I like to pretend that I don’t watch reality TV, but I do. I little bit. It’s hard to be a parent these days and not know about Jon & Kate Plus 8, and I spent a good portion of Christmas Vacation 2008 at my in-laws watching episodes they had Tivo’ed. Part of the attraction of the show for me is I myself am the oldest of eight children. Though we all came one at a time over 16 years rather than two pregnancies over 3 years like the Gosselins. And the other draw was watching this self-professed Christian marriage operate while dealing with the stress of raising children.
So of course I tuned in last night to watch what was obviously going to be The End of the Marriage. Setting aside all the standard “They put the kids first a little too much,” how Kate’s need for control and Jon’s I don’t give a crap attitude perhaps weren’t the best mix, and how profoundly sad divorce is, the thing that keeps bothering me is I wish that Jon Gosselin was able to hack it as a stay-at-home dad. The show never really showcased the fact that he quit his job to be primary caregiver to the kids while Kate wrote books and traveled for speaking tours. Or at least I never saw an episode dedicated in part to what it was like giving up his career to stay home with his children since Kate was better at managing the family business. Perhaps I’m reading into this but I wonder how much of this friction stemmed from the basic struggles that any stay-at-home parent faces – identity, boredom, lack of appreciation – multiplied by the fact that stay-at-home fathers are still a cultural oddity.
Finally and somewhat related, my friend Nikki passed this article about American divorce in the The Atlantic to me last week. I found it thought-provoking, unsettling and reminded me why what happened to Jon and Kate’s marriage is something that could easily happen in my own.
Just because we know that nearly half of U.S. marriages end in divorce… doesn’t mean we aren’t confident ours is the one that will beat the odds. At least that is the attitudinal yin/yang described by Andrew J. Cherlin in his scrupulously argued Marriage-Go-Round … In short, although we say we love religion and marriage, Cherlin notes, “religious Americans are more likely to divorce than secular Swedes.” Cherlin believes the reason for this paradox is that Americans hold two values at once: a culture of marriage and a culture of individualism. Or is it an American spirit of optimism wedded, if you will, to a Tocquevillian spirit of restlessness that inspires three out of four Americans to say they believe marriage is for life, while only one in four agreed with the notion that even if a marriage is unhappy, one should stay put for the sake of the children.
Perhaps this is also influenced by the American culture of “the pursuit of happiness” as a right coming just after life and liberty, and the naive notion that two imperfect people will somehow bring each other nothing but lifelong joy.