When Jon and Kate Gosselin—and their jaw-dropping brood of eight, in the form of twin daughters plus sextuplets (three daughters and three sons)—started off on their media adventures, I watched them with a critical (as in, media criticism critical) eye, for the purposes of writing about them for Women in Media and News’ group blog. There was, I believed, something amiss about how overly controlled the media coverage surrounding the Gosselin family seemed to be. Why was it that big questions—ones raised later about Nadya Suleman’s eight babies, like, what doctor oversaw and gave a green light to one woman having six babies—were not raised in the media? In the infertility treatment world, sextuplets do not constitute a from-God miracle but an example of irresponsible medicine.
Here’s what happened. The Gosselin clan—and most especially Kate—became reality television celebrities (Katie Allison Granju argues, they are the first stars of the Mommy Blog age). Even if you’ve never watched their show, if you were to read about the family—from the success of Jon & Kate Plus Eight to Kate Gosselin’s bestselling books—you’d see that the people who love them really love them. One of my posts—remember, media criticism, not personal slam—hit the blogosphere in such a way that some Gosselin fans found me—and did they ever slam me.
More recently, I’ve written about the Gosselin clan on my blog. I was irked by the way, as their financial position elevated, their story no longer seemed to be about a very large family trying to get by, but about all the things their unique family constellation allowed them to acquire: large house, swimming pool, and fancy vacations. Theirs became a kind of a fantasy version of a real-life family—or, put another way, their reality shifted; however it goes, they are no longer the normal-yet-super-large family that people were originally compelled to see.
Many would argue the aspirations, the media attentions (uh, circus) got in the way of the Gosselins’ family life so much so that it self-destructed. For those not following the media frenzy, here’s the short version of what happened in recent months: in the spring, Jon Gosselin was photographed leaving a very young woman’s house very early one morning. Tabloids swarmed. By June, the marriage, already quite obviously on shaky footing, had officially crumbled.
Once Jon left, his image went from being the somewhat passive husband (many Gosselin watchers felt Kate was much too hard on Jon) and far less successful television presence in the family to complete and utter jerk. Early on in the series’ life, Jon worked—as in, left home and went to an office—but for whatever reasons—I think a layoff coupled with how much work is actually required to manage being the central figures in a reality television show including personal appearances and interviews and Kate’s book tours—he stopped. Over the summer, as a “free agent,” Jon the guy as opposed to Jon the Dad revealed his divorcing-guy-gone-wild self: partying and dating much younger women and hoping to create a clothing line. Safe to say he was no longer the doormat in the marriage bossed around by Kate but “in it” for the kids’ wellbeing. While ostensibly attempting to recapture a young adulthood he’d ceded to father of nearly instant eight, he seemed to morph into a total jerk.
I started keeping a closer eye on the Gosselin drama as it heated up. I couldn’t help myself, really. It was like watching a train wreck. I wanted to look away, but… At first, I felt like a voyeur to a really, really sad situation. Infidelity and betrayal are never pretty. Then, well, then Kate started to pique my interest, because here’s what has surprised me; these days, in a way, I’m coming round to admire Kate. As she handles this really tough marital disintegration in the media glare, she seems more likeable and more real, despite the nutty alternate “reality” her family’s fame has forged for them all.
Monday, Kate Gosselin gave an interview on the Today show. The previously scheduled interview had suddenly become timely. Last week, TLC kicked Jon off the show (apparently, he’d still be on, in a much more limited role), and announced it was set to re-launch the series November 2nd as Kate Plus Eight. Jon’s response: an apology to Kate on Larry King’s show, a move to temporarily halt divorce proceedings and a sudden declaration that filming their kids on television was ill-advised and must stop. Oh, and Jon cleared out the joint bank account.
The interview, like most of the interviews about her wrecked marriage, doesn’t bring out Kate at her best. She says she feels victimized by Jon’s actions. And never, during her many interviews, has she ever ventured that she was part of a crumbling marriage, too. Yet, as to her motivations about the Gosselin media machine, she’s very clear (as she has been before) that this show is her job and this job is the way she supports her (many) children. That’s her reason for continuing to film the show (call it a family business). She’s not all poetic about that fact. In the Today interview, she described having had six babies and having been unable to pay the bills after they were born and how terribly frightening that felt. She says that she feels very grateful to have a way to support her family. And, she adds, the kids love being on the show.
Meanwhile, she’s already filmed what are essentially the initial episodes of Kate Plus Eight. What I’ve seen is someone reckon with suddenly being single (while still hounded by tabloids) and learning to become a solo parent. I think she’s rising to the occasion, moving past what she called the “pity party” and trying, in her way, to see her children more distinctly and to be present for them all. Making big events (ones that might interest a television audience) isn’t really how children recover their equilibrium from a divorce, and my guess is that Kate knows that. Engagement with the kids, though, will help them, and she is doing that. What’s impressed me most: Kate has repeatedly talked about, and succeeded, in doing things she hadn’t done before—as she calls it, the “new normal”—occurred. She’s become the grill chef, touched snakes, taken the boys horseback riding, carried heavy sleeping children inside and in doing so, has become a solo parent, trying really hard to take care of all that needs to be done (given their resources, with help from babysitters and other assistants) while she remains present for the kids. After all those years of criticizing Jon, she’s not doing that so much; she’s talking about how she’s working to be a good parent when she’s with her kids.
Can I relate to Kate Gosselin? In terms of the particulars of her life and mine, there aren’t all that many commonalities. But the narrative, which began as a woman who liked control trying to manage life with super-multiples has shifted now to a different story of a woman who likes control ceding it, and coming to terms with her realities. I know it’s not the show—or the life—she envisioned. I do find myself oddly intrigued, though, now that it’s becoming, however unplanned, a narrative of self-discovery.