From the moment that Prince William and Kate Middleton announced they were expecting a baby back in December 2012, the topic of their parenting has been a heated discussion. Kate more so than William has gotten quite a lot of negative comments over the years about her parenting, and given the response to Kate’s interactions with Prince George and Princess Charlotte at Pippa’s wedding, I want to take the time to think about this question: Should we stop commenting on Kate’s parenting?
It is my opinion that any topic a public person puts into the public sphere is acceptable for discussion, especially when the topic is used for the public person’s own personal gain through PR. For example: Emma Watson put her opinions on feminism into the public sphere and has used that topic as part of her brand and image, therefore it is acceptable to discuss Emma Watson’s opinions on feminism and use of feminism as PR.
William and Kate not only put their parenting in the public sphere by commenting on it publicly but use it to generate positive PR and as an excuse for their low work numbers. Therefore, in my opinion, William and Kate’s parenting should be acceptable for discussion. However, there is a line of acceptability which tends to get crossed 1) because of negative bias, and 2) when discussing hot topics such as parenting.
I think it is perfectly acceptable to discuss instances of PR hypocrisy on all topics and to call out the hypocrisy when we see it; it is one of the reasons I started this blog. Because William and Kate use their parenting as PR, I think it is acceptable to discuss and call out instances of PR hypocrisy on the topic of their parenting – when William and Kate’s actions contradict the PR image they’ve built (especially, and most importantly, when it comes to their work schedule).
When attempting to discuss and call out William and Kate’s hypocrisy (on any topic really, but especially on the topic of their parenting), the line of acceptability gets crossed due to negative bias. We are so quick to think negatively of William and Kate and quick with the desire to call out their hypocrisy, that we jump to conclusions and dispense with logic. We say things we don’t necessarily mean and wouldn’t say about anyone else, and we accuse William and Kate of things we wouldn’t accuse anyone else of. I know I am guilty of this – I know I’ve done this in the past, and will probably do this in the future without intending to.
Half the time when the “Kate can’t win” line comes out, I disagree with it and think it’s a cop-out excuse for Kate’s poor performance or work ethic. The other half of the time, I agree and think in certain situations, due to negative bias, Kate really can’t win no matter which option she takes. Take for example Kate’s interaction with George at Pippa’s wedding: If Kate had let George throw a tantrum and not done anything, she would have been called a terrible mom for letting him throw a tantrum in public and been accused of not spending enough time with her kids to know how to handle their tantrums; when Kate did say something to George when he was crying (or whatever actually happened in that moment), Kate gets called a terrible mom for embarrassing her child in public by scolding him; if Kate took George inside to talk to him, then she would have been called a terrible mom for leaving the other kids, or for showing George favoritism, or for causing a problem for the other guests trying to leave the church, or what have you.
People have a negative opinion of Kate so they tend to think the worst of her or put the blame for a situation on her without considering any other option (and yes, I have done this, too). Let’s again look at the situation at Pippa’s wedding, and take an alternate reading: George is throwing a tantrum for whatever selfish reason and Kate is doing her job as a parent and parenting her child. We only saw a brief moment of that interaction, in still photos, from a distance, we don’t know what happened, but because of our own negative bias we assume that interaction reflects negatively on Kate.
The topic of Kate’s favoritism toward Charlotte also came up quite a bit, because Kate was holding Charlotte’s hand and interacting with her more than the other children. An alternate reading: Charlotte is more likely to run off than any of the other kids, so Kate did her job as a parent and kept a hand and an eye on Charlotte to make sure she didn’t run off. Princess Madeleine does the same thing with Princess Leonore – except for one brief moment at Alexander’s Christening, Madeleine has never held Nicolas in public outside of his own Christening – yet no one calls favoritism there. That’s because Madeleine doesn’t have the negative bias that Kate does.
Another reason that the line of acceptability gets crossed when discussing William and Kate’s parenting is because parenting is a hot topic that people disagree on and get into flame wars about. “Mommy Wars” is a thing, and “mommy shaming” is a thing, where people not only defend their opinions vehemently but will attack others for having a differing opinion.
People disagree on breast feeding, being a stay at home mom versus a working mom, having a nanny, and everything else, and they have strong opinions on these subjects and react emotionally when discussing them. People also have differing opinions on what a “normal childhood” is, and when celebrities or royals talk about wanting to give their kids a “normal childhood” it often rings false for a lot of people who are listening to them. Because of the passion and intense emotions surrounding the topic of parenting and the differing ideas of what a “normal childhood” are, I think that gets put on William and Kate without them actually doing anything wrong – where they do something we wouldn’t or handle a situation differently than we would and we attack them for it (I am sure I am guilty of this).
Another issue with the “Mommy Wars” is the misogyny of it: “Mommy Wars” is a thing; “Daddy Wars” is not. And that is reflective in the comments about William and Kate’s parenting. Most of the comments about William and Kate’s parenting are directed at Kate. Now, that may be partially due to the fact that Kate is more popular and gets written about and discussed more (not only on here but in general), but it may be partially due to the misogyny not only in our culture at large but especially in and around the topic of parenting. William certainly does get some negative criticism (especially on here) but Kate is the one getting the most of it (especially in other places).
I don’t want to put a moratorium on the topic of William and Kate’s parenting, and I do think discussion of William and Kate’s PR about parenting and how it relates to their work is relevant, but I do think there is a line of acceptability that we all need not to cross.
Where is that line of acceptability? That’s always a tough question when it comes to a subjective topic, because different people will have different opinions on where that line is. Some will think that any negative discussion about a topic is crossing that line, while others will think there is no line and all negative comments are acceptable. In the world at large, I think there is a line at comments that spread hatred, comments that advocate for or incite violence, comments that are personal attacks and are meant to demean others.
I understand that William and Kate put the topic of their parenting out there themselves and use it for PR, and I understand the desire to question their PR and call them out for their hypocrisy. I think it is acceptable to discuss what William and Kate put out there publicly, what they use for PR, and whether or not their actions are hypocritical, but I think attacking them for parenting differently than we would and assuming the worst from a few still photos because of our own negative bias is crossing the line of acceptability.
Because William and Kate are taxpayer-funded public figures: Discussion of William and Kate’s comments about their kids is acceptable. Discussion of William and Kate’s parenting as it relates to their work ethic and/or excuses not to work is acceptable. Discussion of William and Kate’s parenting as it relates to their PR is acceptable. But: Personal attacks are not acceptable. Attacking William and Kate for parenting differently than others is not acceptable.
Overall, what I will advocate is that we collectively (and I am including myself in this) recognize our own negative bias, be more understanding of the fact that different people parent differently, and recognize the fact that we don’t have a full picture or full knowledge of William and Kate’s lives and that some things aren’t always what they appear.