In the early years, have you felt judged and lonely? Have you let your own self-care go? If so, you’re not alone. Giovanna discussed these topics with Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, in her first-ever podcast. Now, as Kate celebrates her 40th birthday, we listen in again….
A big talking point of the podcast was the ‘5 Big Questions On The Under-Fives’ survey which Kate launched with the Royal Foundation in 2020.
The family story behind the survey
The aim was for the survey to open up a conversation about what we, as parents, need to help us in the early years. It raised issues that have been on our minds, from loneliness in the pandemic to being pressured around our parenting skills. Kate said: “The science proves the importance of the early years, but the next step is knowing how best to support parents and families to do the best job they can.
She has spoken about how her role in the Royal Family affords her the opportunity to speak to experts in the early years sector, but it is the families within the UK who benefit from sharing their experience so we’ve been looking forward to the results!
KATE: “Although I’ve spoken to the scientists and the service providers and things like that, it’s so important to listen to families. What is it that they aspire to? What is it that they want, what are their challenges? And that’s what we’re doing already here with the survey; asking people, what is it that matters for them in raising their children today?”
The 5 Big Questions survey included the nature v nurture topic and parenting in the pandemic. It attracted over half a million respondents, and the results are summed up as 5 Big Insights by the market research company Ipsos MORI.
- People believe a child’s future is not predetermined by the circumstances of their birth, but only a quarter of them really focused on how important the first five years are.
- Parents find it difficult to prioritise their wellbeing. Only 10% of parents who responded take time to think about their own wellbeing
- 70% of parents ‘felt judged’ about how they were raising their children, which affects half of the survey’s respondents’ mental health
- The pandemic has seen parental loneliness increase, from 38% of parents before Covid-19 to 63%, and this trend is increased in deprived areas
- 40% of people think that community support increased in 2020, although this is 7% lower in the most deprived areas.
During the podcast, Kate and Gi chat about the survey’s Big 5 Questions…
Nature & Nurture
KATE: “The more you look into everybody’s experience, actually so much of those harder social challenges really get traced right back to the earliest years of somebody’s life. And you hear that time and time again, across the nation, across the world, you hear the really sad reality that actually what we experience in our childhood really has a lifelong impact on our future, health and happiness. “
“So I think that has really driven my interest in really digging deep into the idea landscape, speaking to academics, speaking to doctors, practitioners, charities, and all those really within the sector to try and work out what could be done to help prevent some of these really sad social challenges that I think all of us witness across the country.
GI: “I got badly bullied as a kid, and it kind of festered into this need to be liked, which I’m kind of since becoming a mum, getting rid of a little bit. So it is interesting for me because I know that parts of my childhood have definitely played a part in the person I’ve become and my mental health, and there’s a direct link there. So it’s really fascinating.”
Pressure around parenting
KATE: “I think that’s what we really were hoping would happen through the survey is actually just start a conversation, really, to start taking down some of the barriers, trying to address things like judgement and stigma around parenting and caring for children. Because I think that’s one of the things that stops people from reaching out from the help that’s needed.
“Even if there’s great services within their communities, they’re not necessarily engaging with them. So that was one thing we wanted to do through the service. I just kept people talking.”
GI: “I think there’s a massive thing as well where there’s a lot of pressure on parents to get it right. So they don’t want to say I’m struggling. I don’t know what I’m doing. All of us don’t know what we’re doing. We’re making it up day to day. But actually, when you start hearing people admit that you’re kind of like, oh, it’s fine. We’re all in it together. So I think there is that pressure and talking about it just gets rid of it.
Loneliness and support
KATE: “I think lots of mothers do feel that, during pregnancy and during labour, they do get a huge amount of support from those around. There’s lots of information and things like that. I think the challenge is when you’re then sent home with your baby, your newborn baby, particularly as a first time mother, you’re like, ‘Oh, my goodness, am I OK to do this?’
Wellbeing all the way
KATE: “Your podcast is so beautifully named because there is such a key link you know – Happy Mum, Happy Baby – there is scientific evidence around how the mother feels – how the parents or the carers who are looking after the children in their care– the direct link between family wellbeing and then the happiness and wellbeing of the children in their care.
“Even in pregnancy, the science, I found that fascinating… You know, there’s so much information about making sure you exercise and making sure you have a healthy diet and things like that, which yes is definitely important. But the emotional wellbeing of the mother directly impacts the baby that you’re growing.”
GI: “What was it like when you first held Prince George”?
KATE: “Amazing, amazing. It is extraordinary as I’ve said. How can the human body do that? It is utterly extraordinary actually. And he was very sweet. And also sort of relieved that he was a happy, healthy boy.
GI: “Joy and vulnerability, isn’t it? It’s that everything is broken down. I think when life comes into the world, there’s just a simplicity.
KATE: “Yes. And that’s why I think as parents, we have to try and remember through the complications of our children growing up and things like that ultimately, it’s really simple things that really do matter. And, if nothing else, that’s what I really try and remind myself on a daily basis through all the work that I’ve done and the people I’ve spoken to. Actually, it’s the simple things. Even speaking to some of the Holocaust survivors recently, considering the trauma that they’ve experienced, it’s so reassuring and heart-warming to hear. Actually, it’s the things that matter, I think to all of us, you know, the strength of family, the simple acts of kindness that actually make the biggest amounts of difference to everybody.
“That is so unifying just thinking about all the things and the difficulties that everyone goes through, whether it’s through pregnancy or through trauma, there’s a lot that unites us in coming to the core values of human kindness really.”
When the poll’s results were revealed, Kate said: “The science shows that the early years are more pivotal for future health and happiness than any other period in our lifetime. As many as 40% of our children will arrive at school with below the expected levels of development, and the social cost of late intervention has been estimated to be over £17bn a year.
“The early years are therefore not simply just about how we raise our children. They are, in fact, about how we raise the next generation of adults. They are about the society we will become.”
For more from this exclusive chat, from the joy of outside play to Kate’s childhood, listen in here:
So, what’s new for 2022?
Giovanna will be hosting more amazing guests we can listen to, laugh with and learn from on the podcast. Kate will take her passion project to the next level with The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, which celebrates its first anniversary in June. This hub within the Cambridges’ charitable vehicle focuses on the importance of early years. Kate has told us how her “early years journey” began before she became a mother herself. It started a decade ago when she met people rebuilding their lives from family breakdown and poor mental health, with issues including addiction and homelessness. This year, with the centre, Kate will drive action on research and awareness of the importance of early years. As she says: “Indeed, what shapes our childhood shapes the adults and the parents we become.”
Read more about The Early Years here!