Bye-bye, palace; hello, Bucklebury: In a conspicuous departure from tradition, Prince William and Princess Kate leave the palace behind for the Middleton family home in Bucklebury, signaling a different kind of upbringing for tiny Prince George. “Kate has opted for the comforts of her parents’ home and, in doing so, has sent a clear message to her royal in-laws: William and I are doing this our way,” royal expert Patrick Jephson tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “In this, William will be following his mother’s example.” Jephson, 57, was Princess Diana’s private secretary from 1988-1996.

It’s a move that would have been unthinkable for a future King of England just one generation ago: no palace, no nannies – for now – and no rigid royal rules, but instead a familiar and loving refuge for the baby to spend the sweet first days with his parents. “For them to go back to Bucklebury shows that Kate wants the security and comfort of her family,” says Sarah Dixon, a maternity nurse whose clients have included foreign royals and friends of the royal couple’s, “instead of a huge team of staff.”

Of course, with seven bedrooms and 18 acres, “the Manor,” as it is known in the village, is hardly an ordinary home, but compared to Kensington Palace – where renovations on a 20-plus room spread for the new family are still underway – the Middletons’ estate is “a more convivial atmosphere,” says John Tennant, warden of St. Mary’s Church in Bucklebury. The move to Bucklebury also offers precious privacy at a time when Kate, 31, needs it most. From the postpartum baby bump visible under her Jenny Packham polka dots worn while introducing George outside St. Mary’s Hospital July 23 to her reported decisions on heavy painkillers during labor (no) and breastfeeding (yes), Kate joined Club Mom with instant icon status.

As she has since she first debuted as a young princess-in-waiting, she is relying on help from her two most trusted supporters: her husband of two years and her mother, Carole, 58. While palace staffers handle the work of logging the thousands of gifts that have poured in – “Thank-yous are sent for all of them,” says a source – Carole’s priority is her daughter. “Carole will be like a tigress protecting her daughter from everybody,” says Majesty editor-in-chief Ingrid Seward. “She will be telling Kate, ‘It’s time for your sleep, and I will look after the baby’ and so on.”

Friends say Kate’s more reserved father, Michael – who popped into a small village grocery on July 25, telling a store employee that Kate and the baby were both doing well – is an even-keeled counterbalance to his bubbly wife of 33 years. “He is very calm,” says local pub owner John Haley, who has known the Middletons for 17 years. “He loves his beer and will still have a pint of West Berkshire bitter. He’s a lovely fella.”

For his part, Prince William, 31 – whose parents, Princess Diana and Prince Charles, split when he was 10 – has long found in the Middletons the tight-knit family lacking in his own childhood. “He has a normal life when he is with them,” says Haley. “They will all wake up and have a cup of tea and watch TV on the sofa in the evening.” Of course, the new parents can only remain in the cocoon of Bucklebury for so long. The time will come for the little prince to venture out further into the big world, but for now his parents are simply treasuring their first special days together. “Prince George is being well looked after in a very loving, caring environment,” says Bucklebury local Daniel Nicholls, a former Middleton family piano teacher. “This is a wonderful start to his life.”

More on Kate & Baby George is featured in the 8/12/13 issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands (and tablets) now.

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