As we all know, Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle are both royal mothers. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge is mom to Prince George – the heir to the throne – plus Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, on the other hand, has just one child, Archie. Yet she and Prince Harry opted not to give him a royal title. The two women seem to have contrasting approaches to parenting: let’s examine the differences.
Parenting is difficult in and of itself, but if you’re royal there are so many more rules to follow. For example, the reason Prince George almost always wears shorts is because it’s traditional for royal princes to do so until the age of eight. Imagine the tantrum a regular kid might have when his clothes are picked out for him – and then imagine having to explain to him he has to wear them.
Royal parenting has always had, to put it bluntly, a bit of a checkered history. Queen Victoria was not a fan of motherhood at all. By all accounts she herself experienced an extremely controlled and smothering sort of childhood, and perhaps if she’d had the choice, she might not have even had children. But she did, a whole nine of them. And she was determined to shape them into perfect young royals.
Alas, Queen Victoria’s harshness was apparently passed down to future generations. King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II’s dad and Queen Victoria’s great-grandson, reportedly developed his stutter as a result of his father’s strict rules and pressure. And the Queen herself wasn’t immune to the long-standing but problematic royal parenting traditions.
It’s said that Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t the most demonstrative of mothers. She had a country to rule, and that inevitably meant less time for her children. Nannies were given the job of child-rearing, and Prince Philip stepped in to shape the young Prince Charles into what he thought an heir should be. Yep, it seems this meant pressure and hard words.
Prince Charles appears not to have had an easy childhood, despite the privilege into which he was born. Once, upon returning from a six-month tour away from her children, the Queen greeted the five-year-old Charles with a handshake. And Prince Philip’s desire to “toughen up” his son reportedly turned to just plain bullying sometimes, according to an authorized biography penned by Jonathan Dimbleby.
It was Princess Diana who changed all of this. She was determined that her sons Prince William and Prince Harry should have normal childhoods, even if one of them was going to be king one day. When she had to go on a tour of New Zealand, she simply took the baby William with her instead of leaving him with a nanny.
Diana arranged her royal schedule around the activities of her sons. What’s more, she sent them to a school instead of getting them a governess, and she happily gave out hugs rather than handshakes. There are photographs of her running to her children with arms outstretched after having been away for a time.
William and Harry still fondly remember the childhood Diana gave them. “She made the decision that no matter what, despite all the difficulties of growing up in that limelight and on that stage, she was going to ensure that both of us had as normal life as possible,” Harry said in the 2017 TV documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy.
Of course, as everybody knows Diana passed away in August 1997, leaving her two sons behind. Both were still young at the time: Harry was only 12. But when the boys grew up and got married, people were curious to see if their wives Kate and Meghan would follow in Diana’s footsteps when it came to mothering.
They did, of course – but in their own ways, it seems. In 2020 the magazine Fabulous spoke to a parenting expert named Sue Atkins about the separate approaches Kate and Meghan have apparently taken towards raising their children. According to Atkins, Kate is a “lighthouse mom” who guides her children from the sidelines.
This does indeed seem to be what Kate does. She appears to be a very warm mother: just like Diana, in fact. In November 2015 she told an audience at an engagement for children’s mental health charity Place2Be, “I know that I was lucky. My parents and teachers provided me with a wonderful and secure childhood where I always knew I was loved, valued and listened to.”
Kate has reiterated a few times that she’s trying to raise her own children the way her parents raised her. In 2017 she said while visiting a children’s school in London, “My parents taught me about the importance of qualities like kindness, respect and honesty. I realize how central values like these have been to me throughout my life.
And Kate is determined to give her kids quite a traditional childhood, by all accounts. She and Prince William don’t want their children to spend too much time on screens and would prefer they play outside. According to insiders, Prince George is actually allowed only an hour of screen time every day.
Kate and William apparently don’t let their kids have iPads, either. “They’re very much seen as Mummy and Daddy’s toys, not for children,” a source told Us Weekly magazine in 2017. “As two people who grew up without gadgets for entertainment themselves, William and Kate are firm believers in toys, outdoor play and encouraging an active imagination.”
Apparently Kate is determined that her kids should play outside as much as possible. In 2019 she designed a garden called “Back to Nature” and ahead of its unveiling she said, “In recent years I have focused much of my work on the early years, and how instrumental they are for outcomes later in life. I believe that spending time outdoors when we are young can play a role in laying the foundations for children to become happy, healthy adults.”
So Kate very much wants her children to have normal lives, but that’s difficult when one of them is going to be king. In 2016 William told the BBC that George didn’t actually know yet what his future held, and there would “be a time and a place” to tell him one day he’d be ruler of an entire country.
And because George will one day sit on the throne, the paparazzi have always taken an especially keen interest in him. Naturally, this can lead to problems. In August 2015 Kensington Palace released a statement condemning the “extreme lengths” photographers were going to in order to get pictures of the young prince.
The statement went on to say that William and Kate were “concerned about their ability to provide a childhood for Prince George and Princess Charlotte that is free from harassment and surveillance.” One photographer had even hidden in a car outside a children’s playground just to get pictures.
Meghan doesn’t have this exact issue to tackle, because Archie won’t be king. Or at least, there’s a staggeringly low chance that he will. Prince Charles is next in line after the Queen passes away, then William, then George, then George’s two siblings, then Harry himself and finally Archie only after that.
In October 2019 the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were filmed for an ITV documentary called Harry and Meghan: An African Journey. Meghan spoke emotionally on camera about the pressure she was under dealing with press intrusion, firstly while she was pregnant and then when she had a newborn baby.
This appears to be one of the concerns which led Harry and Meghan to step down from the royal family in January 2020. But in the Instagram statement which mapped out their intentions, the pair said they still planned to “raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born.”
According to Atkins, the expert to whom Fabulous spoke, Meghan is a “lawnmower mom.” This means she takes the lead in decision-making and adopts a modern approach. “Even when Meghan was preparing to give birth, she made it clear she would do things her own way as a parent,” Atkins said.
Indeed Meghan didn’t do the traditional thing when it came to giving birth. Before Archie was born Meghan made clear she wouldn’t go to St. Mary’s Hospital where other royal mothers have had their babies. She and Harry released a statement in April 2019 saying they would “keep the plans around the arrival of their baby private.”
According to sources, Meghan’s main objection to this tradition seemed to be that the mother was expected to go outside and pose for photographs not long after giving birth. In April 2019 an alleged friend of the duchess told the New York Post newspaper that Meghan “felt sorry” for Kate being “forced” to pose for photos.
To be honest, Kate doesn’t seem to be a big fan of this tradition either. She didn’t refuse to do it, of course, but in 2020 she told the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast that she found the experience “slightly terrifying.” She went on, “There were all sorts of mixed emotions.” And she did it three times in the end.
Atkins spoke about Meghan defying traditions, saying, “She chose to have her own birth plan rather than stick to the usual birth of royal babies. She also didn’t go along with the day-of-birth photo opportunity that Diana or Kate had and she also chose a modern buggy rather than the classic Silver Cross that was used by royals – and Kate and William – for generations.”
Meghan herself subtly tends to defy royal tradition, so that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Unlike Kate, she tends to push back against the rules. Meghan wears more daring outfits, against the tradition that royals should dress “modestly.” She’s even been seen wearing dark nail polish, which is usually a royal no-no.
It seems likely that Meghan will raise her son to be a bit of a rule-breaker too. Atkins told Fabulous magazine, “I think she will be proactive in passing on her values and beliefs to her son Archie with an authoritative style of parenting, modeling healthy living, exercise and the importance of talking about problems and feelings.”
And Meghan is definitely raising Archie to be a feminist, as is Harry. In August 2020 the duchess did a Q&A session with activist Gloria Steinem, and during it she said, “I look at our son and what a beautiful example that he gets to grow up with: a father who is so comfortable owning [feminism] as part of his own self-identification.”
Another way Meghan differs from Kate is her use of technology for parenting. Kate and William are trying to keep their kids away from screens, but Meghan may be doing the exact opposite. Apparently the grey-and-white nursery is also a very high-tech one, featuring cameras, a sound system and a “mood screen.”
In January 2019 an anonymous person told Vanity Fair magazine, “[The Sussexes] are going all out with the refurbishment of the house, and as Harry loves his gadgets, it’s going to be very cool. They’ll be able to control everything from their smartphones.” William and Kate, of course, went the total opposite way there.
Back in February 2020 parenting expert Martina Mercer told the website of British newspaper the Daily Express that she believed Kate and Meghan were both doing fine when it came to motherhood. “When comparing the parenting styles of both Meghan and Kate, it’s clear that although vastly different, there are no right or wrong ways to bring up a child,” she said.
Mercer went on, “Neither way is wrong. However, Meghan and Harry would have constantly met criticism from the public for their non-traditional parenting style if they hadn’t chosen to remove themselves from royal life. It was clear that Harry and Meghan’s heart[s] ruled their heads as soon as Archie was born, and they wanted to follow their natural maternal and paternal instincts without the rigidity of royal life.”
As for the other duke and duchess, Mercer said, “Kate and William obviously adore their children, yet they also understand the huge responsibility that comes with being a royal family… Kate’s style of parenting ensures their children embrace the royal way of life from the outset while ensuring the children carry on tradition and grow to be respected royals in the public eye.”
Some other parenting experts also contributed to the Daily Express piece. Angela Spencer, the founder of website Babyopathy, said, “I think it’s extremely hard to be a parent in this decade because in this age of social media every move we make is under scrutiny, but for a mom in the royal spotlight, that’s even worse.”
And she’s not wrong – Meghan’s been criticized constantly. In July 2019 the Duchess attended a polo match with Archie, but many people on social media complained that she was holding him wrongly. She most likely was, but only for one brief moment. It was a mistake that many new mothers could and will have made.
And of course, Meghan was slammed for her decision to leave the royal family too. Another parenting expert, Elizabeth Notugu, told the Daily Express, “Although many will criticize the Duchess of Sussex for her decision to raise Archie away from royal traditions, for those of us who aren’t of royal descent this could be quite similar to the way we raise our children and is that so bad?”
Notugu also said, “After all, Archie is not an heir to the throne; why should he have to be shackled to the same traditions as his cousins? I think Kate is a fantastic mother and she is doing the best that she can in her situation and position of power. In the end, both mothers want what is best for their children and we cannot say one is better than the other, as their situations are vastly different.”
That says it all really. Although Meghan and Kate now live quite separate lives, what with Meghan having left the royal family while Kate very much remains, they still may be able to bond over parenting. After all, both of them are completely devoted to making sure their children have good lives.