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Prince William wiped his brow and sighed with relief as he got the baby car seat locked into place in the back of his Range Rover.
His newborn son, George, was safely strapped in with proud mother Kate sitting beside him, looking radiant in a blue and white polka-dot dress. And as William slipped behind the wheel to drive his family home, he felt the same overwhelming sense of pride that all new fathers do.
“Driving my son and wife away from hospital was really important to me,” he said later. “But I was terrified the car seat was going to fall off or the door wasn’t going to close properly.”
However, unlike other first-time parents, the Cambridges had to face the media as they emerged from the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital to introduce George to the world on 23 July 2013, a day after he was born. So William had secretly been practising fitting the baby seat, using a doll in place of their 8lb 6oz son.
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It was a touching sign of his determination to be a hands-on dad and a hint at the very modern parenting style that would shape the Cambridge clan.
But it also showed how William craved the stability that had eluded him as a child as he witnessed his own parents’ acrimonious marriage breakdown.
Royal expert Duncan Larcombe said: “William’s greatest wish has always been to build a ‘normal’ happy family, and in Kate he found the perfect partner.
“Her character and personality were defined by her own upbringing – the strength of her mother, the support and steadiness of her father and her relationship with her brother and sister.
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“And so William fell in love with Kate and with her family. He was deeply attracted to the Middletons, that strong, loving, supportive unit, and he saw what his own family could become.
“He was never without love but his childhood was pretty horrendous at times, with his parents’ divorce and then his mother’s death. But that made him all the more determined that his own family life would be perfect.
“William wanted that Middleton model, not the family dynamic of the Warring Waleses.”
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Now parents to three beautiful children – George, seven, Charlotte, five, and Louis, three next month – William and Kate have forged that tight and loving family unit. But Kate has also put youngsters’ issues at the heart of her royal life, working on children’s development and mental wellbeing, and taking on patronages of groups that are focused on these areas.
She and William are fiercely protective of their children’s privacy, but they’re also determined that they get a sense of real life as well as their privileged royal existence. When not in lockdown, they do the school run, attend sports days, take the kids to Sainsbury’s and host playdates for their friends.
In June, they took George and Charlotte to deliver food to lockdown pensioners and the family led the nation in clapping for carers from their front doorstep.
And by speaking openly about their fears and challenges, particularly during the Covid-19 crisis, the Cambridges have proved the most inspiring and relatable royal parents to date.
Duncan says, “Of course they are a privileged and wealthy young couple, celebrities with every advantage in life. But they are also the focus of global attention and to bring up three well-balanced children under that spotlight is an admirable achievement. You only have to look at parenting blogs and websites to see how genuinely respected Kate and William are as parents.”
Last year, in an interview with podcaster Giovanna Fletcher, Kate spoke candidly about the pressures of motherhood and admitted suffering from “mum guilt”. “I think anyone who doesn’t as a mother is actually lying,” she said. “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.”
Kate suffered from extreme morning sickness – hyperemesis gravidarum – in her pregnancies and was hospitalised while expecting George. But all that was forgotten as she cradled her first child in her arms.
“It was amazing, amazing,” she recalled. “How can the human body do that? It is utterly extraordinary.” Kate also remembered the look of “pure joy” on William’s face – followed by their anxiety when they got home.
“William was like, ‘Oh my gosh, is this what parenting is going to be like?,’” she said. 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.”
But having three children has taught them “it’s the simple things that really make a difference”. Kate said, “It’s spending quality time with your children… properly listening to them, properly understanding what they feel.
“Someone asked me the other day, what would you want your children to remember about their childhood? 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 and it 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 with water.”
The Cambridges have also helped the children grow their own vegetables. “We’ve got carrots, beans, beetroot – Louis absolutely loves beetroot,” Kate told cooking icon Mary Berry during a TV chat.
“I think being outside and being in nature is such a great environment for children to learn lifelong skills, really. Physical, emotional and cognitive skills.”
Kate believes teaching their children to talk about their feelings is important too, “to give them the tools and sensitivity to be supportive peers to their friends as they get older”.
She adds, ”We know there is no shame in a young child struggling with their emotions or suffering from a mental illness.”
During the pandemic, William and Kate have been homeschooling their children at Anmer Hall in Norfolk, which Kate has described as “exhausting”.
And she revealed, “I’ve become a hairdresser this lockdown, much to my children’s horror, seeing Mum cutting hair.”
But when the family are seen publicly, every member is always immaculate and – usually – beautifully behaved.
At Pippa Middleton’s wedding in 2017, George began acting up and Kate tapped him on the head and raised her finger.
Psychologist Dr Rebecca Chicot, founder of the Essential Parent website, says, “Kate is a warm and sensitive mother. It’s very hard to parent in public but that touch to the head is a nice connection.
“She also gets down to their level to talk to them. She has a lovely balance of sensitivity and gentle boundaries. She doesn’t expect them to behave like little adults and knows that children go through perfectly natural stages like tantrums.”
Fatherhood has made William more sensitive too and he has spoken openly about how it has changed him.
“I’m a lot more emotional than I used to be,” he revealed in 2016. “I never used to get too wound up or worried about things.
“But now the smallest little things, you well up a little more, you get affected by the sort of things that happen around the world or whatever a lot more, I think, as a father.”
And, recalling the tragic loss of his mother Diana when he was 15, he said, “You realise how precious life is and it puts it all in perspective. The idea of not being around to see your children growup is horrible.”
In a 2019 interview, William also said being a parent has “wonderful highs and wonderful lows”.
“It’s been quite a change for me personally,” he went on. “I’m very lucky in the support I have from Catherine. “She’s an amazing mother and a fantastic wife. But I’ve struggled at times. The alteration from being a single, independent man to going into marriage and then having children is life-changing.”
And last year, he again told of how parenthood brought back the pain of losing his mother. During the BBC documentary Football, Prince William And Our Mental Health, former Premier League player Marvin Sordell, who grew up without a father, told Prince William that becoming a parent himself was “the hardest time in my life”.
William agreed, saying, “Having children is the biggest life-changing moment. I think when you’ve been through something traumatic in life, and that is like you say, your dad not being around, my mother dying when I was younger, the emotions come back in leaps and bounds.
“But me and Catherine, particularly, we support each other and we go through those moments together and we kind of evolve and learn together.”
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