She may be the wife of the future King, but, as she makes clear today with striking candour, the Duchess of Cambridge shares the same fears, joys and guilt as mothers everywhere.
Grappling with the competing demands of three children and a high-profile working role often leaves the Duchess – who declares herself a hands-on mum – with ‘doubts and questions’.
Asked if she suffers from mum guilt, she replies frankly: ‘Yes, absolutely. And anyone who doesn’t as a mother is actually lying! Yep, all the time.
The Duchess of Cambridge, pictured above on a tour of Canada in 2016, recalls ‘a very wise man’ advising her that she didn’t necessarily have to be with her children all the time as long as they were surrounded by people who are ‘safe and loving and caring’
‘And you know even this morning… George and Charlotte were like, ‘Mummy, how could you possibly not be dropping us off at school this morning?’… It’s a constant challenge – you hear it time and time again from mums, even mums who aren’t necessarily working and aren’t pulled in the directions of having to juggle work life and family life.’
Asked if she suffers from mum guilt, she replies frankly: ‘Yes, absolutely. And anyone who doesn’t as a mother is actually lying! Yep, all the time’. Kate says she’s at her happiest in the country with her children
In her landmark interview with podcaster Giovanna Fletcher, the 38-year-old Duchess concedes that she was ‘having doubts… about the guilty element of being away for work’.
Inevitably, she adds, you find yourself ‘questioning your own decisions and your own judgments and things like that, and I think that starts from the moment you have a baby’.
She recalls ‘a very wise man’ advising her that she didn’t necessarily have to be with her children all the time as long as they were surrounded by people who are ‘safe and loving and caring’.
‘So yeah, it was a real weight off my shoulders that it’s not totally my responsibility to do everything,’ she adds.
‘Because… we all have good days, bad days – and if you can dilute that with others who aren’t, on that particular day, struggling… I think it makes such a difference for your child, and keeping them as constant and happy as possible.’
In her landmark interview with podcaster Giovanna Fletcher, the 38-year-old Duchess concedes that she was ‘having doubts… about the guilty element of being away for work’
At times, the podcast feels less like an interview than a chat with an old friend over a coffee – and what emerges is all the more illuminating because of it. Above everything, it is the sheer bliss the Duchess derives from having children that shines through.
‘I have found a new enjoyment in life,’ she declares, adding she is at her happiest when ‘with my family outside in the countryside and we’re all filthy dirty’.
George, six, Charlotte, four, and 22-month-old Louis pull their mother ‘in all sorts of directions’, she says.
‘We all need space’: The Duchess – pictured with a then 13-month-old Prince Louis at the Chelsea Flower Show last May – says it’s vital to take time to focus on what really matters for your children
More than once during the conversation, the Duchess conjures domestic scenes familiar to many parents, but which might seem hard to reconcile with her status.
‘When the third [child] comes along, how can you physically get all three children out of the car at the same time? You can’t,’ she says.
While acknowledging that mothers ‘get a huge amount of support’ during pregnancy ‘the challenge is when you’re then sent home with your new-born baby, particularly as a first-time mother, you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, am I OK to do this?’
The family are pictured left at the wedding of Kate’s sister Pippa, while Kate is seen right with Charlotte on Christmas Day
‘William was like, ‘Oh my gosh is this what parenting is going to be like?’ It took us a bit of time to get ourselves settled and going again, but that’s the beauty, I suppose, of having a newborn baby. You are pulled to your toughest and most unknown places that you hadn’t necessarily thought about before. It’s almost worse, also, if you read the books, too, because that again plays into how things should happen.’
The Duchess says she has learned ‘a huge amount that I would really love to tell myself at the beginning of pregnancy, right at the start, what things I feel now really matter in terms of being a parent, but what also matters to the children.
‘It’s the simple things that really make a difference. It’s spending quality time with your children, it’s not whether you’ve done every single drop-off and every single pick-up. But actually it’s those quality moments that you spend with your child where you are properly listening to them, properly understanding what they feel and if things are going wrong really taking time to think, ‘How as a mother am I feeling? Am I actually making the situation worse for my child because this is bringing up all sorts of things I feel rather than just focusing on them and how they might be reacting or responding to certain situations?’ That would be another piece of advice I would like to give myself back then.
Mixed emotions: Kate, at a regatta with Charlotte last year, says motherhood is a combination of joy, guilt and uncertainty
‘Someone did ask me the other day, what would you want your children to remember about their childhood? And I thought that was a really good question because actually, if you really think about that, is it that I’m sitting down trying to do their maths and spelling homework over the weekend? Or is it the fact that we’ve gone out and lit a bonfire and sat around trying to cook sausages that hasn’t worked because it’s too wet?
‘That’s what I would want them to remember, those moments with me as a mother, but also the family going to the beach, getting soaking wet, filling our boots full of water… not a stressful household where you’re trying to do everything and not really succeeding at one thing.’
Bluebell snap ‘means so much’
Delicately smelling a bluebell on a bright spring day, Princess Charlotte is captured on camera by her mother exploring the grounds of Anmer Hall, her family’s country house in Norfolk.
Princess Charlotte is captured on camera by her mother exploring the grounds of Anmer Hall, her family’s country house in Norfolk
In her interview, the Duchess – a keen photographer – reflects on how the image, left, demonstrates the ‘physical and mental wellbeing’ that children enjoy when immersed in their natural surroundings.
‘As children, we spent a lot of time outside and it’s something I’m really passionate about,’ she says.
‘I think it’s so great for physical and mental wellbeing and laying those foundations.
‘I’ve got this one photo of Charlotte smelling a bluebell, and it’s moments like that which mean so much to me as a parent. I try everyday to put moments like that in even if I don’t have time… but that in an ideal world is what I would like to do.’
With her thick dark hair tied in a ponytail, Charlotte is wearing a check Amaia Kids skirt under a grey cashmere cardigan in the newly released photograph thought to have been taken to mark her fourth birthday last May.