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Three Family Lessons from Megxit

By Family Conflict ResolutionJanuary, 2020April 22nd, 20244 min read

Megxit … yawn … yet another screwed up high-profile family. Big deal. Move on to something that actually matters. Despite the cynicism, stories about royalty continue to capture the imagination of the public, well beyond the boundaries of the former British Empire.

When it comes to wealthy families, royal families are in a class of their own (in all senses of the word). With wealth, there is always a tightrope of opportunity and obligation that must be carefully walked. For those born into royalty, it can often seem not worth all the trouble, and the Netflix series The Crown portrayed this so well. It isn’t easy when the media is dedicated to invading every aspect of their private lives, and in the public eye, royals are often damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. To be sure, they don’t have a private life, and very little scope for individuation, which is essential for rising generation family members.

In the evolving Megxit story, there are three themes that already apparent.

1. Communication. The key thing that struck me about the announcement was that Buckingham Palace was taken by surprise. Prince Harry and Meghan had been discussing this for months – obviously between themselves and their circle of close friends and advisors. But who else knew? The most important person who needed to be aware of it, and ideally part of the ongoing discussions was the Queen!

One of essential capabilities of strong and enduring families is communication, and it is self-evident that this was not happening in the case of the royals. A child ought to be able to say “Mum, we’re not happy and would like to talk about it”. While for the royals, it might not be quite as direct, there are enough advisors around to facilitate conversations that need to happen. A good advisor is not a “yes man”, but rather someone who pushes back, provides a voice of reason, and facilitates what their clients needs (which isn’t always what they want).

2. In-laws. There’s a reason royal families wealthy families like their children to marry into families with similar backgrounds – they understand the lifestyle and expectations and often have a shared culture. This episode is being compared to the abdication of King Edward VIII who wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee, and there are certainly some commonalities (no pun intended).

When people from diverse backgrounds marry into wealth/royalty, a process of cultural assimilation is required to maintain harmony. This doesn’t mean the new family member must turn their lives around and unquestionably comply with all family norms – family values can and will evolve as new members join the family (whether by birth or marriage). This process of articulating and sharing the family’s values is best handled explicitly and openly, rather than by unstated assumption.

3. Public life. The world is fascinated by the rich and famous, and it can be challenging for family members to live in this fishbowl. Some wealthy families go to great lengths to maintain a low profile, and others embrace it (and even monetise it), but publicity is a double-edged sword (with apologies to PT Barnum). It’s hard enough for those growing up in public life, and even harder for those marrying into it.

For the royals, it comes with the territory (and yes, Meghan went in eyes wide open). The British media are nothing short of relentless in their pursuit of a story and their lack of boundaries and respect for their subjects is despicable. The vagaries of public life are only amplified by the social media mob. While an exit from royal duties would still mean the royal couple are living a public life, they would likely be in slightly more control of their public persona.

In summary, families that can communicate well, understand their values and successfully integrate new family members, and proactively manage their public profile are internally stronger. They are less likely to be surprised by issues like this, and in a better position to manage crises when they do happen.

Here is more on reading on Family governance.

This article was also posted at [LinkedIn].

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