I truly never think of my current marriage as my "second marriage," but if you look at the paperwork, there it is in black and white — I was married before. Meaning, technically, my daughter is considered my husband's stepdaughter and together, the three of us are a blended family. Personal feelings aside (we're just a family, she's just his daughter, et cetera), this is the "by the book" description of our family and it's one a lot of families can relate to. The royal wedding is being positioned as terrific marketing for the monarchy, but in inducting Meghan Markle to the royal family — on the arm of Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, no less — the royals are in fact sending a powerful message to blended families everywhere.
According to the Pew Research Center, fewer than half of all kids in the United States — around 46 percent — are living in a "traditional" family. The word "traditional" has a very narrow definition: two heterosexual parents who are in their first marriage. This is a big drop, the research center noted, from 1960 when that number was 73 percent and 1980, when 61 percent of kids lived in a traditional family.
If you're going by that definition of tradition, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry are not part of a "traditional" family unit either.
When Charles did marry Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, the ceremony took place in a town hall rather than at Windsor Castle.
Their parents, Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, separated in 1992, just 11 years after the world watched them marry. In 1996, the divorce was made final, and just a year later, Diana was tragically killed in a car accident. It took nine more years for Prince Charles to remarry in a civil ceremony "blessed" by an archbishop — and it wasn't until 2002 that the church permitted remarriage of divorced people whose former partners were still alive, as the BBC notes (Camilla's ex is still alive). When Charles did marry Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, the ceremony took place in a town hall rather than at Windsor Castle. And even then, Camilla was not given the title of "princess consort," but duchess; if Charles becomes king, she will not be "queen.
Prince Harry's engagement to Meghan Markle, a divorced American, is just the most recent test of the royal family's steadfastness to church lore. But, as Vogue notes, it represents the first time the royals have openly embraced the concept. And that? It's huge.
'Oh so he's her stepdad?' Well yes, I guess technically, but it doesn't feel that way — he's just her dad.
You can go back as far as the 15th century to find romantic scandals in the royal family, but you'll also find a lot of covering up, a lot of putting on public appearances, and a lot of hurt feelings. (If you haven't watched The Crown, binge on it purely for Princess Margaret and her broken heart.) Basically, the royals were, like the rest of us, trying to navigate a second marriage or a blended family. In some ways, we're ashamed of it. We're scared to talk about it, and we're terrified of being judged for it.
My husband is my daughter's father in all the ways except for biology. Their love is true and earnest, and the love I have for my husband surpasses any feelings I had in my first marriage. Put simply (and in a clichéd kind of way), we were always meant to be. But that doesn't mean that I don't cringe a bit when someone asks me about how my husband was with me in the hospital as I gave birth to our daughter.
"Oh, well technically he wasn't there. He didn't come into her life until she was 5 months old," I try to explain. But immediately, I feel like I've done him, our daughter, and myself a disservice. I feel like I've instantly changed their perception of our family. "Oh so he's her stepdad?" Well yes, I guess technically, but it doesn't feel that way — he's just her dad.
When I was planning my wedding to my husband Nick, I felt like this a lot. Someone would say something like, "You just need to soak it all in. You only get to do this day once," and I'd feel a hot wave of shame. The florist would tell me, "There's truly nothing like heading down the aisle to your husband. It's a once-in-a-lifetime moment," and I'd feel sweaty. While everything these people said was true, and the way I felt about marrying Nick was very different than the way I felt about marrying my first husband, it was still there. The shame of marrying a second time. The shame of having people fawn all over the bride-to-be, not knowing that she had divorce papers in her filing cabinet.
It's something I used to worry about with my daughter Alice. Would she grow up wondering why Daddy wasn't biologically related to her? Would she ever feel shame about me remarrying when she was 2 years old?
Growing up in a world in which a remarried royal walks his future daughter-in-law down the aisle to marry her second husband, I hope that my daughter won't feel the stigma I have experienced.
Today, there are even more places she can look for a less "nuclear" family. For a family with different last names or a family with second marriage titles. For a family that's like a fairytale — replete with the palaces and a quest to find yourself.
Thanks to the wedding of Meghan and Harry, she can look right to the royal family and see that fairytales can take many forms. Their marriage proves that tradition is less the point than the potential for more love and a better family that you build yourself, breeding be damned.