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