Kate Middleton Casts Awkward Shadow Over Queen's Parenting in Major Project

Kate Middleton's early years center is launching a major public awareness campaign in Britain at a time when the normally safe subject of parenting has a particularly charged atmosphere in the aftermath of Prince Harry's book Spare.

The Princess of Wales wants to shine a spotlight on the importance of the first five years of a child's life, in which their brain develops faster than at any other time.

However, the discussion may be awkward to anyone familiar with the history of royal parenting and particularly those who have read not only Harry's memoir but also a 1994 biography by journalist Jonathan Dimbleby, based on interviews with King Charles III.

Kate Middleton With Queen, Charles and Harry
Main image, Kate Middleton, seen during a visit to Windsor Foodshare, on January 26, 2023, is campaigning to raise awareness of the importance of early years development. Prince Harry's book "Spare," inset, top, describes how Queen Elizabeth II shook King Charles III's hand after returning from a six-month trip when he was five years old. Samir Hussein/WireImage/Bettmann/Corbis/Getty Images

What Kate Middleton Said About Children's Early Years

Kate said in a statement: "The way we develop, through our experiences, relationships, and surroundings during our early childhood, fundamentally shapes our whole lives.

"It affects everything from our ability to form relationships and thrive at work, to our mental and physical well-being as adults and the way we parent our own children.

"These are the most preventative years. By focusing our collective time, energy, and resources to build a supportive, nurturing world around the youngest members of our society and those caring for them, we can make a huge difference to the health and happiness of generations to come."

The princess spoke out as part of the launch of a major campaign to raise awareness of the importance of the first five years of a child's life through The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood.

There is only one slight problem, while Kate did not mention the royals, Charles has previously painted his own royal upbringing as anything but nurturing and Harry was publicly criticized in Britain for suggesting this may have led to unhappiness for the generations that followed.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip's Parenting of King Charles III

Dimbleby's book was based on interviews with Charles and the then-prince's friends and suggested Charles came to treat his nanny as a surrogate mother.

The Prince of Wales: A Biography read: "For Prince Charles, who had already discovered that only in the nursery could he always be assured of a cuddle, Mabel Anderson became 'a haven of security, the great haven' to whom he invariably turned first for comfort and support.

"With parents who were often away, and were not, in any case, given to displays of affection even in private, Mabel Anderson came to assume a vital role in the Prince's life.

"The adoration of the young child for his nurse (who was almost the same age as the Queen) led friends and courtiers to conclude that Mabel Anderson had become in effect 'a surrogate mother,' while to his father it was clear that she was much the most important influence on him."

Elizabeth and Philip left Charles and his sister Princess Anne at home when they embarked on a six month tour of the Commonwealth from November 1953 to May 1954—a decision that Harry himself would later reference.

Charles was five at the time, placing him at the end of Kate's period of neurological development, while Anne was three, placing her in the middle of it.

Queen, Prince Philip With Charles and Anne
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip are seen on the Buckingham Palace balcony with then-Prince Charles and Princess Anne in June 1953. Months later, Elizabeth and Philip embarked on a six-month tour of the Commonwealth without their two children. Fox Photos/Getty Images

Prince Harry's Account of Generational Pain

Kate's statement about the consequences of experiences in early childhood echoing through the generations is particularly interesting in light of a debate triggered when Harry was a guest on the Armchair Expert podcast in May 2021.

The Duke of Sussex told host Dax Shepard: "I don't think we should be pointing the finger or blaming anybody, but certainly when it comes to parenting, if I've experienced some form of pain or suffering because of the pain or suffering that perhaps my father or my parents had suffered, I'm going to make sure I break that cycle so that I don't pass it on, basically.

"It's a lot of genetic pain and suffering that gets passed on anyway, so we as parents should be doing the most we can to try and say 'you know what, that happened to me, I'm going to make sure that doesn't happen to you.'"

On Charles specifically, Harry said: "I also know that's connected to his parents, so that means that he's treating me the way that he was treated which means, how can I change that for my own kids and, well, here I am. I've now moved my whole family to the U.S., that wasn't the plan."

The prince was criticized in the U.K. media with, for example, a headline in The Daily Telegraph reading: "Prince Harry's 'genetic pain' is an insult to his grandmother."

How Prince Harry Describes King Charles' Parenting in His Book Spare

Charles is not the only royal to experience a lack of parental hugging within the institution of monarchy.

Spare says that Harry never hugged his grandmother the queen, meaning Michelle Obama hugged the former monarch more times than him.

Harry also described in the book the moment Charles told him Diana had died: "What I do remember with startling clarity is that I didn't cry. Not one tear.

"Pa didn't hug me. He wasn't great at showing emotions under normal circumstances, how could he be expected to show them in such a crisis?

"But his hand did fall once more on my knee and he said: It's going to be OK. That was quite a lot for him. Fatherly, hopeful, kind. And so very untrue."

Charles and Princess Diana with Prince Harry
Then-Prince Charles and Princess Diana hold Prince Harry on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at Trooping the Colour on June 15, 1985. David Levenson/Getty Images

Charles comes across as a more attentive parent in the book than many expected, with the king never forgetting that Harry did not like the dark and gently tickling his face to help him off to sleep during the years after Diana's death.

However, the impersonal nature of royal relations remains a theme, including in relation to the queen.

Harry said he wanted to hug Elizabeth while she was tapping her foot as Queen guitarist Brian May played at a concert for her Golden Jubilee in 2002.

"I wanted to hug her, though of course I didn't. Out of the question. I never had done and couldn't imagine any circumstance under which such an act might be sanctioned. There was a famous story about Mummy trying to hug Granny.

"It was actually more a lunge than a hug, if eyewitnesses can be believed; Granny swerved to avoid contact, and the whole thing ended very awkwardly, with averted eyes and murmured apologies."

"I wondered, watching Granny rock out to Brian May, if Pa ever tried?" he continued. "Probably not. When he was five or six, Granny left him, went off on a royal tour lasting several months, and when she returned, she offered him a firm handshake. Which may have been more than he ever got from Grandpa."

There is nothing to say Kate should not have made her comments, which no doubt many experts in the field would agree with.

However, they do appear to lend legitimacy to arguments that earned Harry some fairly strongly worded criticism in the U.K. press.