Skip to main content

How to raise a royal baby

By Deborah Cohen, Special to CNN
July 23, 2013 -- Updated 1549 GMT (2349 HKT)
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
July 13, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
To prevent war with North Korea over a comedy, what would Dennis Rodman say to Kim Jong Un? Movie critic Gene Seymour weighs in.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT