do you have as an adult for other children in your vicinity?
– All of us adults must take responsibility to act if we see something that is not OK. We must be brave enough to ask the child whether everything is OK. We are too careful in that respect, we don't want to get involved, but sometimes a child simply needs to be asked one question, how they are feeling and whether everything is OK.
In the book you don't tiptoe around the subject of sexual abuse, but rather meet it fairly head on ...
– Yes, when we were almost done with the manuscript we asked various child psychologists for input, and we also did test readings in schools and they were the ones who encouraged us not to be afraid to talk more concretely in the book. From the beginning we were more discreet, but they thought that we should also include the more serious part with Stella's friend Elena's secret, and I am happy that we did. Because as the child psychologists say; children can take it. Don't back away from it, it's better to address it.
Is it often we as adults who are afraid to talk about serious things?”
– Yes, we are afraid to talk about difficult topics with children. And that was just what I felt, that if we are uncomfortable talking about a situation such as this, then how are the children going to dare to bring it up with us?
I had an easy pregnancy and labour
– You know you should be a good parent and talk about problems that your children might be confronted with, everything from friendships, school being tough, and bullying etc. but these topics are not always so simple to address. So instead it can be nice to have a book that you can read or listen to together, and hopefully it will more easily lead to a conversation where you can ask questions naturally regarding what the children would have done in Stella's situation. I hope that the book can help to open up the dialogue.
Besides working on ”Stella and the Secret”, her work for Childhood and the official assignments for the Swedish royal family, Princess Madeleine has also found time to have three children in the last five years; Princess Leonore, 5, Prince Nicolas, 4, and Princess Adrienne, 1.
For many people becoming a parent can be more or less a shock, was it like that for you?
– Now that I think about it, it wasn't really. I had an easy pregnancy and labour. The initial period went well, and I have been lucky that my children have been easy babies, they have slept through the night since they were one or two months old. So compared with what it's like for many other mothers during the initial period, then I have really been spared.
Leonore was born in 2014 and Nicolas in 2015. What was it like being pregnant again, so soon?
– The fact that I was expecting Nicolas came as a shock! I was already into the third month, I didn't know anything. We were moving from New York and I was so tired, but I thought that it was probably because I was packing and there was so much with the move. But I was in fact pregnant. I think I was in the thirteenth week when I found out.
Wow. But hadn't you felt sick or anything?
– No. I didn't feel sick at all with Leonore and Nicolas. With Adrienne on the other hand, I felt very sick. Very strange.
Have you enjoyed being pregnant?
– Yes actually, I have! I didn't think I would be able to say that. I thought that I would moan and complain more (laughs). Of course it gets a bit heavy at the end, but as I said, it's probably because I had the privilege of having an easy pregnancy, so I have been positively surprised nonetheless. I think you get such peacefulness when you are pregnant, I like it.
You have had your children closely together, it's easy to get the impression that being pregnant has been easy for you?
– Well, nothing has been planned! (laughs) When Adrienne was born, I had actually thought about giving Chris a puppy, but...
”What, are you pregnant again?”
Princess Madeleine bursts out laughing.
– OK, it was Chris birthday and I was going to surprise him with a puppy. I had made arrangements with the kennel and knew when the puppy was going to arrive and everything was planned. And I gave him a present with a cuddly toy dog, and a card which said ”Congratulations, you're going to get another member of the family”. He went as white as a sheet and was taken aback, ”What, are you pregnant again?” and I said ”Nooo, it's just a dog!”. But then two̊ weeks later I had to go back to him and say ”I don't know if it's such a good idea that we get a puppy...” because I was pregnant. With Adrienne. And I had to call the kennel and say that we would have to wait with the puppy.
– I hesitated for ages at first, but I finally listened to my mother, she said ”No, you can't have a dog as well, wait for now”. And it felt right, it would have been like having two̊ babies.
Since the wedding in 2013, Princess Madeleine and Chris O’Neill have managed to live in New York, then London, Stockholm and now Miami. Princess Leonore was born in New York, while both Prince Nicolas and Princess Adrienne were born at Danderyd Hospital outside Stockholm.
– Yes, the children were born in different countries, and there is a bit of a difference. In the US they focus much more on the mother, that she should have absolutely no pain, they give much more anaesthetic during labour, so with Leonore it was painless. I almost felt it was too much, I didn't feel anything, my legs were completely anaesthetised.
Did you experience any contractions?
– Yes, I did. But then, when they became stronger, they increased the anaesthetic so I couldn't even feel the contractions anymore. While in Sweden the medical team is much more modest, they don't give as much anaesthetic. Which I can feel is pretty cool since you feel what the body tells you to do. So even if it was more painful, I thought that overall it was a more intense experience.
So I sat there in the church and thought ”Please. Don't. Let. The. Water. Break.”
You were full-term with Nicolas at your brother's, Prince Carl Philip's, wedding with Princess Sofia. What was that like?
– Well, it was pretty exciting (laughs)! Obviously I very much wanted to attend Carl Philip and Sofia's wedding, which went on for two days – first there was a party the evening before and then it was the actual wedding. And I said to my midwife before, ”I think that something's starting to happen”, so I wanted to check the status before I went to the party and the church. She thought I should have a bag with me in case I needed to go to the hospital.
– So I sat there in the church and thought ”Please. Don't. Let. The. Water. Break.”. What do I DO if the water breaks, remain sitting? Should I stand up – what's the right thing to do? I was really nervous, but Nicolas took his time. This was on Friday, then Saturday, he gave me Sunday to rest and then we went in on Monday.
It must been an exciting topic of conservation for the guests at your table?
– I had Daniel (Prince Daniel, editorial note.) at my table, which was nice, he helped me. So I was able to say ”Now it's hurting a lot, now you'll have to do the talking and I'll sit here smiling!” because the dinner was broadcast on TV (laughs)! So I couldn't just sit there grimacing.
I don't agree with people who say ”If you've got two then there's no difference having a third”
Has being a mother been easier or more difficult than you thought?
– When I had Leonore, I thought it really was hectic. But then, when the second one came along, I wondered why I had thought having one child was so hard (laughs)! And then with the third, oh my God. I don't agree with people who say ”If you've got two then there's no difference having a third”. I don't think so, rather I think it’s more planning, just logistically, because they differ so much in age. Adrienne has her schedule for meals and sleeping, the other two have something completely different, so it's quite a puzzle putting it all together. But as a mother I feel... yes, it's a lot (laughs)! But of course, it's fun! I love being a mother, it's the best.
Did you breastfeed all your children?
– Yes, I did.
As a new mother, were you worried or relaxed?
– My friends thought I was relaxed and I think I'm pretty calm. Of course I was worried sometimes as a new mother and we lived in New York. I didn't have my family close by, so I felt a bit alone. But we got help, and then it felt good having someone who could provide support.
What's Chris like then, is he the cool type or more anxious?
– No! He's the one who worries of the two of us (laughs)! Like with Adrienne a few weeks ago, he said ”she looks yellow, we have to go to the hospital, I think she's got jaundice!”. And I'm just like ”No, she can't have jaundice, she's 15 months old, she's been in the sun a little”!
Unfortunately, I'm the one who has to be the ”bad cop”
How do you and Chris complement each other as parents?
– Well, I think. Unfortunately, I'm the one who has to be the ”bad cop”. Leonore knows exactly who she should go to and ask when she wants something. But, joking aside, I think we're a good team. When I take care of Adrienne in the mornings, he makes breakfast for the children and sorts everything out in a good way, then he's busy during the days, but comes home in the evening and reads to the children and then in the weekends, we're together a lot. Chris is a very present father when he's not working.
Who do you turn to for support in questions concerning parenthood?
– Probably my friends. Most of them are a bit ahead of me, so it's perfect. They have the experience right now, when the children are at different ages and in different phases, so I talk with my friends a lot.
Do you ever google for information about whether the children have got any strange rashes or anything like that?
– No, no.
Perhaps Chris is the one who googles?
– I'm sure he does! He's probably got spreadsheets on all different kinds of illnesses, ha ha. But no, I don't do that.
You have to compromise
You and Chris come from somewhat different cultures in terms of bringing up children. Is there anything you don't agree on?
– Yes, I'd say there probably is, I want the children to be with us all the time. While he want it to be more like when he grew up, that the children are not always with us, for example you don't always eat dinner with the children. But you have to compromise. And I agree, it certainly is important for your relationship that you have time alone, that the children are not always present.
Many people who are having small children can sometimes feel that they are losing themselves, a bit like ”where did the old me go?” Have you ever felt like that?
– Yes I have, absolutely. But I can sometimes feel that it's quite nice as well, focusing solely on the children and not on oneself. I think that now when the children are getting a bit older, I'm starting to come back, and I have more time for myself now that the older children are in school. I still have Adrienne at home, but I'm starting to feel more like myself again.
Do you ever feel alone?
– No, I feel like... now I have a family, my own new family. But then of course you always miss your friends and family at home in Sweden.
Since you moved to Florida, have you managed to build a new circle of friends?
– Yes, but it takes time. We moved there in August last year. I now feel that I have good friends, and especially I have gotten to know some really nice mothers from school.
It's a full-time job just being a parent of a schoolchild there
– In the USA, the parents are incredibly present in the schools, so it was very easy to make new friends with all that community. It's a full-time job just being a parent of a schoolchild there! It is not surprising that there's an expression like, ”soccer mom”, because it really is like that.
Are you going to be a soccer mom?
– For sure! I feel it has already started with the children's different activities, all you do is drive to different activities. Leonore has ballet and soccer, tennis... Nicolas also plays soccer and ”sports” where they get to try everything from baseball to basketball, he thinks it's great.
Princess Madeleine describes an everyday life that, in many ways is similar to many other parents of small children. Up early on weekdays, stressful mornings and off with the older children to school. Her days are often spent at home with Adrienne, they go to gymboree classes with song, play and gymnastics. Pick up the children from school at three, drive to activities. When Chris comes home from work, they take turns to read to the children before bedtime. And on weekends the full focus is on the whole family being together. Both Friday fun (”Yes! Film, crisps and popcorn!”) and Saturday sweets are two Swedish classics that the family always indulge in.
Living in sunny Florida has its benefits. When the children come home they enjoy a dip in the pool, swimming with friends is a favourite pastime, and both Leonore and Nicolas learned to swim at an early age. And, they don ́t have to wear the awkward, baggy winter overalls that we Swedes are otherwise used to here at home.
For now they can live in their little bubble, in their little world without titles
– Yes, it's very nice right now while the children are small... that messing around with all the winter clothes – and once you are outside then there's someone who needs to go to the toilet! All you need here is shorts and T-shirt, it's very simple in that way, life is a bit simpler in a warmer climate.
– In the US, they are also left more alone compared to when in Sweden, In Florida they aren't recognised as often.
How do you talk to the children about the fact that you are Royal?
– I haven't actually spoken with them about that yet. I think it will come about quite naturally. And I think that that's what it was like for me too, because I can't remember that my mother and father sat us down and told us, rather it came naturally. I think that when the time comes they will ask questions and wonder, and that's when it will have to be addressed, but for now they can live in their little bubble, in their little world without titles.
Can it be a shock when you are here in Sweden and people recognise you in the street?
– I think that Swedes are very respectful with the children, it's rare that anyone comes up. Even if we're in the park and I see that people have recognised us, nobody comes forward to take a picture of the children or anything. So they have been very lucky, they live in their bubble and think that they are like everyone else.
Are there occasions when you feel you are inadequate as a mother?
– Yes, of course, when all the children want attention, and you might have to go somewhere and can't follow up on a quarrel... But we spend a lot of time with the children at the moment. But otherwise we are with the children a lot at the moment. And I have also really tried to make that a priority, to have these years when they are small, and I want to be at home with the children as much as possible for as long as I can.
You have previously said that you want to have four children?
– I must correct that. It's Chris who said four children, not me! (laughs)
What do you feel?
– Right now I don't know how I would manage it logistically, because there's a lot to do as it is, but at the same time it feels very sad to close the door. Because having children is so wonderful. But we'll have to see. Right now I am completely satisfied having three children, Princess Madeleine says emphatically and adds laughing:
– Perhaps it'll be a dog instead.
INTERVIEW: Louise Bratt Tidmarsh
PHOTO: Emily Dahl
STYLING: Malin Rudén
MAKEUP: Nathalie Berzelius
HAIR: Lucia Fylking
ART DIRECTOR: Vendela Zandén