What Every Family Can Learn From Royal Families

Whether we’re talking about the British Royal Family, the Jordanian Royal Family, or American Dynasties like the Kennedys, there’s a global fascination with how these families operate. Is it the outfits? The sense of permanence? The ability to host breathtaking weddings? Perhaps a bit of it all.

By Johanna Duncan5 min read
Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives/Stringer

Some of these families came to relevancy centuries ago, and perhaps we have forgotten why they merit such attention, but the reality is that they do. And while they may seem to live in a gilded cage, family struggles don’t discriminate and can permeate the happiest of homes. Nonetheless, there are things that these families do get continuously right, and perhaps this is what captivates our attention. Here are four lessons we can learn from royal families:

They Have a Deep Sense of Family History and Legacy

Royal houses and palaces are reliquaries dedicated to the family’s history – to the point that Queen Elizabeth was likely not allowed to redecorate certain rooms as they hold historic significance, nor take those old plates to the local thrift store as many of these objects are diplomatic gifts dating centuries back. This is purposeful and intentional as the family home is filled with reminders of what constitutes the family values, legacy, and sense of existence. 

It’s said and firmly believed that you must know where you come from in order to know where you are going. Owning your origin story is an empowering exercise, as the perspective it provides is humbling. You might not have family jewels passed down through the generations, but you can go into detail and try to understand why certain family members emigrated and think beyond the specific facts. Did they escape a famine? What do you think that must have felt like? Family and generational trauma is a real thing, and understanding your family history can give you a healthy insight into why your family operates in a certain way. 

This is an opportunity to grow in appreciation for those who came before us, took care of us, and forged the path into which we were born. For the most part, these are stories of resilience and grit, so enjoy going in-depth and share your research with your family members. 

Understanding your family history can give you a healthy insight into why your family operates in a certain way. 

They Have a Strong Sense of Leadership and Social Responsibility 

A common denominator among royal families is their strong sense of leadership. You could call it greed, as most royal families came to be after winning wars and conquering territories, but the point remains – they ruled. Others like the Roosevelts and the Kennedys made their fortunes on their own and later joined public life as politicians. Another greed game, potentially, but without it, America wouldn’t have the National Parks System and the New York Natural History Museum, as they were both established by the Roosevelt family. Without the Kennedys, we would not have the Kennedy Space Center and Best Buddies, a now global organization supporting disabled children. 

When you think of your own family, think of the ways you and they can contribute to your community. Is it involvement in your kid’s school? Is it involvement in your local park or library system? Find something you all truly care about and are inspired by. 

The benefits of engaging in social causes together as a family are immense. It’s an opportunity to get to know your family members on a deeper level as you dive through what has value and importance to individuals and connects them to their own family. 

I once heard of a family whose 16 year old was struggling with drug addiction. He was the youngest of four, and his parents and older siblings decided to volunteer as a family at a local rehab center. Seeing his parents and siblings involved and learning made a huge difference for this 16 year old, and for the family, this experience helped them understand the struggles of their loved one. 

Get together and brainstorm what ways you can help and be helped. For those who generously give, always receive. 

They Understand the Importance of Trust Building 

As humans, we tend to do better when we don’t fear failing, and few things can make us as secure as trust in our family. Having the certainty that if and when we fail we will have siblings, parents, a spouse, and children to be there for us during hardships is precisely what allows us to take on challenges and grow. Allowing conversations where family members can voice their fears, feelings, and desires without negative consequences is one of the easiest ways to ensure the support individuals need to succeed. 

A positive example of trust and service in a family is the Rothschild family. Their story starts with Mayer Rothschild, who foresaw people’s need to transfer money internationally as the Napoleonic Wars forced many to move to new countries in a quest for peace and stability. Mayer sent his five sons to different countries with the mission of establishing a banking house in each country. These brothers were tight, and they trusted in each other and their own father, and from that trust, our contemporary international banking system was established. To this day, the Rothschild family is considered one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the world. 

A negative example of what a breakdown of trust can do is Princess Diana and now King Charles. For the most part, Diana appears convinced of the wrongdoing against her, but remains seemingly unaware of the hurt she was inflicting. Her controversial choices of doing an interview and collaborating on a book might have given her a sense of relief from the pain she was feeling, but these choices betrayed the marital vows she took, and the ripple effect followed her all the way to her tragic death. If you’ve read Harry’s book Spare, you could argue that the negative impact of this betrayal continues and lives through her now-adult sons. 

Here are three things you can do today to build trust, according to Dr. John Gottman, a world expert in marriage stability and the prediction of divorce

  1. Reach out to offer help, and follow through. Becoming aware of our loved ones’ struggles and offering help is crucial. 

  2. Demonstrate understanding and tolerance for each other. This allows people to be and feel more like themselves. 

  3. Encourage the art of intimate conversation. Ask the right questions and listen without judgment. 

The irony of trust is that it is also our own family who has the greatest ability to hurt us. Learning to have open dialogue over our differences and growing in the certainty that they’re not operating against us are some of the healthiest things for any family to do. 

When hurtful things happen, trusting our loved ones helps us be able to say “They did not mean to hurt me.” 

Trust is what facilitates healing and forgiveness. When hurtful things happen, as they do, trusting our loved ones helps us be able to say “They did not mean to hurt me.” That is needed and a game changer, and while we can’t argue that this is how every member of a royal family feels about each other, the argument is that trust is what secures the stability of the family and allows for strong relationships even through hardships and heartbreaks. 

Royal and commoner families alike thrive on having a strong trust system. Centuries ago, it was this trust that kept diplomatic relationships stable. Trust is also what allows real intimacy to happen, as it allows people to grow in authenticity and deeper connections. 

Keep Family Drama in the Family

Watching Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s struggles with the British Royal Family over the past few years has shown us the consequences of airing family disputes and publicizing our own family’s shortcomings. It’s a lose-lose situation for every family member. Regardless of whether you believe Megan and Harry are the victims or the attackers of the royal family, we can see how the interviews, documentaries, and books they have publicized about their own family struggles have eroded the trust in the family. The result of this has been pain for everyone involved, and I would argue that the benefit of this public display has been more monetary than healing. This has made many question their real intentions, which furthers the trust problem. 

In one of my personal favorite scenes of The Crown, Princess Diana gives the Queen a heads-up about her upcoming tell-all interview. The Queen's response demonstrates sympathy for Diana’s situation but also restates why these matters should be handled privately. She insists that even if and when hurt has been inflicted, it has been largely due to people’s personal shortcomings and not with the intention of inflicting pain. Most family conflicts come down to just that. 

Closing Thoughts

To some families, being united and creating a sense of legacy seems to come so easily and for others it seems an ongoing battle, but it’s through a change of attitudes and actions that any family can turn into a micro or macro dynasty. This is what Royal families have done and continue doing in order to remain relevant and in positions of leadership.  

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina opens with this line: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The suggestion is that while there are many ways to get it wrong, some basic things will help you get it right, so it’s time to dust off the old family photos and frame them. Time to get together to think of others. Time to be more attentive to each other for the sake of growing in deeper trust and understanding of each other. Start there and expand as you go – you will be in awe of the difference it makes. 

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