On Thursday, Kate gave a speech to promote mental health awareness for mothers and introduce the Out of the Blue film series of the same theme. Many have hailed it as her "meatiest" presentation yet, particularly applauding Kate's admission that she has found motherhood daunting at times. I was very moved by the mothers who commented on this blog attesting to how meaningful and supportive Kate's comments were to you. Those are the best accolades Kate's speech could get--feedback from real parents who felt uplifted and affirmed by her words.
On a secondary level, however, I was struck by a growing assertiveness from the duchess in this speech. Kate has been a predominantly silent figure in the decade she has spent in the spotlight. In the entire time she dated William, we only heard her voice once, and that was by chance. Kate has been something of an enigma, and inevitably we have all have projected a variety of assumptions and personal preferences onto her smiling image. Her early speeches and interviews have been scripted and sweet, further entrenching her cotton-candy image. But, as Kate speaks more, a window begins to crack open into her actual personality. Who she is and what she really thinks.
In her Best Beginnings speech I heard support and encouragement, but I also heard a relatively private woman publicly stand her ground on a fundamental issue of contention between her choices and the public's complaints. It was just a hint of the "does Kate work enough" debate. Kate almost directly addressed the criticism that we often hear--that she can't claim to be a busy mom, because she has access to nannies and staff that many women cannot afford. Kate said:
Personally, becoming a mother has been such a rewarding and wonderful experience. However, at times it has also been a huge challenge-even for me who has support at home that most mothers do not.
I heard a lot of things in Kate's speech, but most of all I heard her claim the right to her role and reinforce that she isn't going to shift under pressure. She defined that primary role not as global ambassador or charity patron or even princess, but as mother:
You go from thinking of yourself as primarily an individual, to suddenly being a mother, first and foremost.
Kate's image has been sketched by her smiling still shots, which might have conveyed a more biddable personality than is the reality. Both in her choices on speech topics and even more in the candid conversations she has with fans, to which we are increasingly privy, a much stronger and self-directed persona is emerging.
For those who followed Kate when she was dating William, we already have had the hints of Kate's tough core, and certainly we have seen her presence and strength in the stressful and upsetting moments she has had to tough through in public, like the day she spent touring in South East Asia as topless photos of her were published in France. We have inferred this strength despite her silence, but with the Best Beginnings speech, I think we might start to see more of Kate asserting herself vocally.
Kate's direction as a mother has been evident, too, in the way the Cambridges have raised their children. While Diana wanted to give her boys a normal upbringing, she didn't quite achieve her goal. For the moment, it seems that Kate is coming about as close as possible to an average childhood for her tykes. The couple's retreat to the country in the early days of their family life, Kate's strong bond with her family, and the average messy play days George clearly enjoys with his mother and grandmother, all attest to Kate's laser focus on providing a carefree and happy childhood to both her little ones.
On Friday Kensington Palace made a surprising announcement. Prince George will not attend the prestigious Wetherby in London, where both his father and Prince Harry were pupils. The press and public alike were sure that George would begin at the newly opening Kensington location, but instead it has been released that he will attend Thomas's Battersea, a co-ed school that is a full half hour drive from KP. I am confident that this is due in large part to Kate's influence on the decision.
Kate had to address her own advantages in her speech, but she didn't have to approach the speech in the way she did. She could have discussed the challenges of parenthood and highlighted the greater difficulty of those without nannies. Instead, she claimed equality with other parents, which is not to say she doesn't appreciate that she has more help than some, but that at a fundamental level being a mother cannot be outsourced. She has the same expectations and burdens as the next mom, and as much of a right to fulfill her role in the best and most involved way she can. Kate noted:
Nothing can really prepare you for you the sheer overwhelming experience of what it means to become a mother. It is full of complex emotions of joy, exhaustion, love, and worry, all mixed together.
Nannies can't take on those burdens of love and worry, joy and exhaustion for Kate. Only she can love George and Charlotte with the all-consuming passion of a mother. Only Kate can feel the complete pressure to shape and raise her little ones to their full potential. Motherhood at its fundamental level belongs to Kate just as much as it does to every other parent regardless of social class or privilege and she clearly has no intention of giving that up.
A Happy Mothering Sunday to Kate and to all mothers. You are absolutely irreplaceable and very literally make the world go round. Thank you for all you do to raise up a strong and healthy society.