Skip to main content

How to raise a royal baby

By Deborah Cohen, Special to CNN
updated 11:49 AM EDT, Tue July 23, 2013
The Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand is lit blue on Wednesday, July 24, to celebrate the birth of a baby boy to Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. Catherine <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/22/world/europe/uk-royal-baby/index.html'>gave birth to the boy at 4:24 p.m.</a> July 22. He weighed 8 pounds, 6 ounces. A name has not been announced for the child, who is third in line to the British throne. The Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand is lit blue on Wednesday, July 24, to celebrate the birth of a baby boy to Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. Catherine gave birth to the boy at 4:24 p.m. July 22. He weighed 8 pounds, 6 ounces. A name has not been announced for the child, who is third in line to the British throne.
HIDE CAPTION
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Photos: Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
Reaction to royal baby's arrival
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to a boy on Monday
  • Deborah Cohen: Everyone's got advice for new parents, but the royal family has been mum
  • She says Kate and Prince William reportedly want a "normal" childhood for their child
  • Cohen: For extraordinary people to make themselves ordinary is a conjuring act

Editor's note: Deborah Cohen is the author of "Family Secrets" and professor of humanities and history at Northwestern University. Follow her on Twitter: @DeborahACohen

(CNN) -- At long last, the royal baby has arrived! The queen can finally depart for her summer holiday at Balmoral. The paparazzi who have been littering the streets in front of St. Mary's Hospital can now train their long lenses on a topless (albeit nursing) mother. To Kate and William, I pass on the most consoling words I received when my daughter was born: The first month of parenthood isn't for the faint-hearted.

Everyone's got advice for new parents. The French -- we are told -- raise happier and better-behaved children, thanks to their self-assured authority and bans on snacking. Tiger moms, so the legend goes, breed successful children because of rigorous discipline and unflinchingly high standards. Gwyneth Paltrow's children prosper because they are deprived of carbohydrates.

But in a clamorous field of conflicting advice-givers, the members of Britain's royal family are notable no-shows. While many have an opinion about how the new royal baby should be brought up -- nanny or no nanny, Charles and Camilla or the Middletons holding grandparently sway -- there is no volley answering back from the Palace. Little wonder, since a Royal Guide to Parenting sounds like a Monty Python skit, with the dotty royal ancestors alternately misplacing their progeny and browbeating them for breaches of arcane infant protocol.

'Wicked' author: Royal baby stands for hope

Deborah Cohen
Deborah Cohen

It's not that royal parents lack a plan. Kate and Prince William reportedly want a "normal" childhood for their offspring. Prince William's mother, Diana, said the same thing. For Diana, that meant unscheduled playtimes, the occasional meal at McDonald's, nursery school with other children.

But if a trip for the royal heirs to Disney World was a novelty, the longing for ordinariness -- or seeming ordinariness -- is in fact a much older aspiration. It was Prince William's great-great-great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria and her German consort, Prince Albert, who recognized the adulation that might be inspired by a royal family (the term was Albert's own coinage) cast in the mold of middle-class virtues.

Unlike her dissipated uncles, Victoria and her family would be paragons of bourgeois domesticity. Albert was present at the birth of his children. The education of Bertie, their second-born son and heir, was approached with the utmost seriousness. Distrustful of the lax and inattentive royal parents of the past, Albert elected to superintend every detail of Bertie's upbringing himself.

Opinion: Why I wouldn't want to be royal baby

Still, all of this parental care came, as Jane Ridley's fascinating new biography of Edward VII reveals, at a high price. Bertie could never live up to his parents' expectations of him. He was rebellious, a slow learner and -- or so his father feared -- marked by the congenital weaknesses in Victoria's line. In the hope of instilling regular habits, Albert spied on his son constantly. Both of his parents issued a constant stream of corrections, Tiger Mothers before the fact. "I had no boyhood," Bertie later lamented.

Town crier announces birth of royal baby
The royal baby: What happens next

From Victoria and Albert onwards, contemporary claims to normality and ordinariness jostle up against retrospective assessments of secrecy and isolation. Was Charles' father, Prince Philip, really doing a "splendidly modern job on the upbringing of his son," as the Daily Mirror reported when Charles was 13: "No effete, out-dated Eton, with its tailcoats, fancy waistcoats, slender watch chains and high-pitched accents"? Or was young Prince Charles, as is now often suggested, the hapless victim of distant parents who subjected him to an education unsuited to his personality?

Opinion: Baby helps make a monarchy better

As Prince Albert presciently recognized, family life does provide common ground, even a point of identification and sympathy, between royals and their subjects. While few live in a castle, the vast majority of us have parents of some sort.

But contrary to Albert's fond hopes, the royal family has proved itself most normal in the late 20th century not by exemplifying middle-class virtues but by enacting the same fallout from the sexual revolution as most other Western families: adultery, divorce, confession and intergenerational conflict. That sort of normality, however, doesn't endear you to taxpayers.

For extraordinary people to make themselves ordinary is a conjuring act, one that requires a certain suspension of disbelief on the part of their audience. It's role-playing on our part as well as theirs.

So, Kate and William: We wish you many perfectly ordinary sleepless nights, changing diapers and worrying over test scores. But we'll only know you're really normal when you tell the rest of us how to raise a baby -- and, on the basis of results achieved, some are willing to listen.

Follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Deborah Cohen.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
updated 8:25 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 1:30 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT