Princess Charlene 'Sees Herself as the Protector of the Heirs' More Than as Princess of Monaco

A close friend tells PEOPLE Princess Charlene is "incredibly involved and protective" with her and Prince Albert's 6-year-old twins Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella

princess charlene
Photo: Christian Sperka

When Princess Charlene returns to Monaco, her children will be her top priority.

Just a few weeks after a long-awaited reunion with Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella, Charlene is "eager" to settle back into life as a hands-on mom to the 6-year-old twins, according to husband Prince Albert.

Though she managed to get in virtual quality time with the children during her months-long recovery in South Africa, the princess was overjoyed to have private moments face to face with "Jacqui and Bella" in late August because it's her role as mother that matters most to her — even more than her proximity to the crown.

"She sees herself as the protector of the heirs, as opposed to the princess of Monaco," a close friend to the royal couple tells PEOPLE.

According to the friend, Charlene only felt fully a part of the royal family once she and Albert welcomed their children, which "kind of gave her a certain standing or a certain security."

The friend adds that Charlene's "best attributes have been as a mom. She's incredibly involved and protective ... in a very loving and providing kind of way, shunning other activities to be with them and making sure that they're kind of living a semi-normal life."

princess charlene Monaco
Prince Albert, Princess Charlene and their twins. Palais Princier/Eric Mathon

Prince Albert, 63, had similar praise for his wife when speaking to PEOPLE for this week's issue.

"I'm looking forward to Charlene being back. Looking forward to her being back because she's part of my life, part of our lives, part of life in Monaco," he said. "I'm also looking forward to her helping me with the children and with different things as she has in the past because it's a team effort. When one of the team members isn't there, it's a lot more difficult."

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And while the last few months have presented unprecedented challenges for the couple — including multiple corrective surgeries for Charlene, a sudden trip to the hospital, a missed milestone wedding anniversary and speculation about the state of their marriage — they've also reinforced her commitment to her family.

"Albert is my rock and strength and without his love and support I would not have been able to get through this painful time," she acknowledged in a statement in late June. "My daily conversations with Albert and my children help me keep my spirits up a lot, but I miss their presence very much. I can't wait for us to be together."

And a source close to Charlene, who previously told PEOPLE that rumors of a self-imposed "exile" by the princess were missing sight of one crucial fact: "She'll never leave her kids."

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