For anyone who, like me, is obsessed with the British royal family, the CBS broadcast of Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry on Sunday night was merely another episode in the Netflix series “The Crown.” However, the interview had a subtlety that transforms the royal family’s drama into an experience that is relatable to many Americans: a dysfunctional family.
In an attempt to create common ground following World War II, the monarchy shifted its cultural focus toward children and families. Consequently, when Prince Charles was born in 1948, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip were portrayed as models for how a contemporary family should function. In every perceivable way, they were a young, powerful and flawless family. Seeing the opportunity, the British government used Queen Elizabeth and her family to promote the idea that family connects the British people to one another.
For the family emphasis to follow, the royal family was made into the archetype for all British families to strive for. Significant events such as Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953 intentionally centered on family. Being the first televised coronation, over 27 million British people watched the ceremony, which included shots of Prince Charles and Princess Anne. British children were given commemorative coronation mugs to ensure every family felt personally included in the celebration.
However, in the decades that have followed, the public has become aware of various fractures and scandals within the royal family, with none being more infamous than the clash between Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Their messy divorce further damaged the facade of the happy family when public opinion of the royal family was at a low due to accusations of numerous marital affairs and extravagant lifestyles. The tell-all book “Diana: Her True Story” and several television interviews described the inevitable collapse of the Prince and Princess of Wales’ marriage and how her cries for help with her mental health were ignored. BBC documentaries were no longer enough to fill the cracks that had appeared in the world’s most iconic family. But in its own unique way, the royal family has modernized with the rest of the world.
During the two-hour special, Meghan and Harry revealed a heavily flawed family, which stands in stark contrast to the image of the royal family projected during the 1950s. Altogether, the lack of support and understanding from the rest of the royal family — in regards to Meghan and Harry’s requests for assistance with their mental health and security — demonstrates a clear example of a divided family.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s decision to speak publicly about their situation does a lot more than just expose the royal family’s internal affairs. More importantly, their interview testifies to the importance of discussing your own family dynamics. In many ways, Markle’s experience parallels that of Princess Diana. Both were brought into the family that treated them unfairly, which led them to speak out and call attention to the circumstances they struggled with. By doing so, Meghan and Diana demonstrated the importance of holding the monarchy accountable for their actions, regardless of familial relationships.
In America, family life has changed dramatically, with an increasing number of children from single-parent households and families becoming smaller overall. Due to these shifts, a dominant family form no longer exists in America as it did in the 1960s. Research shows that the structure of modern families can be tied to the existence of dysfunctional families. While not all single-parent or blended families are dysfunctional, they are less likely to have “standard” relationships due to outside factors, including social environment and inability to provide adequate childcare.
Dysfunction within a family setting can take multiple forms, including mental and physical abuse, yet many children are unaware their family environment is not considered standard. Unfortunately, these conditions have long-lasting effects on children, including low self-esteem, absence of identity and difficulty cultivating relationships. Furthermore, children from dysfunctional families regularly justify their parent’s actions and are never taught signs of unhealthy family dynamics because this is rarely discussed. In the United States, there remains a preference for households of two parents in their first marriage with multiple children. Yet, as divorce and single parenting have become more socially acceptable, the typical suburban family with a white picket fence is no longer a realistic model. Consequently, neither is a family that gets along perfectly with one another.
By revealing the undercurrents of the royal family, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s interview has helped normalize the discussion of family dynamics — whether good or bad. For too long, people have hidden away their experiences with their family by adhering to the cliché that blood is thicker than water. Openly talking about family, regardless of structure or dynamic, should be more common and acceptable. Continuing the belief that the only respectable household form is one dating back to the post-World War II era is outdated and harmful for children.
Having more frequent and open conversations allows children and teenagers to learn acceptable treatment from family members. Moreover, discussions about the reality of family erode the social stigma of being raised in an imperfect family. Hearing people around you only talk about the good parts of their family creates a false sense of the lives others live — which can be further augmented if one has to return to a home that seems the opposite. The family experience you portray to your friends and peers should be representative of your reality, not merely what you believe the rest of society wants to hear.
Katherine Kiessling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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