Originally posted on Forbes.com.
Kate Middleton’s due date is still a month or so away, and already the little royal-to-be has been the subject of more speculation, analysis, rumor and anticipation than just about every other person who was ever born—combined. The close, unending attention that has been paid ever since the royal wedding makes the brouhaha surrounding the birth of Suri Cruise look like a passing mention.
While some of the gossip has been just plain silly, a great deal is playing a role in shaping trends that will be with us for a decade or more. Kate and Will’s navigation of age-old parenting questions—and their reinvention of the male-heir tradition, a pillar of Anglo-Saxon civilization ever since there was such a thing—will shape and influence the decisions of everyday parents on both sides of the pond for years to come. Whether they like it or not, the duke and duchess, and their parents and siblings, are setting lasting worldwide precedents.
Of course, some of this scrutiny is a reflection of the fact that everyone and everything is more studied, more parsed, more shared, more recorded and more endlessly discussed than ever before. Despite the world’s adoration of Princess Diana, the global attention paid to Prince William’s birth in 1982 pales in comparison with the constant consideration of his impending offspring. How could it have, when there were no Twitter or Facebook, no blogs, no YouTube viral videos? Not to mention no culture of radical transparency and ceaseless sharing.
But now, in 2013, this sort of broadcasting and sharing is so common that it’s likely going to become royal, too. The British gossip website Now Daily reported last week that the birth announcement would go out over Twitter (it will appear on the Clarence House website, the official site of the British Monarchy, which is, says Now Daily, “inevitably” linked to Twitter). The upshot: Even though the traditional notice will also be posted on the gates of Buckingham Palace, “we can expect the news to be trending long before the first tourist on the Mall gets to see it,” in the words of the gossip site.
Official details will be posted online, too, according to The Telegraph, in a sort of public family album meant to replace the wedding site for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge—which was viewed by more than 13 million people and browsed more than 37 million times (what I wouldn’t give for traffic numbers like that). An app can’t possibly be far behind.
Another reason for all the attention to the royal baby bump, I think, is our need to distract ourselves and read some happy news. Times are still tough, and royalty and births are a welcome respite from the onslaught of bad news and increasing anxiety. Kate and Will are poised to become the ultimate aspirational parents—how can we not all want our lives to look as pretty as theirs?
And then, of course, there’s the fact that no one does gossip like the British. Increasingly, Americans seem to crave some hearty British gossip. The New York Times’ recent article about the booming popularity of the Mail Online website produced by The Daily Mail drives home the point. The Mail’s thoroughgoing coverage of the postnatal plans shows why: A post in April reported that Kate plans to spend at least six weeks after the birth with her parents—“Future Monarch to Start Life in Commoner’s Home”—and not employ a maternity nurse to care for her child.
The world’s attention to parenting decisions like this isn’t just a diversion—the influence and trendsetting stakes here are far higher than the ramifications of the baby’s name or some of the mean-spirited speculation we saw earlier in Kate’s pregnancy (or other “nuances of royal baby trivia,” in the words of Newsweek). Her choices speak volumes about caring for your own child versus delegating the work (though, to be sure, she’ll have far, far more help than the average woman—or even Marissa Mayer—gets), about wanting to provide a connection to your roots, about wanting to instill some moral grounding and about what role you want tradition to play. Her traditional choices, I bet, will inspire far more reflection, if not actual replication, than any conversations about “leaning in” or having it all.
Kate’s medical decisions, which won’t all be carefully orchestrated or announced (or possibly leaked, as some of the earlier baby news, like the child’s gender, perhaps was) are also likely to have a lasting effect. If she chooses, or is forced to, have a Cesarean or strong pain medications, that could very well lessen the stigma that clings to both of those interventions. Now magazine has already reported that she plans to leave those decisions to her doctors—and that the Queen, Prince Charles and Camilla plan to stay out of the delivery room and respect those decisions.
It helps that the newlyweds seem to be doing everything respectably and right. That’s why they’re the ones who are rewriting parenting trends in real time—and at the expense of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West (and thank goodness for that) and even mild-mannered Jenna Bush and Henry Hager. An American former first daughter can’t hold a candle to the latest graceful British commoner to have captured the world’s attention.