Over the weekend, Prince Harry was in the news again, this time speaking not with Oprah but with actor and podcast host Dax Shepard about the generational “pain and suffering” that comes with growing up in the spotlight among the royal family.
“There’s no blame, but certainly when it comes to parenting, if I have experienced some kind of pain or suffering because of the pain or suffering that perhaps my father, or my parents, had suffered,” Harry said on Armchair Expert, a podcast hosted by Shepard and Monica Padman. “I’m going to make sure I break that cycle so I don’t pass it on.”
At first when I saw that Harry was in the media again, I rolled my eyes a bit. Like many people, I’ve been enthralled with Harry and Meghan’s love story. I gobbled up their already-infamous Oprah interview, eager for a peak behind the curtains of the monarchy. But as millions of people around the world wondered about the couple’s motivations for their newfound candidness, so did I.
Then I heard that last line — “break that cycle so I don’t pass it on.” And I wondered, what parent wouldn’t be able to relate to that?
My family was nothing like Harry’s, except perhaps, that it was touched by mental illness that can be traced through generations. As a child, I saw my father’s bipolar disorder affect my family, and as I grew I pieced together the way that traumas in his childhood made worse a condition that biology laid the groundwork for. When I got older I realized that my grandparents’ flaws had roots in their own childhood. Each generation had taken steps in the right direction, but I was determined before I even had kids to become the parent who really broke the cycle. My kids weren’t here yet, but I already knew that they deserved that.
Despite the fact that Harry has been a public figure since birth, we really know nothing about him. Still, one can assume that the trauma of losing your mother at 12 underscores any existing hurts in your family structure — something Harry touched on during his conversation with Shepard.
“Look what it did to my mum,” he said. Like me, he knew even before kids that he wanted to do better for them — that he wanted to do anything that he could to protect them from the pain that he had experienced.
“How am I ever going to settle down, have a wife and a family, when I know that it’s going to happen again?” Harry remembered thinking.
The decision to step back from the Royal family and move to a new continent was no doubt a fraught one, financially, emotionally and logistically. I have no idea the discussions and personal calculations that Harry and Meghan put into making that happen, but I admire their desire to make life better for their kids, even when that put them in a difficult situation.
Or, as Harry said: “I’ve seen behind the curtain, I’ve seen the business model, I know how this operation runs and how it works. I don’t want to be part of this.”
In many ways, Harry is totally unrelatable. He’s lived a life that only a handful of others have experienced. He has more money than anyone I know, combined. Despite being distanced from the Royal family, he’s still wrapped in privilege from his race, gender, nationality and socio-economic situation. And yet, in one way that really matters, I realized this weekend that I can understand Prince Harry.
“Sometimes you have to make decisions and bring your family first, and put your mental health first,” he said.
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