Opinion: You can’t control the behaviour of a four-year-old, writes Alice O’Connell – but you should be able to control vitriol against their mother. Were Harry and Meghan right to stay away from the baying wolves if even a toddler comes under attack?
No wonder Prince Harry and Meghan Markle decided to just stay in for the day.
While I haven’t always agreed with the way the pair has gone about doing things (a quick disclaimer: as a former editor of New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, I spent hours each day thinking about the royals – current and historical – and all their many traditions and protocols, so a lot of it was bound to stick!), after watching the coverage of the Queen’s Jubilee over the long weekend, I finally 100% got it.
It all made perfect sense why the former HRHs chose to keep their involvement over the festivities to a bare minimum – leaving their two children behind at their old residence at Frogmore Cottage – and then skipped the final event, the Platinum Jubilee Pageant all together. In fact, it now truly makes complete sense to me why they have kept their two little ones entirely out of the public eye, choosing to instead only share (and on very rare occasions – such as today on Lilibet’s first birthday) very carefully styled and curated images of them.
Now, technically I shouldn’t actually be writing this piece, seeing as I’m on maternity leave right now, but last night I saw some media coverage of the Pageant that left me so incensed I had to dust off my laptop and have a good rage-write about it.
Whilst scrolling through my phone last night – instead of doing the washing and dishes that seem to pile up with a newborn onboard – I came across this post: (which, unfortunately, after a quick look on Google, it seems like it isn’t the only of its kind. Groan.)
Kate Called Out Over Louis’ Behaviour: Prince Louis’ balcony antics have called Kate Middleton’s parenting into question.
Imagine what would have been said if it had been Harry and Meghan – or their kids – on that balcony?
Is this… for real?!
We’re saying a four-year-old didn’t stay glued to his seat, with his eyes fixed forward, quietly taking in every moment of a long, drawn-out event while crowds of noisy people cheered and carried on (and snuck repeated looks in his direction) and this is… news?
And – even worse than that – because this toddler acted like a toddler, we’re also having a go at the parents for not being up to scratch and, oh wait, actually sorry no, we’re not blaming the parents at all. Just the mother.
See, the last time I checked, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge is hardly a solo mum who is just doing her very best to get by on her own. In fact it’s actually kinda easy to remember that there’s a dad on the scene, what with him being the future King of England and all.
So how come we’re just having a go at Kate here?
But, but, but, I digress. For a moment, let’s put that insanely infuriating sexism aside, because what really ground my gears about this post was the eagerness to spice up their Facebook page and spark some controversy by playing the parent blame and shame game here.
Little Louis was spotted doing all the kinds of things little kids often do when they’re asked to spend a few hours sitting still at something rather boring: pulling faces, getting restless, having a whinge, moving out of their seats.
Kate – who is always a saint, with Jennifer Garner levels of patience and stoicism – sat by her son, occasionally shushing him when necessary, dodging his hand which tried to swat her out of the way at one point, and intently listened while he sat with her and whispered in her ear.
She didn’t give him a right royal telling off, grabbing him by the ear or giving him a smack on the backside – and Louis, despite getting a bit restless, never got on the ground, pounding his little fists on the floor while he wailed and screamed “I SHOULD BE KING”. Yet, a few people on the internet thought his and her behaviour was completely unacceptable and in turn, a couple of news outlets decided that the musings of a couple of keyboard warriors were enough grounds for a story. Sigh.
It’s depressing because they’re the kinds of interactions that occasionally got Princess Diana in hot water when her sons were of a similar age, and didn’t act like robots in public. But they were also the kind of interactions – very normal parent/toddler ones – that also finally humanised the royals a bit more and made them that smidge more relatable.
And now, it’s repeated itself but with the most unlikely of characters. Because if this is something that people are now coming for Kate over – who is one of the most popular royals and is perhaps even at her peak of approval both from the public and within The Firm (the internet also went nuts last week when Prince Charles was seen blowing her a kiss) – God only knows what would have been said if it were Meghan and her little Archie or Lilibet sitting up in the Royal box behaving like, well, normal little human beings.
Watching the coverage yesterday (although I doubt Harry & Meghan are signed up for news alerts from the NZ Herald), I’m sure it only cemented their decision to step away from the spotlight and refuse to give public moments between them and their children for the world to scrutinise and write hateful, sexist articles about.
I did notice that the headline on that story soon changed, to ‘Social Media Divided Over Prince Louis and Kate Moment’, but the Facebook post lives on. And perhaps it’s just the fact that there’s a little newborn face on the baby monitor next to my screen right now, but I certainly don’t feel comfortable just continuing to scroll by, like we’re in some sort of Stepford Wives era where we call out and judge mothers – or any kind of parents – for doing their best, and then package it up on social media to stir up some controversy and act like we would somehow do better in that situation.
Each time I’ve left the house with my newborn, I’ve agonised over a few decisions – like most new parents – and have wondered if I have the right number of layers on him to keep him warm, but not too warm. Wondered if he’s had enough/too much sleep/milk/stimulation, or whether he might start crying in the doctor’s waiting room. Wondered if I’ve pulled those straps on his capsule too tight, or not tight enough.
I simply cannot imagine a life in which I had the world’s eyes on me, actively scrutinising me in those moments. I cannot imagine those people writing judgemental comments on social media and then seeing news outlets reporting those thoughts as current events.
I actually thought about Meghan and Kate as I left the hospital for the first time with my son and shuffled to the car where my partner strapped him into the back seat. I imagined if I’d had to walk out that entrance, after just having my belly sliced open and my whole world turned on its head, to share my precious new little guy with the world, while my partner was watched closely as he secured the capsule in place and drove off at an appropriate speed. In truth, I likely would have passed out. Or have moved country to get out of it. Heck, I would definitely even considered faking my own death rather than go through with that.
I’m glad Harry and Meghan bucked with tradition then, and now. I can only hope that some day, the world might feel a bit more inviting for them to come back and trust us all to share a bit more of their own little world with us.