Mother's Day: How the royals tackle parenting

Rebecca Taylor
Royal Correspondent

Becoming a parent is a life changing event for anyone, but for the royals, it’s one which is lived in the public eye.

From the Queen to Diana, to Kate and Meghan, the mothers of the royal family have each approached their roles differently but with equal love for their children.

Yahoo Style looks at what royal couples have said about parenting and how mothers are bringing up baby in the palaces.

Prince William and Kate

The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate, is mother to three children - Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.

She and her husband Prince William have been hands-on with parenting. When they have to appear on the steps of the Lindo wing to show their newborns to the waiting world, it’s often Kate who holds the baby as the proud parents smile.

William and Kate with Prince George outside the Lindo Wing in 2013. (Getty Images)
The Duke of Cambridge carries his new son, Prince George to the car. (Press Association)

But William is then the one to take on the next scary move - strapping in the car seat and driving home.

In a podcast with Giovanna Fletcher, the duchess admitted that William practiced this with a doll in a car seat before Prince George was born.

She also said she was terrified when she had to step out that day.

William plants a kiss on his son's cheek as George gets ready to meet his younger sister Charlotte. (Getty Images)

And William proved himself an affectionate dad when he brought his eldest son George to hospital to meet his younger sister Charlotte and planted a kiss on the little boy’s cheek.

George and Charlotte have also joined their parents on royal tours, showing the family prefers to be together when they can.

Photos from some of their private events also show they are close. George, Charlotte and Louis were all seen playing with their mum during a polo event in the summer.

Kate laughs as Louis pulls faces during a family day out. (Getty Images)
George and Charlotte hang out with their mum and little brother at the charity polo day. (Getty Images)

Kate wasn’t able to drop Prince George at school on his first day because she was in hospital. During all of her pregnancies she has suffered hyperemesis gravidarum and was receiving treatment while pregnant with Louis.

But she made sure she was there for Princess Charlotte’s first day, alongside George and dad William.

She has taken longer off in maternity leave each time she has had a child, returning to work just six weeks after George was born in 2013.

But with Charlotte she took four months, and six months for Louis. However she did make some appearances during this time, for example for Trooping the Colour.

Kate spoke about feeling “mum guilt” during the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast, and she hinted that she had learned a lot, saying there were things she would have “done differently” which could include how long she took off with her children.

William and Kate took George and Charlotte for the Christmas Day service in Sandringham for the first time in 2019. (Getty Images)

With the two oldest Cambridge children in school, there are fewer family appearances these days. But there was a Christmas Day treat for royal watchers when George and Charlotte joined mum and dad for the service in Sandringham.

Kate also gives hints about how the children are getting on when she is on tour. She’s previously revealed that George is learning to play the guitar, Charlotte is getting into gymnastics, and Louis’s favourite song is happy birthday.

One of Louis’s first words was Mary, because TV cook Mary Berry’s books are at his height in the family kitchen, Kate told Berry during a BBC documentary.

Kate told Mary Berry that one of Louis's first words was her name. (Getty Images)

She is a surprisingly strict mum too. In November 2019, she and William attended the royal variety performance, where she revealed she’d had to tell George and Charlotte they couldn’t go because it was a school night.

But there’s a loving balance - she’s told the children hugs are important, and frequently talks about how much she values the five of them spending time together, outdoors if possible.

They both tie in their work in mental health support with parenting too. Kate has previously spoken about encouraging her children to speak about their feelings and know there’s no shame in any struggle.

Princess Charlotte's first day at school was a family affair. (Getty Images)
Kate laughs at a cheeky moment from Charlotte. (Getty Images)

She’s also talked about values like kindness, saying (before Louis was born): “My parents taught me about the importance of qualities like kindness, respect and honesty. I realise how central values like these have been to me throughout my life.

“That is why William and I want to teach our little children, George and Charlotte, just how important these things are as they grow up.

“In my view, it is just as important as excelling at maths or sport.”

George and Charlotte have a family day out with William and Kate. (Getty Images)

In their work, the Cambridges also reflect support for parenting and carers. The duchess supports lots of family focused charities, like Family Action and East Anglia’s children’s hospice.

Prince Harry and Meghan

Prince Harry has one son with his wife Meghan - Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor.

The family is much more private than William and Kate. They did not step out with baby Archie in the same way as the Cambridges, choosing a quieter first family moment at the palace in the days after his birth instead.

Harry carried baby Archie out for their first photocall. (Press Association)

Harry was carrying Archie when he and Meghan introduced him to reporters in St George’s Hall in Windsor Castle. Since then, we often see Meghan carrying him in public, with dad Harry doting nearby.

Archie’s christening was a private affair, with no details of his godparents released officially.

But Harry and Meghan did take Archie on tour with them to South Africa, where he charmed Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Read more: How the palaces' meticulous diary plans stop one royal upstaging another

They occasionally put out new images of him, including one at Christmas as he peered straight down the camera, and another over New Year of Harry holding him.

Harry, Meghan and Archie meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu on their first tour as a family. (Getty Images)

Before Prince Harry became a father he was open about wanting children of his own one day. According to an article in The Daily Telegraph, he would joke with his friends that he wished he could become a father without having to get married.

Three years before becoming a father he said: “Of course I would love to have kids.”

He was also a doting uncle to his two nephews and three nieces. Speaking about being bumped down the line of succession, he said he could never mind when it was because he was an uncle three times over, and said the trio were “amazing”.

An official christening photo released by the Sussexes. (Reuters)
Harry wears an I Am Daddy jacket in the Netherlands. (Getty Images)

Harry clearly took to his new role with glee too. When he was in the Netherlands after Archie’s birth, he was given a new Invictus Games top which had the word ‘Daddy’ underneath the logo, which highlights ‘I am’ in yellow writing.

Meghan was also long wishing for her own children. In a 2015 interview she talked about balance and said she wanted to “be anchored to something” adding: “Raising a family will be a wonderful part of that”.

The following year she said she “couldn’t wait” to start a family but that it would happen “in due time”.

She’s already preparing to pass on something special to a future daughter. When her show Suits was commissioned for a third series she bought herself a Cartier watch and had it engraved, and said she will pass it on to her daughter one day.

Unlike his older brother, it seems Harry wants to keep to two children, saying that’s the “maximum” they would have for the planet’s sake.

Meghan held Archie close to her during a family day out at a charity polo match. (Getty Images)

The first time Meghan spoke about motherhood, she said she had “the two best guys in the world” of Harry and Archie.

Since then, she also admitted she had struggled with the limelight, talking about it being a tough time in a documentary about their time in South Africa.

She showed she is a hands-on mum with her tales of Archie growing up. When back in the UK for her final engagements she said he was “into everything”.

Meghan was able to benefit from advice from none other than Michelle Obama when she was pregnant too. The former first lady told her to “savour it all” when it came to her first child.

For the first US Mother’s Day, Meghan and Harry shared a picture of Archie’s feet against a floral backdrop, and shared a poignant comment which remembered Harry’s mother Diana.

It said: “Paying tribute to all mothers today - past, present, mothers-to-be, and those lost but forever remembered.”

Noting it was the duchess’s first Mother’s Day as a mother, they shared a quote from a poem which read: “My mother was my first country; the first place I ever lived”.

Princess Diana and William and Harry

William and Harry lost their mother Diana at a young age when she was killed in a car crash in France.

They have not spoken about her frequently, but gave a final interview about her 20 years after her death, in 2017.

At the time they expressed the regret they had at rushing what turned out to be the last phone call they had with their mother.

Read more: International Women's Day: The Royal Family's most feminist moments

They had been busy in Balmoral when she had called, and finding themselves spending too much time on the phone with her or their father, were “blase” about it.

Diana with her sons William and Harry during a holiday with the Spanish royal family at the Marivent Palace in Palma de Mallorca, August 1987. (Getty Images)
Diana with William and Harry in their garden in Highgrove. (Getty Images)
Diana with both princes on Harry's first day at Wetherby School in London, September 1989. (Getty Images)

Despite that weighing on their minds, they also have plenty of memories of their fun-loving and hands-on mother.

Harry’s own approach to parenthood may well be influenced by his memories of his affectionate mother.

In the documentary he said: “Even talking about it now I can feel the hugs that she used to give us and I miss that. I miss that feeling, I miss that part of a family, I miss having that mother to be able to give you those hugs and give you that compassion that I think everybody needs.”

Diana taking William and Harry on carriage ride during their ski holiday in 1993. (Getty Images)

William and Harry have both echoed her attempts to give her sons a “normal life”. Harry added: “If that means taking us for a burger every now and then, or sneaking us into the cinema, or driving through the country lanes with the roof down of her old-school BMW listening to Enya I think it was... All of that was part of her being a mum.”

William also said his time with her set the importance to him of the early years of his children’s lives. He said he puts them to bed and tells them about Diana so they know they have two grannies.

Diana with William and Harry at Thorpe Park. (Getty Images)

In 2019, Harry did give one more comment about his mother, fittingly at the Diana Awards.

He said: “My mother, Princess Diana, was a role model to so many, without realising the impact she would have on so many lives.”

Photos of William and Harry as children with their mother show she was affectionate and loving with them.

Diana’s own words during her life show her love and devotion to her children. Writing to a friend in 1982, she said: “William has brought us such happiness and contentment and consequently I can't wait for masses more.”

She is also quoted as saying: “A mother's arms are more comforting than anyone else's.”

On another occasion she reportedly said: “I live for my sons. I would be lost without them.”

Duchess of Cornwall and William and Harry

While William and Harry will also treasure their memories with their mother Diana, they do also have a step-mother in Camilla, their father’s second wife.

Naturally it was never going to be completely plain sailing. But it does seem that there is a good relationship between the two princes and their father’s wife.

Meghan and Camilla catch up at Royal Ascot. (Getty Images)
Meghan with Charles and Camilla at Charles' 70th birthday garden party in 2018. (Getty Images)

The Evening Standard’s royal correspondent and author Robert Jobson said the princes were likely to feel “acceptance” when their father announced his engagement rather than truly being “delighted”, as was said in the official statement.

In her book The Firm, author Penny Junor said: “Accepting Camilla as a fixture in their father’s life has been difficult for them. Although they have been genuinely pleased to see him so happy, and genuinely like Camilla – and her children – the issue is complicated.”

But time has changed things.

A source told Vanity Fair that Camilla was a pillar of support for Harry and Meghan as the duchess adjusted to royal life.

William sat next to Camilla at his brother's wedding to Meghan Markle in 2018. (Getty Images)
The four looked close at the opening ceremony for the 2014 Invictus Games. (Getty Images)

Camilla was said to be “fond” of Meghan, and potentially someone to seek advice from, because she went through lots of negative press as well.

Documentary producer Juliet Rice said William and Harry “adore” Camilla, and that her children from her first marriage get on with the princes too.

In a book called Conversations with the Prince, Harry is reported to have said: “She’s not a wicked stepmother. Look at the position she’s coming into. Don’t feel sorry for me and William, feel sorry for her.”

Camilla seems to share a joke with William after a service for the Diamond Jubilee. (Getty Images)

Camilla’s down-to-earth personality and dry sense of humour may have helped the group get along. They are often caught whispering and giggling at events and engagements.

Charles, Camilla, William and Kate were seen at a rare engagement together in February, the first in nine years, and proved they have a strong bond.

Camilla’s biological son Tom Parker Bowles has previously revealed that Camilla is a good cook, particularly praising her scrambled eggs.

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She also talked about how much she enjoyed being a grandmother in a documentary in 2018.

She said: “It’s very nice because you haven’t got the full responsibility. You can give them a wonderful time, spoil them, give them all the things their parents won’t allow them to have and then give them back again.”

The Queen and her four children

Queen Elizabeth II has four children, two of whom were born while she was still a princess and two who were born when she was queen.

She’s not spoken as much about motherhood as her descendants now have, but her role as matriarch is essential to keeping the whole Royal Family together.

The Queen visiting a young Zara Phillips at her school. (Getty Images)
The Queen with her grandson Peter Philips when he was at school. (Getty Images)

In her silver wedding anniversary speech in 1972, she said: “If I am asked what I think about family life after 25 years of marriage, I can answer with equal simplicity and conviction, I am for it.”

In 2012, when receiving an honour, Kate Winslet talked of how she loved being a mother. The monarch replied: “Yes. That's the only job which matters.”

She’s also proved herself to be a doting grandmother and great-grandmother. In the Queen at 90 documentary, Kate said the queen regularly leaves presents for George and Charlotte in their rooms when they come to stay.

She passed on her love for horse racing to her oldest granddaughter Zara, and William and Harry admitted they “take the mickey” a bit, and do see her as a normal grandmother, even though she’s the queen.

The Queen with a young William and Harry. (Getty Images)
The Queen passed on her love of horse racing to Zara. (Getty Images)

There has long been speculation about the Queen’s relationship with her children, particularly her oldest son Charles, who became heir apparent when she acceded to the throne.

Historian Robert Lacy, who served as an advisor on The Crown, said the Queen believed her children would be better off at home when they had to go off on their royal tours.

He told Town and Country Magazine: “She had been brought up in that style herself, after all, with her parents leaving her at home and entrusting her entire schooling to a governess and home tutors.”

Read more: Who are the Queen's grandchildren?

An authorised biography of Prince Charles in 1994 also quoted the prince as saying it was “inevitably the nursery staff” who saw his first steps and disciplined him.

The Queen, while still Princess Elizabeth, with a baby Prince Charles in Buckingham Palace. (Getty Images)

But his younger sister Princess Anne stuck up for her mother in a rare interview in 2002, amid rumour she was a distant mother.

Anne said: “I simply don't believe that there is any evidence whatsoever to suggest that she wasn't caring. It just beggars belief.”

She added: “I don't believe any of us for a second thought she didn't care for us in exactly the same way as any other mother did.”

Lacy also says there’s evidence that when the Queen had her youngest two sons she had become “warmer and more flexible”.

Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward waving to the crowds from the balcony at Buckingham Palace, during the Trooping of the Colour. (Getty Images)
Princess Elizabeth with her husband Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh and their children Prince Charles and Princess Anne. (Getty Images)

He said: “Early in the 1960s, Her Majesty decided that she had done her duty by her country, and took the best part of eighteen months off work to produce and enjoy her ‘second family’, the young princes Andrew and Edward, born in 1960 and 1964 respectively.”

Charles and the Queen have appeared to have a good relationship in adult life, and her “sincere hope” that he take over the Commonwealth role from her is a good indication that she loves and trusts her son.