Much Duchess-dissing has focused on Markle's estrangement from her father. But sometimes, estrangement is the kindest thing we can do for ourselvesby Hephzibah Anderson / May 5, 2019 / Leave a comment
All being well, by the time you read this, the House of Windsor will have a bonny new addition, Meghan and Harry’s firstborn. Customary hoopla over the infant’s name, however, looks likely to be vying with more prurient speculation: will grizzled old Grandpa Markle get to meet the royal babe? Much Duchess-dissing has focused on her estrangement from her father. How heartless she is, how ungrateful! The possibility that he may not get to meet his grandchild has triggered another round of those interviews Meghan had requested he desist from, veering from guilt-tripping pleas to barbed put-downs.
Palace aides can console themselves with the fact that what they presumably view as a distasteful sideshow does at least keep the Duchess of Sussex relatable. Pain and shame may make people shy about owning up to it, but recent surveys suggest that family estrangement is both less dramatic and far more common than we care to imagine.
According to the charity Stand Alone, one in five families is affected by estrangement, and over five million people have severed contact with at least one family member. It’s worse in the US, where a 2015 study found that more than 40 per cent of participants had experienced family estrangement, making it seem almost as commonplace as divorce. These numbers tally with what novelist Hannah Beckerman encountered earlier this year when she opened up about her decision to cut off contact with her father. Suddenly, friends and colleagues were sharing their own tales of ruptured kinships—myself among them.
From fraternal cold war (promoted by a new spouse) to the filial allegiances that became collateral damage in parental feuding, my family tree would look pollarded if you factored in each and every truncated attachment of the past century or so. Some were temporary, others became permanent.
Estrangement isn’t unheard of in royal circles: just think of the Duke of Windsor, aka Edward VIII. That’s actually a comparatively rare example of a break triggered by a specific, intensely dramatic incident—the Duke’s obsession with Wallis Simpson and subsequent abdication. While barriers can be thrown up in response to horrific abuse or devastating betrayals, mostly the causes are more prosaic: differences in values and mismatched expectations about family obligations, emotional sabotage and the…