Their Bad Mother

Their Bad Mother

Jon & Kate & The Unbearable Lightness Of Looking Away

I might be, I think, one of the very few people in the Western Hemisphere who is not, this very minute, watching Jon & Kate Plus Eight to hear Jon and Kate announce the dissolution of their marriage. Which is funny, I suppose, seeing as I have found them, and the media furor surrounding them, kind of fascinating – as a story in itself, and also as a reflection of North American attitudes about parenting and family and, especially, motherhood. But although marriage (or whatever partnering arrangement) is pretty central to the experience of parenting and family and motherhood for many – and so the dissolution of this marriage relevant to this narrative – I find that I cannot watch.


I can’t watch because it is so tragic. The implosion of any family is tragic. I have spent many an hour crying with my mother and my father – together, separately – about the implosion of their marriage. I have spent many more hours still crying with my sister about the implosion of her marriage. I spent hours this weekend crying with a dear, dear friend as her heart broke over the implosion of her marriage. Love, marriage, family: when these fall apart, it is a terrible thing. It is no less terrible for Jon and Kate, whatever we might think of them.


It is, perhaps, more terrible for Jon and Kate. Or, that is, it is more terrible that I, that we all, witness this falling-apart. Because, it seems to me, their marriage has faltered, has fallen to pieces, in part, at least, because they lived their lives on the screen, because they exposed themselves so fully to us, because they laid themselves so bare and then found that they didn’t have the resources – as partners, as a family – to cope with such a baring. And so although this terrible thing is as much a part of their story as any mundane detail of their lives-on-the-screen, I find that I cannot watch, because watching the tragedy, it seems, has everything to do with why that tragedy occurred in the first place.

It seems the least I can do, then, to look away just this once. To pretend, at least, that they will handle this worst chapter in their story with some dignity, some reserve. To pretend that it doesn’t matter whether or not they do.

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The New Girl

posted June 22, 2009 at 9:18 pm

So, so exactly.
This is the best post ever written on this subject, as far as I’m concerned.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 9:19 pm

I feel exactly the same way.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 9:20 pm

I don’t own a television (by choice) and so didn’t really know anything about these people until just a couple of months ago. I’m horrified and saddened, really, that our society has reached the point where people so greedily gobble up this kind of tragedy.
Excellent post.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 9:30 pm

That’s exactly why I’m not watching this episode, nor am I joining magazines like Us Weekly and the throngs of twitterers who are reveling in this announcement as if the end of a marriage and a family was something to celebrate. I started watching Jon and Kate about 3 years ago, and I can honestly say this makes me as sad as it did my own parents divorce, so I can certainly understand where you’re coming from, Catherine. You get to know these people, share their struggles, their celebrations- you start feeling attached to them, comforted by their presence on your screen each week, and then something like this happens.
I only hope that should tragedy befall any of those who take such delight in the Gosselin’s misery, that they remember how they behaved in this situation, and that they’re not subject to the same level of cruelty they’re exacting on total strangers. I also hope they’re not surprised if they are.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 9:31 pm

i’m sad for the children. they’ll suffer the most.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 9:35 pm

I’m with you. I’m also not watching AND I’m hoping it’s just hype and that they’re announcing something else…like they’re geting out of the reality TV business because it’s too hard on their family.

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katherine center

posted June 22, 2009 at 9:40 pm

What’s with the rubbernecking? Why do we do that?

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posted June 22, 2009 at 9:40 pm

I’m not watching it either. Watching a family fall apart when you know what it will do to the kids is too sad. They should have taken this show off the air a long time ago.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 9:43 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m not watching, either. It’s too painful, and it seems particularly voyeuristic and wrong to watch something so private and so horrible be played out in such a hideously public forum.
Yes, sure, they are the ones who signed up for the show and kept it going and blah blah blah. But debating the cause or who’s to blame is not only not our business to do, but not even the point. It’s a family going through something really hard and really sad. And I will not play into the ratings or the frenzy if I can avoid it.

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Cecily M

posted June 22, 2009 at 9:48 pm

This to me is absolutely ridiculous! I love beliefnet,and I am furious that SO many people are relating to this drivel right now!! Why not be outraged at our government,or the trampling of our constitution? Why not be upset with the fact that our wonderful government is systematically destroying any kind of future for our children?? I feel that we as a nation need to stop worrying SO much about trivial issues like people on television,and start to worry more about what will become of us as a nation when the “you know what” hit’s the fan a little more than it already has….. No one want’s to look at the truth of the situation we are in. The truth is that the corporate BS mind machine wants you to be absorbed by things like Jon and Kate,or the lives of celebrities. They want you to not pay attention to reality.The irony of the whole thing is that this type of tv is called “reality” tv! I don’t know about you,but i am not in the upper 1-10% of the elite wealthy in this country. So in my eyes,this is not reality in the least bit……..I implore you to wake up and become more aware of what is going on in this once proud nation…..please?? If not for our children,then who??

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posted June 22, 2009 at 9:53 pm

I was fascinated at first, because it was interesting as long as there was hope that they were going to get back together and do the right thing. Which, in this case, was probably stopping the show and working on their relationship. I wanted to believe in them.
Unfortunately, as time went on it just got more and more uncomfortable as what was about to happen became obvious. I’m DVRing it right now and will probably watch it, but more for closure than for enjoyment.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 9:55 pm

I did watch.
And I really wish I hadn’t. I feel bad for looking, and I’m so sad too.

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Cecily M

posted June 22, 2009 at 10:00 pm

In my last comment I feel I wasn’t specific enough. I didn’t mean that this particular article made me furious. I was trying to relate to the fact that SOOOOOOOO many people are so absorbed by this nonsense right now! It is a private family matter,and should be dealt with as such. I am sick and tired of people being so obsessed with the lives of celebrities,and not focusing on the “real” horrors in our everyday lives. Like our government for starter’s! I wasn’t trying to sound as if I was attacking this particular blogger! I am just so tired of hearing about things of this nature when there is so much in the world going on that could be helped by us just focusing our attention on to it…..we as human beings are an amazing force! We can accomplish alot alone and together we can accomplish the impossible!!

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posted June 22, 2009 at 10:09 pm

The only interesting thing is how long it took for their marriage to implode. Did they ever stand a chance? And though I understand the temptation that the money had to have been given the circumstances, did they really not know this was a very probable outcome?
Reality tv is not real. Not really, but the loss of privacy, the judging the public does, the way fame – even when it is bestowed for no other reason than being a curiousity – all these things can be really damaging. This couple gambled and lost big, and this decision will effect their kids more than it will them in the long run.
I feel sorry for their kids. Kate and Jon are grown-ups and don’t deserve sympathy.

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Mrs. Wilson

posted June 22, 2009 at 10:27 pm

Well written. “because watching the tragedy, it seems, has everything to do with why that tragedy occurred in the first place” – amen to that.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 10:49 pm

I just want to say that I watched this show, I cried but this will be the last time I ever watch again. Kate you just are in denial, did anyone hear her say it wasn’t the show that broke them up. Please Kate and Jon get some christian counseling. This divorce will surely hurt the children. Kate STOP and Listen, Jon was hurting and feeling his manhood drifting away. He just found himself and got the nerve to realize I matter I’m not a doormat. There is time for Kate and me to be a loving couple again. He wanted Kate to find time for him. No Kate only thought of the kids, fame not her husband. You didn’t treat Jon like your husband, only as you said, during his 30th birthday party my babysitter. He did help you and just like you Kate he also was overwelmed. I feel I cannot and will not watch this show again, I feel it is trying to make us look like fools. I pray for them and hope they realize what they have done. Where were the christian counselors this was the time they needed them. Where was the pastor? I’m so sad and I’m crying because another marriage down the drain. :(

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posted June 22, 2009 at 11:10 pm

Yeah. I went out drinking. I’ve never seen that show.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 11:30 pm

I just can’t watch it. I haven’t been watching them in a while. But I cant turn in to watch then flame each other. It’s too sad.
One thing I wish they’d remember is what they said in the beginning of the show. They said that when it wasn’t right for the kids anymore, they’d stop. That day has come and gone. Long ago.
It’s heart wrenching to watch. I feel for those kids.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 11:57 pm

I’ve never watched the show, but especially can’t watch now. You can’t avoid the story itself as it’s everywhere. My heart just aches for those kids. While there is no way Jon or Kate could have known what a toll being on television would do to the stability of their family, they still made the choice to do it. But those kids?
No choice in the matter. I was hoping I’d come online tonight to find out that the big announcement was that they were stopping all filming and repeat airings of the show. We all knew about the divorce/separation – that wasn’t a newsworthy event at all. Doing the right thing by your family and stopping the camera presence, the publicity of it all would have been not only newsworthy, but noble and right and worthy of respect.

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posted June 23, 2009 at 12:57 am

Well said.
I haven’t watched the show since season three because of the obvious strain between the parents then (and the strain of filming on the kids).
I didn’t watch tonight. I feel horrible for them, for the media circus their lives have become.
The naive me was hoping they would get counselling and come closer together.
The cynical me knew this unhappiness was inevitable.
I wish for once naivete could win out over cynicism.

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posted June 23, 2009 at 10:50 am

Bravo. I didn’t watch it for much the same reasons. It’s tragic that this show likely got in the way of their marriage, and it’s even more tragic that they should then bring the demise of their marriage back to the very same forum that brought them apart initially.
I hope, for the sake of the children, something changes in their lives. Whether they reconcile or not, airing your dirty laundry for all the world to see cannot be healthy.

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posted June 23, 2009 at 10:51 am

I watched and like Luz, will never watch again. I feel so sad for their children and wish the announcement had been they were ending the show to focus on their family. Even if she believed the show was not a factor in their break-up, I still feel that ending it to focus on themselves would have been a wise move before completely splitting. I wish their children the best.

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posted June 23, 2009 at 10:52 am

I don’t normally watch, and I didn’t watch last night either. Any implosion of a marriage is tragic, and this one more so because of exactly the reasons you stated. Watching their show is the equivalent of rubbernecking at a crash, and I don’t like to do that when I’m on the road, so I won’t do it on my TV.
I feel bad for them though. How could you not?

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Julie @ The Mom Slant

posted June 23, 2009 at 10:58 am

It’s on my DVR, waiting for me, and I’m going to watch it. Not for the gawking, but for the opportunity to learn from their heartache. Because nobody’s marriage is infallible.

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posted June 23, 2009 at 11:02 am

OK, I ended up watching it. Usually I can make some inappropriate joke about reality shows, but there wasn’t a lot of funny to work with there. It was just sad and uncomfortable.
I thought it was interesting that while Kate said it wasn’t the show’s fault, neither of them pointed out that it wasn’t the kids’ fault. Hopefully they make that point somewhere down the line, because you know the kids are watching this stuff. Or will.

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posted June 23, 2009 at 11:08 am

I agree. I lost my stomach for it. It got so nasty, so tawdry, so depressing that it lost its value as entertainment for me.
Like others said, I found myself wondering why they wouldn’t at least TRY counseling before throwing in the towel. They just renewed their wedding vows, for pete’s sake! Not one of their millions of fans, celebrity friends (Oprah?), family, or members of their church would step in to suggest that when there are 8 kids’ lives at stake? That, to me, seems pathetic. Everyone’s willing to watch them implode on camera but no one’s willing to step up and urge them to work it out.

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posted June 23, 2009 at 11:10 am

I watched the episode last night just like I have all the others and will continue to watch. I am not so sure the show itself is a root cause to the failure of their relationship. I believe the problems in their relationship were probably there all along and I think it speaks to Jon’s true character when he said last night in his interview that he was “excited” to be moving on to a new chapter in his life. He is out partying, drinking, smoking (he admits this on screwing around with other women while his marriage is falling apart, he is in the public eye, and most of all has eight children. I don’t think having a TV show creates that kind of bad traits just possibly pushes them to the forefront.
I guess I see my watching of the show not really different than reading the many blogs that I do, that often contain tragedy, medical issues, death, and marital discord.

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posted June 23, 2009 at 11:13 am

It was with deep sorrow that I watched my first episode of that show. I ache for every broken heart. I’ve cried divorce tears as a child and know as an adult how deep the wounds run for all parties.

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Jen Ambrose

posted June 23, 2009 at 11:16 am

I would like to say the reason that I didn’t watch is all of the reasons that you listed above. The real truth is that I canceled my cable a few months ago.
If I still had it? I probably would have watched. That makes me feel a bit dirty.
I’m kind of glad I didn’t have the choice. Wish that I could stand on my convictions like you did. Because I believe in everything you said above, but given the opportunity, I probably would have watched.

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posted June 23, 2009 at 11:37 am

I know what you mean. I didn’t and couldn’t watch either.

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posted June 23, 2009 at 11:39 am

How come everyone seems to forget that Kate treated Jon like complete garbage?
I think they are both amazing parents, but seriously, she treated him like a 9th child and he reached his breaking point. By him not standing up for himself, and instead bottling his emotions, he did the family just as much of a disservice, but she was downright mean to that guy. No wonder he’s out drinking. Fooling around though, that’s just speculative, same with Kate.
I’m just really tired of media and society saying it’s ok to treat a husband like an idiot child. Society paints this picture as an example of a strong woman, but in reality it’s just cruel and reverse-sexism. Next time you watch TV, look at all the commercials where the husband is playing the moron, and the wife comes along and corrects him like a child. How come no one seems to notice these things?
Imagine if Jon talked to Kate the way she did with him. There would be an uproar, and by her leaving him, she would be an example of a strong woman taking charge. But Jon reaches a breaking point and everyone starts pointing fingers.

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posted June 23, 2009 at 11:47 am

Excellent post!
Do not feel alone, I could not watch either.
Number one, I did not want to be part of the rating’s. How selfless of them to use the “dissolution of their marriage” to gain ratings.
Like you, I think when any one’s marriage comes to an end, no matter the circumstances it is very heart wrenching, personal, sad time. It is not something to be televised, it is a personal, private matter. The difference here is that Jon and Kate decided four years ago to have their lives put in front of the cameras. You can’t say, well, I want to film this, but not this. If you want that..don’t’ call in the cameras and expect the big paycheck. Exhibit one: Kate Gosselin–she wanted it all filmed.
I was shocked at one of this morning’s clips from the show where Kate said she gave herself “a good half a day to cry and sob like she has never before.” A half day? Seriously?
I am so tired of hearing how Jon and Kate did this show because they “wanted to capture the family moments for their kids.” Doesn’t every family? I, too, wanted to have every movement and expression on my daughters’ faces from every vacation we went on. As well as from the first time my oldest daughter saw her baby sister’s face for the first time, to the time they each saw the beach and felt the sand between their toes, to all the other “firsts”. I have a video recorder and a camera. I was able to capture most of the moments.
My family, as every other family, did not need a tv film crew to accomplish this. I surely would not have wanted on film every marital strife my late husband and I went through. Those are personal and private matters. Even if you are on a “reality family show”, there are some things that should be kept private. Jon and Kate have crossed the line in many episodes involving the children in “very-personal situations” that I, myself, would be horrified to have filmed. Imagine how these children will feel when they are old enough to see these moments captured forever on film.
I do not want to play the blame game. We do not know what really happened, other than what we have heard or read. All I can go by is what I viewed on the show. I saw Jon caring for the kids a lot more than Kate. He bathed them every night, even when he had a “real job”. He dressed the kids, put them in the van, and all the while Kate was berating Jon’s every move. ON FILM. She self proclaimed she was very organized and would have everything ready to go the night before an outing or trip. I’ll give her that. The kids would sleep in their clothes at times, so they would not have to change them. Jon also played with the kids-hands on, while Kate sat in a chair, on her phone, and screamed. I know there is the power of tv editing, but would TLC purposefully do that-make Kate appear in such a way if she was not?
After the Utah trip, it was clear this family was about to implode before our eyes. During that same episode, Kate said to Jon something about their upcoming Hawaii trip. Viewers were not aware-at that time-of the wedding vow renewal. This was not “reality”. It was produced reality. I often wondered why they did the Hawaii trip on their 9th anniversary and not on their 10th… now we know. But Kate wanted that Hawaii trip.
Kate’s sister-in-law, Jodi, has stated that before the show started production, Kate gave TLC a list of places she wanted to go and things she wanted to do, (and receive).
Low and behold, we saw them do all of it.
The premise of this show was to capture the the life of a family with multiples-struggles, budgets, and all. I did not see much struggling, until now..
I saw a clip of the show this morning where Kate says she “doesn’t want to do this alone”. Seriously? We may not have eight children, but there are a lot of mothers “doing this alone”, and KUDOS to them! Those mothers, I am sure, do not have “the bank” that Kate has, nor do “their children” have a 1.3 million dollar home, with nannies, and other “helpers” to “do it alone” in.
Sorry for the lengthy comment. I thought your post excellent and it gave me an outlet. Stepping down from soap-box, now.

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posted June 23, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Me either, me too.
Have we completely eradicated “none of my business?” Because, sometimes, some things – aren’t. Even when someone else makes it your business – flaunts it, flouts it – still not. “Because watching the tragedy, it seems, has everything to do with why that tragedy occurred in the first place…” Well, yes, exactly. Reality TV, isn’t – and its illusion of reality makes it especially relatable, or provides illusory relatability (? I should edit that out, but I will leave it…)
I heard a radio DJ say, in relation to some celebrity marital mess, “I don’t think we know the whole story.” Well, NO! Of course we don’t. We, the voyeurs, cannot possibly know the compromises in one couple’s marriage, cannot possibly know when those compromises become too much… can’t possibly understand any of it. We DON’T know. And watching wouldn’t make us know – it would just make us… watchers.
Ick, I say. Let’s be done with this story. Jon, Kate, and the whole tragic lot of them – they need to pull themselves out of the public eye, the mainstream, the THIS – and move on. Those children deserve a shot of normalcy elsewhere. And soon. So they have any hope of recovering from any of this.

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posted June 23, 2009 at 1:08 pm

No surprise. Having watched the entire 5 years it was on, only 2 or 3 times, I was surprised that they’ve stayed together this long. Hope they saved some of their money…And as someone said in a previous post…the children will be the “victims” of this whole thing. And as someone said above, Kate treated Jon like a child, and IMO, she really seems to be a b****.
How does anyone live their lives with a camera following their every move? That isn’t exactly normal.

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posted June 24, 2009 at 5:39 pm

I have watched the show for several years but not this year. It is too sad. It reminds me of the people who gawk when passing a traffic accident. I always turn away and move on. I believe it takes two people to wreck a marriage and that having one child causes enormous stress to any marriage. Having 8 in 4 years must put unbelievable pressure on everyone. At least the tv show help with the monetary issues. However I feel that it is a similar situation to Brittany Spears last year. I don’t want to watch someone fall apart. I hate to think that people make money showing such tragedy and misery. I hate to hold people up to the public eye when they are at their worst. And I hate the rush to judgment on who is the ‘good guy’ and who is the ‘evil witch’. And the misogeny(sp) that automatically makes so many blame the woman, just because she is angry and shows it. Where are the real feminists when Kate needs them?

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Your Name

posted July 25, 2009 at 4:51 pm

I, for one, will no longer be part of this tragedy. For this family to continue to do the show under the present circumstances is ridiculous. Kate has turned into a self-proclaimed “star”, Jon has turned in to a womanizer, and the kids will suffer the consequences. PLEASE TLC do the right thing and take this show off the air!! It is a sad state of affairs when it becomes entertaining to watch a family fall apart.

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