Raising a Prince

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Photo by Jodimu via Flickr
Photo by Jodimu via Flickr

How would you like that responsibility — raising the prince?

That was the question my mom posed to the table last night, in the midst of a raucous family dinner that included my mother and father (now both in their 70s), my oldest brother and his two girls, my youngest brother, his wife and daughter, my sister and my Guy Friend (so named because I flatly refuse to use the word boyfriend for someone over the age of 40). The topic, of course, was the newest Prince of England, Will and Kate’s as-yet-unnamed baby boy.

With little kids in the room, it’s impossible to avoid the subject of parenting. Between bites and sips, one brother attended to the needs of his two girls, while my other brother and his wife tag-teamed to supervise their daughter. My siblings are now definitely in the raising a family stage, and everyone is beginning to realize that this parenting gig isn’t as easy or as straightforward as it seems at first glance.

I pondered my mom’s question for a minute. Raising a prince, a child already deemed so important before his birth that reporters camped outside of the hospital where he was due to be born for weeks before his arrival, is certainly a huge responsibility. But so is parenting in general. And while the new Prince will likely be expected to meet some official expectations, I’m willing to be that Will and Kate’s expectations and desires for their son as much the same as mine. I bet they want their son to be well-loved, secure and respectful. I’m sure they want him to treat others well, to experience the world and to ponder ideas carefully. They want him to study hard and pursue his interests and someday, find love. They want him to contribute to the world in a way that makes sense both for him and for the world.

I’d do it, I told my mom. She looked at me in surprised. I thought again, for another moment, wondering if I’d underestimated the challenges of raising a prince. Yeah, I’d do it, I said.

Surely, Will and Kate face challenges raising their son that I will never fully understand and appreciate. Their son, for instance, will require a security detail; he will not be able to go to the store at the end of the block unattended. And their son’s actions (and inaction) will be monitored and reported and magnified throughout the worldwide media — and we’ve seen how that’s worked out for some famous children and celebs. (Justin Bieber, I’m looking at you.)

But Will and Kate also have some advantages I never will. They do not have to worry about how to pay for their son’s education, or whether or not their neighborhood is safe, or if he has access to high-quality healthcare. These are the kinds of worries that keep average parents of average sons up at night, and, frankly, these are the kind of things that have been shown to have a very negative effect on boys’ well-being. Poverty can not only damage a boy’s soul; according to the latest research, poverty can damage a boy’s mind as well.

William and Kate will probably never ask my advice on raising boys. (Although we are having some fun on Twitter, seeing if we can get word of BuildingBoys to the Royal Family!) If they did, though, this is what I would tell them:

  • Ignore the rules, even mine. New parents are hungry for information. But it’s easy to get lost and confused by the vast amount of childrearing advice, especially because so much of it conflicts. (Do I let the baby cry it out, or hold him ’til he falls asleep?“) Read, learn, and then experiment to figure out what works for you and your family. No “expert” can tell you the right way to respond to your son. Watch your son, and do what works for him and for you.
  • Encourage his curiosity. Right now, the new prince is probably perfectly content to sleep and eat. But babies soon express a curiosity in the world, and that curiosity only grows as his mobility and capability increases. Watch him. Pay attention to what catches his eye and interests him, and feed the curiosity. If he’s interested in animals, read him books about animals. Let him interact with animals of all kinds. And when his interest shifts to trains, visit the train station instead.
  • Say no, sometimes. As much you want to support and encourage your son, the time will come when his request, interest or desires conflicts with something else, whether that “something else” is a royal obligation or pre-scheduled playdate. It is OK — no, essential — to say no to your son sometimes. All children need to learn that the world does not revolve around them. If you want to raise an emotionally compassionate, sensitive son, it’s essential that he learn to delay gratification, and that other people’s needs are as important (if not more important) than his own sometimes.
  • Embrace the chaos. Very few boys are quiet and orderly all the time. I’m willing to bet that the prince will sometimes be loud and unruly, that he will feel the desire to run around and jump off the couch. Let him. Not all the time, of course. (See above.) But make sure your son has plenty of time to run and jump and be crazy, and make sure that he knows that you love the crazy, chaotic side of him just as much as you love the quiet, cuddly side.
  • Let go of your expectations, and love him, as is. All parents have hopes and dreams for their children, and some parents hopes and dreams are well-defined before the child is even born. Some envision their sons as basketball stars. Others expect their sons to become family men. But kids don’t always get the memo. The would-be basketball star might prefer to dance instead; the family man might prefer a life of solitude. I’d encourage Will and Kate to let go of their picture of “Prince,” and to focus on their son instead.

If Will and Kate focus on building a boy instead of raising a prince, I think they’ll do just fine.

What boy-raising advice would you give to Will and Kate?

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