June 5, 2012

{Royal Mothers} Book Excerpt

[In honor of Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee Celebration, I post this excerpt from my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride, from the chapter on "mothering"....]

Diana was not the first late twentieth century media-star princess to have “being a good mother” on the top of her list. “Princess Grace of Monaco may well have been the most hands-on royal mother in recent history,” exclaims Grace’s friend and favorite photographer Howell Conant in his 1993 book. “Shortly after Caroline was born in 1957, Grace declared to a reporter that she would not let ‘public life or anything else push me out of my job as a mother,’ and she didn’t.”

Of course, there are all sorts of mothers. There are mothers who love their children but are more aloof; they are encouraging, but aren’t hands-on with affection and hugs. Like many upperclass families, Queen Elizabeth’s children spent more time with nannies than with their parents and more time away at boarding schools than with their family. And she loves her children. She “promised on her 21st birthday to dedicate her life to her people,” Andrew Roberts wrote in November 2010 about the monarch “and then spent the next 63 years doing exactly that.”  (This was from an article about what Kate Middleton was getting into by marrying into the British royal family.)

Not unlike other monarchs and countless “regular folks,” Queen Elizabeth gives her life to what she considers her duty. She does it with passion, warmth and humor in her reserved, well-trained manner, and with a keen sense of service and responsibility; but perhaps like no other, with an amazing work ethic. “In the calendar year 2009,” wrote Roberts, “Her Majesty the Queen undertook no fewer than 409 official engagements, i.e., more than one a day. She is 84 years old. Except for Christmas Day and Easter Day, she never has a day away from her government red boxes, which follow her everywhere.” And she loves her children. Just as much as she is devoted to her people (her work, her duty), the queen is committed to her family.

Guests who have been honored with an invitation from the Queen to a house party in the country at Sandringham or Balmoral have shared how she “makes everyone feel at home,” wrote Lady Colin Campbell in Diana in Private. “She never loses her dignity, not even with her closest relations, but that doesn’t mean that she’s stuffy…. She’s a very warm person, cosy almost, though, of course, majestically so,” Campbell continued. These were family homes and the house parties always reflected that; before their marriages, the Princes would bring their dates to these festive events. “The Queen is not an intolerant parent. On the contrary, she’s always indulged all her children. I think she feels that their lives are so restricted and duty-bound that she shouldn’t add to the restrictions,” Campbell concluded.

There are all sorts of mothers and they love their children—and communicate that love—in all sorts of ways.

In the midst of a male dominated, post-war world “a princess was coming to the throne,” wrote Josephine Evetts-Secker. It was 1952 and news that changed the people’s lives in Great Britain solemnly declared: “George VI was dead. The King is dead; long live the Queen.” Ending the radio age, with this new television phenomenon, people could now see all the grand pageantry of “one of the first real media events…the actual crowning of a monarch, a young Queen.” Recalling her childhood remembrances and “first experience of television,” Evetts-Secker said that Elizabeth’s “coronation dwarfed her wedding to the handsome Greek” and with international royalty and stars filling Westminster Abbey, it was as magical and mythical as anything she “could dream of.” In those years, Elizabeth had been their “people’s princess” and now “her youth had gone. She did her duty, dutifully, Athena’s own. Her service to the polis was practical and staunch,” Evetts-Secker continued in When a Princess Dies. And Elizabeth fulfilled these duties becoming “a new kind of people’s Queen,” her every move being followed through the years and perhaps she had just “run out of maternal steam” when the young Diana, desperately in need of mothering, came on the scene. Diana became a trailblazer for women, but as Evetts-Secker reminds us about Elizabeth: “Let us also bear in mind that she has been a carrier of new feminine energies.”

In the book, Dreaming of Diana compiled by Rita Frances, one of her contributors, Janet Hodges, after sharing a dream she had of the princess, spoke of how many people misinterpreted Diana as not clever. But in Diana’s support, Hodges explained that “you don’t need to be a scholar in order to communicate. I remember seeing a picture of Charles aged about four,” she continued, “shaking hands with his parents on their return from a trip abroad, and can’t help comparing that with the image of Diana scooping both her boys up in her arms.” Is how we communicate our love more a reflection of how much we love or how love was expressed to us or how we want to be loved ourselves?

I’m reminded of something I read that Jacqueline Kennedy shared about her reserved mother-in-law Rose Kennedy. “‘It’s the upbringing,’ she said of Rose’s seeming inability to connect with anyone emotionally,” cited Christopher Andersen in Jack and Jackie: Portrait of an American Marriage. “‘You see those pictures of her mother with the whalebone corset and the high collar—you’re brought up like that and you don’t reveal yourself. To reveal yourself is almost dangerous for people like that. I’d say Jack didn’t want to reveal himself at all.’”  Indeed the rich or the royals aren’t the only ones who may have had mothers with stiff whalebone-like emotions, a difficulty in expressing intimacy. Or had mothers whose children didn’t feel complete with tender mothering care and had to find, if they could, that part of themselves that a mother’s loving attention nurtured and revealed; they had to look elsewhere to learn the ways of intimacy of the heart.

Diana and her two grown sons would make great “role models” for Kate Stone Lombardi’s new book: The Mama’s Boy Myth: Why KeepingOur Sons Close Makes Them Stronger. When hearing the author speak, I thought of Diana’s close, physically affectionate relationship with Princes William and Harry—they were fifteen and twelve when she died—and the well-balanced, manly, kind and openly tender-hearted young men that I’ve seen in news clips and have read about the last few years. A summary on National Public Radio’s website says that the book “challenges the ‘mama’s boy’ taboo, exploring the societal pressures for mothers to push away their boys.” How else would Diana’s sons have learned her deep emotional intelligence—that all reports agree they have in spades—without their mother “holding them close”? This compassionate and feeling characteristic is the magnificence of Diana’s world-changing legacy. And one of the key points that Lombardi’s book considers is “how men with close bonds to their mothers can show higher levels of emotional intelligence”—exactly what the world needs more of from all men and women, sons and daughters.

Queen Elizabeth may be the end of an era of a particular style of British monarch as well as ending a more gilded cage type of upbringing for royal children—and perhaps even for raising all children. Nonetheless, without her unwavering commitment to duty and unconditional love for her people and without, ironically, her confounding late daughter-in-law’s charismatic public appeal, there may not have been a sustainable British monarchy. Then we would have missed the opportunity to have a modern royal couple like William and Kate to take on archetypal roles in the nature of relationship and marriage (and perhaps parenting) that they have or will have—roles and a world stage that can affect global change and continue his mother’s open-hearted legacy.

There are all sorts of mothers and they love their children—and communicate that love—in all sorts of ways. ~

[In honor of Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee Celebration, this excerpt from my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride is from the chapter on "mothering"....]

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