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Meghan Markle + Prince Harry are writing their own family story (and you can, too)

Meghan and Harry are sending a message to everyone feeling trapped in their own complex family dynamic: You don't have to stay.

Meghan Markle + Prince Harry are writing their own family story (and you can, too)

It's been a busy week for royal watchers as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex made an unprecedented announcement: New parents Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are stepping back as senior royals and intend to raise baby Archie in both the UK and North America.

The announcement came via Instagram and the new sussexroyal.com website, where the royal couple spelled out exactly what their plans are, but shortly afterward Buckingham Palace released a statement from the Queen that seemed to contradict the statements from the couple, simply stating: "Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through."

It must be hard to have your family matters play out on the world's stage. We empathize with Meghan and Harry and with every mama who has gone through something similar (albeit probably a lot less publicly).

Sometimes we have to make decisions that our family of origin does not agree with, and sometimes we even have to reduce or cease contact with family members to protect our own mental health. Doing this is extremely difficult, even when it is a private matter.


Making moves on their own

In a perfect world, the conflict in the royal family probably would have not made it to the front page of the newspapers—but by doing it publicly Meghan and Harry are sending a message to everyone feeling trapped in their own complex family dynamic: You don't have to stay.

A study out of the UK suggests estrangement affects at least 1 in 5 families there. An American study found more than 10% of mothers were currently estranged from at least one adult child. It's pretty common for adult children to have low to no contact with relatives, and sometimes that's okay.

As Sherrie Campbell, a licensed California psychologist and author of the book Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person told ABC News, it is not good to "spend years sacrificing our mental and emotional health in abusive relationships under the notion that we have to."

"The facts are that family members are just people and not always healthy people, and if these people weren't family, we would never choose them to be a part of our lives due to their poor treatment of us," Campbell explains.

According to Campbell, the following are signs that you may want to reevaluate the value of your relationship with family members:

  • If abuse or manipulation are part of your relationship.
  • When all your interactions are negative.
  • When it creates so much stress that it impacts your other relationships or your work.
  • When it feels like you are in a spy movie, trying to figure out who said what about you, or when you are being ostracized.
  • When you are the only one fostering the relationship.
  • When the relationship is only about money.

Sometimes it is best to make your own family 

Dr. Carrie (Grace Caroline) Barron, M.D. is the author of The Creativity Cure: How to Build Happiness With Your Own Two Hands. Writing for Psychology Today she explains that when a family scores high on the hostility scale it makes sense to go your own way. That doesn't mean it won't hurt, but it does give people an opportunity to build their own community outside of their family of origin. This is hard, but worth it, she writes.

"Establish a new clan by reaching out, sharing, asking about the other, and being a friend. Build new relationships. In-the-flesh meetings or quick, 'how are you?' texts keep relationships going. If it's awkward at first, it will get better. Better than what you came from," Barron explains.

It seems the Duke and Duchess of Sussex already have an extended support network outside of their families of origin (although it includes Doria Ragland, Markle's mother). Friends can be like family, and for Meghan Markle it seems like some are.

Harry has seen this before 

Although this seems sudden from the outside, the move to step back as senior royals was likely not something the Duke and Duchess of Sussex decided on overnight. There were multiple factors at play.

Possible family hostilities were not the only thing Harry and Meghan have been dealing with since going public with their relationship and becoming parents. The British press has been very hostile toward Meghan, and as the son of the late Diana Spencer, Harry has seen the tragic outcome of obsessive harassment by tabloids. He watched it happen to his mother and he's not about to let it happen to his wife. This may explain why Harry is choosing to go a different way.

In his book, The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are, Dr. Daniel Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, suggests our neurons default to familiar paths, especially in times of stress. Sometimes the mental path our parents took in our childhood is the one we find ourselves on decades later when we've got our own child in front of us. If we felt safe, loved and valued during our childhood, it's a pretty good path to default to. But if we didn't, we can find ourselves subconsciously repeating a phrase or behavior that hurt us when we were kids.

"Let's say someone says, 'My parents are very cold and disconnecting. When I raise my child, I want to be sure that I'm close and warm.' That's a great intention but what can happen under stress is that they can start becoming cold and disconnected, and may not even be aware of it," Dr. Siegel told Vice.

In other words, it's easy to repeat our parents' mistakes (or parrot their phrases), but we don't have to. According to Dr. Siegel, it's "remarkably not hard to do, but a lot of people don't do it." He says the "key to liberating yourself from the legacy of the past, is by making sense of how the past has impacted you."

It seems that Harry has made sense of that past and is determined to move beyond it. That is an admirable quality in a father and spouse.

Being a parent means caring for yourself

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle clearly enjoy spending time in North America and want baby Archie to experience life there. And that's okay.

It's okay to move away from your family of origin, even if your family doesn't like it, because sometimes we have to do what is best for ourselves as parents rather than what our own parents wish we would do. Families thrive when parents are happy, and if North America makes Harry and Meghan happy, then they should be free to build a life there.

If moving away from your current location would make you happier then it is worth considering even if your parents or in-laws would be disappointed.

Sometimes grandparents are disappointed when they learn their children plan to take their grandkids to another city, state or country. But it doesn't have to be the end of the relationship.

Harry and Meghan are writing their own story, and it will likely still include Harry's family in some way. This new chapter in their lives shows all of us that we are in control of our destinies and that we get to decide how closely we want to be tied to our families.

It's okay to move forward on your own if you have to, mama.

Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

Minimize smoke exposure.

Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

Do your best to filter the air.

According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

"Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

"COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

Most importantly, don't panic.

In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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