Jon and Kate Will "Weather the Storm" - But at What Cost?

Filed under: Celeb Parents

Jon Gosselin has been in the news recently, but not for anything his kids will be proud of. The reality TV father of eight was caught leaving a night club with a much younger woman, while his wife, Kate, was thousands of miles away promoting her new book. Jon has denied that there was anything inappropriate going on, and yesterday Kate Gosselin, in a decidedly subdued interview, told the "Today" show's Meredith Viera that she and Jon will "weather the storm." Nonetheless, I am left wondering what the toll will be, both on their family and their marriage.

The news of Jon Gosselin's infidelity hit home for me. Not the alleged infidelity, but the obvious strain reality television stardom is having on his marriage and family. You see, not long ago, my husband and I were approached to do a reality show about our made–on-the-Real World marriage, five kids and life in a small, rural Wisconsin town. No strangers to reality TV, we initially tossed the idea around, but in the end, decided not to do it. We have never regretted our decision, though I confess to complaining, "Look what we missed out on!" when I first saw their sprawling Pennsylvania home with adjoining farmhouse in US Magazine.

Kate Gosselin of Jon and Kate Plus 8

    Do you ever wonder what life would be like if you had one more child? How about two more? How about SIX more?

    Four years ago, Jon and Kate Gosselin went from being parents of two to parents of eight, and their lives have never been the same.

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    Today we all have a window into that life on TLC's Jon and Kate Plus 8. And of course, part of peeking into someone else's life is hypothesizing how we might do things differently or better, because it's always easy to imagine what you would do in someone else's shoes.

    What is harder to imagine is what it would really be like to walk in those other shoes -- what's it like to wake up every morning and be Kate Gosselin? ParentDish had a chance to ask her just that recently.

    In a normal week, the Gosselins have a television crew in their house about half the time, which is a lot, if you think about it. And while they will occasionally opt out of filming specific moments with their kids, the Gosselins have no editorial control over the show -- what you see is what you get, packaged by a team of folks at Discovery and TLC. But, Kate says, this is reality TV, and it accurately reflects life at the Gosselin house; nothing is pre-planned or made up. "We don't have time to memorize scripts," she jokes.

    I believe that.

    "We set out to show the truth," Kate says, "I couldn't watch it if it weren't true." What you see, in every televised moment, is precisely what is happening -- no stage directions or do-overs. This is life at the Gosselin house.

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    Kate Gosselin has gotten quite a bit of flak, both from the media and from viewers, for the way she treats her husband; the two are often shown bickering during the show. Kate says the criticisms don't bother her; she doesn't Google herself or make a practice of reading about herself on or off line. "Everyone has an opinion," she says, "and I'm only paying attention to my own." But she does admit that the way the show is edited affects how people see her family and her marriage. "If Jon and I have three spats over a two day period, they're going to edit it to make it look like those happened in the 22 minute period." The show is just a small slice of her family's life, after all.

    Kate is clearly focused not on what goes on outside her family but on her children. Her goal, she says, is to treat each child like an only child -- a hard thing to do when you're the mom of eight. "I hold myself to a very high standard," she says. At the same time, though, she's not trying to be perfect, or even to appear perfect to viewers of the show. She's just living her life.

    And yes, she's living it with television cameras in her house, but it's still her real life. Kate says that while the experience of being on television has changed her life, it hasn't changed who she is. She says the same about having eight children -- "It's hard to live through what we have lived through and not change. We are the same -- it's how people treat us" that is different.

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    One of the hardest things about her family, Kate says, is the noise; there are days when the older girls, Cara and Mady, come home from school and their reports about what they have done are drowned out by the noise of the sextuplets. More than anything, she says, she longs for peace and quiet -- otherwise, she would not change a thing about her life.

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    Kate finds the humor in her life -- recently, she partnered with P&G to help promote some of their brands, including Bounty paper towels, which she refers to as "my weapon of choice." She also laughs about the end of nap time at the Gosselin house; the sextuplets are four now and no one, Kate says, naps any more. But it's a rare night that the family gets through dinner without someone dozing off at the table. Recently, Jon said, "I think we can kiss goodbye ever having a family dinner again." A good night, Kate said, is when the kids push their plates out of the way before they fall asleep.

    You have to laugh about that, and Kate Gosselin does.

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    The Gosselins have a strong faith in God; they are often seen on the show wearing t-shirts with scripture on them and attending church. But despite the fact that the show doesn't highlight their faith, the Gosselins see it as an opportunity to share what they believe. Their website, The Gosselin 10, includes prayers and devotionals, and Jon and Kate travel around speaking to various churches and groups about their life and faith. The show, Kate says, has given them this opportunity to share what they believe.

    And for the Gosselins, being on television is about opportunity, not fame. The show has opened a variety of doors for them; Kate and Jon both work from home, which makes their life as parnents of eight more manageable. But it's not easy by any means -- there are days, Kate says, when she and Jon work until midnight.

    Kate has three pieces of advice for other parents. "Every morning, before my feet hit the floor," she says, "I pray for strength, just enough to get through that day." She reminds parents that a sense of humor can get you through nearly everything -- laugh, she says, don't cry. And finally, the most important lesson of all: "Always remember that bedtime comes, every single day."

Our reason for saying no is that in reality television contracts, it is impossible to get a one-season deal; networks and production companies want the option of multiple seasons should they happily find themselves with a hit show on their hands.

And that, at its heart, is the problem for Jon and Kate. Their initial foray into reality TV was an exciting and, in all likelihood, harmless experience for their unconventional yet totally normal family. The first and second season provided wholly satisfying family entertainment (a rare find these days), and possessed an intangible energy and innocence that appealed to viewers of all ages. Sadly, the latter seasons, with their contrived outings (who would decide to take eight kids on a ski vacation?), predictably upgraded lifestyle, and the heightened camera awareness of the kids, particularly the older twins, have left many viewers watching for altogether different reasons than they did in season one. They're wondering what will become of this family and their beautiful brood. After all, it only took two seasons before the Osbornes were facing rehab story lines -- and it wasn't Ozzy!

The Gosselins must have wondered how season after season of filming would impact their children's sense of normalcy; after all, viewers certainly asked that question. Now that their marriage troubles are the front-page stuff of tabloids, the Gosslins are facing a bigger problem, one they probably never imagined. Their public crisis may compromise what they had before the show: A successful marriage, and a happy family.

Contrary to popular belief, it's really not that easy to be on a reality show, especially one that involves months of filming in your home. It's grueling and psychological stressful, even for adults. I was twenty-two when I appeared on "The Real World" and it took me a couple of years to really process the whole experience and to come back to who I really was, off camera, without the attention that comes with the experience. I have witnessed plenty of former cast members lose their way, and, dare I say, their souls. In the end, I think Jon and Kate will make it; the bigger question is at what cost to the kids?

Rachel Campos-Duffy is a former Real World San Francisco cast member. She is has been married to Sean Duffy from the Real World Boston cast for ten years. She is a writer and stay-home mom of five living in Wisconsin.

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