Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Painful Reality for Everyone, Not Just Jon and Kate: Relevant Marriage and Parenting

It's been awhile, I know, but for those of you that follow me on Twitter, you know I've been as compulsive and prolific as usual in passing on the news I find relevant, but just not so moved to expand upon the news...that is, until now.

I'm a very casual watcher, but last night, like nearly an astonishing 9.3 million others, I tuned in to watch the season premiere of Jon & Kate Plus Eight. I'm aware of the drama and scandals surrounding this reality show couple, but not a real fan of prurient unsubstantiated speculation and conjecture (aka, gossip), so it wasn't something I planned to watch last night. But, there I was flipping channels and I landed smack dab in the middle of their marital debacle unfurling for all to see. And it was painfully real.

Now, this post could be about the perils of exposing yourself on "reality" television, losing your bearings between a public and personal life (all valid and important), but what struck me about the painful spectacle of the premiere episode is, well, the reality of something that happens to so many couples once they have children, reality show or not. Certainly the public scrutiny and pressures of the producers complicates it, but what I saw was a cautionary tale for all that transition into parenthood. 

There is a difference between devotion to your kids, and losing yourself in them. Becoming a parent is not the pinnacle of your identity, and hyper-focusing on them, whether there is one or twenty of them, at the expense of your relationships, and your own needs and passions is a recipe for heartbreak. As Kate in sad defeat revealed that she and her husband had become different people, and expressed dismay as to how it happened and what to do about it, it was clear to me that Jon & Kate were no longer in addition to their eight, they had been swallowed by the phenomenon that is their Eight. 

It happened gradually, before our eyes. Their lives became a endless cycle of kid needs and itineraries mined for their growing audience, and the only thing that became interesting about them was their identity as the parents to these eight pretty adorable little kids. We laughed and felt a little smug as Kate (increasingly demonized for things most of us have done at one time or another) nit-picked and mothered Jon in those couch scenes. Red Flag! When you start treating your partner (whether they deserve it or not) like one of the brood, you are heading down a perilous path. As women, it's pretty easy to fall into the martyr, "I have to think for and do everything for everyone," role. If you were a fly on my wall this weekend, you would have seen similar behavior in fact. 

Jon is certainly not blameless. As he bitterly decried that their lives had become a "business," and one in which he is left at home while Kate writes books and travels to promote their show and her books, and he had been forced to quit his job, I heard the protestations of many a stay at home parent (usually moms) "I have given up my life for you, and no one appreciates me" martyr. It's hard for many to navigate the change in identity that goes along with leaving a career, and focusing on raising one's kids. Even more so to flex to the aspirations and continued success of a working spouse. I know this from first hand experience. Yup, that one also most recently reared its ugly head in my house about two weeks ago. Ultimately, Jon feels he didn't have a choice. He has lost who he is on the altar of TLC.

But they do have choices as do all people who become parents. The wisdom that the greatest gift you can give your kids is a happy relationship with your mate holds true. I would also add to that, continuing to evolve and challenge yourself to live your gifts is also a benefit to your kids as well. Parenting is hard work and consuming. You must have that portion of your life that is reserved to tend to your needs, passions, and your relationships to sustain you in the especially intense early years. This is how your kids learn what living looks like, and are free to be who they are meant to be.

In Jon and Kate's case the reality show intensifies this, as they seem to have stopped allowing people to follow their lives as they live them, to focusing on living those parts of their lives that make them interesting to the audience. The outside looked fine for a long while, but inside the termites were weakening their infrastructure. As they sat far apart in the closing scenes of the show and gave dueling proclamations that all that they do is for their kids, it was painfully real that these two people have lost their connection, and until they realize that the vows they made to each other now need to become a central focus, their family is sadly in true peril. That is a reality check for all couples and parents to take away from this couple on the brink.


ginabad said...

Wow, that's an interesting post. I decried Jon & Kate on my own blog, but this is so sad.

We only have 2 kids, but they both have learning disabilities and are young, and the stress and pressure is unbelievable. BUT, for better or worse seems to be something my husband and I have taken on a subconscious route. We have the kids, and our own lives, but we both know that we are each other's best friend. I don't think either of us could stand to lose that so we do the hard thing: submit, compromise, stop fighting, dump our egos and come together. And it IS hard, but we're closer than ever.

I wish all couples could do this before it's too late.
Journey in Parenting

Kirsten Edmondson Branch aka "Aphra" said...

Thanks for your comments! I think your kids are lucky that you and your husband take your marriage seriously and work to make it solid. They will thrive for the effort.

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