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From Emma: A Letter to William & Kate

This is a letter I wrote to William and Kate that was originally published by the Huffington Post. You can find the original article here, on the Huffington Post Parents blog.


Dear William and Kate,

Congratulations! The whole world is celebrating with you as you prepare for the birth of your first child.

How amazing to see pictures of the international press gathered outside the duchess’s room at King Edward VII Hospital. Already, the two of you are on a pedestal, looked to as models for handling a pregnancy.

Soon, the international throngs will also be scrutinizing your every move as parents: How you hold your children, how you dress them, where you take them for fun.

I imagine you will hire a nanny, or several. We English know that there is absolutely no shame in this. Our culture regards childrearing as a noble and complex profession, and our nannies are the stuff of legend, commanding salaries of up to $250,000 abroad. I remember, William, how close you were to your own nannies, particularly Tiggy Legge-Bourke.

I am an English nanny myself, with 17 years of experience caring for families in England and America. In fact, I had my own show on TLC, “Take Home Nanny,” in which I showed parents the best principles of English parenting.

The English are truly great at bringing up resilient, well-mannered, brave, and kind children. Too many parents — in our own country and across the Western world — have lost sight of what we’ve always done right.

As you step into your role as international ambassadors of English parenting, I do hope you’ll remember these 5 reasons we parent so well:

1. Parental dignity is non-negotiable.

Open up any tabloid in California, where I live, and you’ll see photo after photo of poor young celebrity mothers torturing themselves to regain their “pre-baby body” immediately after childbirth.

Meanwhile, outside of Los Angeles, many other new mums feel guilty taking time alone for so much as a haircut. Shouldn’t they be taking all this time to enjoy their new baby?

By the standards of the American media, parents are not doing a good job unless they’re martyring themselves somehow. How dreadful not just for them, but their children. The truth is that they cannot be loving or effective parents unless they are well-rested, put together and sane.

Young children do not notice how much Mum and Dad weigh; they notice whether Mum and are happy and calm. Once you have made provisions for your children’s basic needs, personal dignity should be your top concern.

2. We understand the necessity of a “boring” night at home.

In a busy household — be it a San Francisco split-level or Kensington Palace — even the most well-meaning parents can fall behind on sharing quality time with children. Remember that proximity does not equal quality; 20 minutes talking or coloring together is entirely different from 20 minutes in the car, frantically shuttling to soccer practice.

This is a principle both of William’s parents seem to have understood well. Whether it was fun time at an amusement park with your mother or hacking through the Scottish countryside with your father, William, both of them understood the importance of unencumbered quality time.

Quality time is also a great opportunity for parents to model proper behavior. Between Mum’s impeccable manners and elegance and Dad’s easy charm and commitment to humanitarian causes, there are many things your child in particular can look forward to learning.

3. We take pride in good manners.

In English households, good manners should be practiced all the time, rather than performed on special occasions. If manners are taught consistently, they will remain intact even when your child is tired at the end of a long evening or stressed by her upcoming meeting with the Prime Minister of Japan.

While constant reminders to sit up properly, speak respectfully and say “thank you” can be as wearying for parents as they are annoying for children, making a habit of good manners can mean the difference between a lifetime of carrying yourself comfortably in social situations and being anxious about whether the wine glass on the left or right is yours — or worse yet, being left off the guest list completely.

4. We do not suffer bullies.

There is a reason Neville Chamberlain is a national embarrassment for us. We are not, on the whole, a nation of appeasers, of people who give in to brutes — even if they are pint-sized members of our family.

If Margaret Thatcher will permit me to borrow her phrase, our parents are not for turning. We explain rules and consequences to our children early on, and we enforce them, quietly and consistently, no matter what the inconvenience or embarrassment. Temporary peace is a coward’s value.

5. We strive to make our children not just happy, but noble.

Do not be fooled by our national tendency to self-deprecate. We might scoff at an American parent nattering on about the importance of “self-esteem,” but the truth is, we know how to give it to a child better than anyone in the world.

The key is autonomy. Within appropriate limits of maturity and safety, we let our children make their own mistakes and recover from their own disappointments. We do not cosset them so that they emerge from the parental home having never tasted sacrifice or failure.

C.S. Lewis, one of our great thinkers, once said that love was about more than a wish to see the people around us made happy and safe. There are joys in life far more profound than contentment: growth, strength, and a sense of meaning and purpose. This is the true prize we English pursue for our children.

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Speaking of Marriage

Winifred M. Reilly, M.A., MFT

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