On 12 September, new mum Kate Middleton will step back into the spotlight with her first official engagement since the arrival of Prince George ten weeks ago.
It would be understandable if she was a little apprehensive. The Duchess is perhaps now the world’s most famous mummy, and all eyes will be on her as she makes her return to royal life.
Heading back to work after having a baby is a daunting step for most women. New research conducted by P&G recently revealed that the majority of mums feels nervous about returning to the workplace, with it taking on average four months for them to get their confidence back.
Ahead of the Tusk Conservation Awards, ! Online sat down for an exclusive chat with Psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos to discuss Kate’s big return, the pressures on her raising the future king and how William can make those first few outings a little easier for her…
How do you think Kate will have prepared for her moment back in the spotlight
For someone like Kate, who will have been very aware of being in the public eye and how people perceive her, there’s going to be that added sense of pressure. ‘Do I appear confident, do I appear happy’ I think in other ways, she’s very lucky; she’s got family around her. For most girls who go back to work, having a mother or a sister who is hands-on often makes it easier, so I think she will have enlisted the people closest to her to be there to help her keep up her public persona.
She gently eased into her return to the spotlight with a surprise appearance in Anglesey. Do you think she will feel less pressure because of that
I think they’ve done that very well. As a couple what they’ve done so beautifully is show a realness to what they do, and a bit of spontaneity – within the parameters of being a royal couple. There seems to be a real genuineness. And you’re right, I think if there had been that ‘ta da’ gala appearance, there would have been a lot more pressure. I think it was a very clever and gentle way to get back into things.
They will no doubt have enjoyed their time behind closed doors to bond as a family.
Absolutely, and you really really need that with a newborn, because I think so much of your time is spent coming to terms with how little time you have! It isn’t a simple, straightforward thing – it takes a while.
A lot of women will take six months to a year before going back to work, but Kate is returning before that.
I don’t think she has the kind of job most women have to go back to, so I think she’s very lucky in that, yes she’s in the public eye, but there’s not anyone saying, ‘Hey, you didn’t meet your quotas’, or ‘You need to produce those accounting figures today’, you know – I think in that sense it’s easier.
On the other hand, she is the most famous mummy in the world which brings a whole other gamut of pressures she has to deal with. Certainly she’ll find it easier than a lot of women who don’t even like their job – she seems to like what she does. I think a lot of women sadly go back because they have to, not because they want to. But I think at the same time, when you are so well known there’s a pressure to not put a foot wrong, and that has to be a worry when you know part of her mind will be on her little baby still.
So while she’s missing Prince George, she can’t really show it…
This is it. You know, again I think that she probably does show the worry and the anxiety in the places that she feels safe. So in the same way none of us would show it to work colleagues or when we were at a party, but we would pick up the phone to our mum, our sister, our best friend, I’m guessing that that’s how she feels as well. I think that’s a really important thing for a new mum going to back to work, to remember that that kind of support is invaluable, and although you will have those moments at work where you’re not allowed to break down when you haven’t slept, or the baby’s got its first cold, you do need to make space for that.
Kate is famously close to her family, how invaluable will their support be
So crucial. I think there’s nothing like having grandparents around and family members to support you when you have a baby. You want to make sure that they have a sense of connection and history to your family and the wisdom that comes with having been there and done that. And of course on her husband’s side there will be people to advise her on raising children in the public eye. Advice from Charles or other members of the royal household…it’s just going to be invaluable.
How much pressure do you think Kate will feel as mum to the future king
It’s a responsibility, it’s a privilege. You know, like all parents she wants to create a well-adjusted human being first. I think as a parent, creating a happy, healthy child trumps anything, trumps him being a king and whatever else. It’s not to say that isn’t a part of it, the pressure is there, but I think for someone like her who grew up in a very stable home, where’s there’s a lot of investment in family and right and wrong, I think that’s going to be a big part of it.
How will William will be able to help Kate on those first few outings
One of the most important things is that when she’s not with the baby, the baby is with someone she genuinely trusts. I think that’s really important, so if he’s not with her then make sure he’s with her mum or whoever else.
I mean, with the research that we looked at, 43% of mums said their partner was the best person to give them support – I find that fascinating. And when they’re at home it’s the little things, like maybe he does the nighttime feeds or they share them.
It’s also important they make time for each other. Be a support, and be a partnership as much as possible. Obviously that’s going to very dependent on who does what in terms of work, but the more involved they are together, the better.
How much pressure do you think there is on Kate, and other famous mums, to snap back into shape
I think none of us are immune from that sort of pressure, very sadly. I think what tends to happen, especially when you are in the public eye, is you are so aware of how good you look or how tired you look or… By virtue of who she is, she’s invariably going to be aware of this. But I think she has been great in terms of just trying to be herself and seeing herself through the eyes of the people closest to her, rather than through the eyes of editors.
Do you think famous mums set an unrealistically high standard for real mums, who don’t have a team of stylists, PAs etc
I think it does, but the rest of us need to take some responsibility for that. Kate obviously has access to money and support that the average woman doesn’t – perhaps a personal trainer, night nurse, maternity nurse, a nutritionist… But I don’t think we can begrudge anyone for getting as much support as they can and trying to get back into shape.
I think the rest of us looking on need to let ourselves off the hook. If I had the resources and the nutritionists and the trainers, then possibly I’d go back to where I was much quicker as well. But I think a baby is supposed to change your life. It’s supposed to change the way you look.
I don’t think you should be desperate to get back into your jeans, I don’t think that’s the point; I think we’re missing the point completely. It’s one of the most amazing things that the female body does and it makes me really sad that there’s such a focus on pretending it never happened and getting back in your jeans! I think it’s the one time when the sense of entitlement needs to be about, ‘My body is functional’ and although I’m speaking very idealistically here, I think it’s important to say.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing women returning to work
It can be very daunting, it can lead to feelings of insecurity or lack of confidence. Some of the work we did with P&G found that it takes about four months to get settled back into the work place, and I think the reason for this is because it’s a life change.
Most of us get into a rhythm of doing things when we are at work – and then when we are at home with our children not only is there a rhythm there, but there’s this enormity of emotion that goes with making sure the baby is happy, healthy and well.
So there the practical things to worry about – like where do I leave the baby, I am not sleeping the same hours, I need to prepare different kinds of milk – and also that emotional almost disjointedness of ‘there’s something missing’ – ‘I’ve been attached to my child for the last few months, and now I need to leave it’. So it’s not surprising it takes around four months to get settled back in.
What are the signs to look out for that new mums might be struggling back at work
Interestingly enough, some mums are so anxious about being seen not to pull their own weight they take on more than they used to, and it completely backfires. So be aware of that need to prove that ‘I’m ok’. In some women it manifests in fearfulness even; in others coming in early and going home late. Just things that are out of the ordinary. Being short with people can also be a sign of tiredness.
The research shows it takes four months of adjustment – it won’t happen right away. If you see anything that seems off the radar, just offer support. Whether you’re a colleague and you offer to pick up a sandwich for them so they don’t have to leave their desk if they don’t want to. Or the exact opposite you know, ‘why don’t we go for a quick walk at lunchtime’ All of these things are little but make a big difference.
Dr Linda Papadopoulos is working with P&G on the Everyday Effect campaign which celebrates the seemingly ordinary actions that can have an extraordinary effect. Find out more at www.everydayeffect.co.uk