Like much of America, it seems, I am currently drawn to watching the TLC reality show “Jon & Kate Plus Eight.” The marriage of Jon and Kate Gosselin, the parents of eight adorable children, appears to be crashing while we spectate. The husband and wife are physically and emotionally distanced by their anger and frustrations, and sitting on their couch to talk about family life they look as if they are at a first meeting with a marriage counselor, which is really where they should be rather than in front of television cameras.
New York Times Motherlode blogger Lisa Belkin says, in a post here, that she is exercising the only objection she can: not watching the show any more.
I find that watching it with my own three kids, who have long been fascinated with the show, is providing many “teachable moments.” Of course the allure of watching it these days is that we all get to play the marriage counselor — opining in our heads or out loud about the state of the Gosselins’ marriage and what they should be doing to fix it.
Earlier in their kids’ lives — the twins are now 8, and the sextuplets just turned 5 — the couple was overt about wanting to do it mostly on their own, trying to manage life with six premature babies and two toddlers with little outside assistance. Though I’ve never been one for baby nurses with my own newborns, it seemed a little strange, given the overwhelming demands and the presumption that they were earning enough by starring in the show to afford paid help, if they weren’t getting it for free (as they seem to get many things — from family trips to Hawaii for their “renewal of wedding vows” just last season, to Jon’s hair plugs).
Given that they appear to be church-going Christians, and that Kate has talked on the show about how she values religion in their lives, it has also been odd that they seem to have little support from their church community.
Watching the show makes me especially grateful for how woven together the parts of my life are — how lucky I am to live amid this web of connections between people in our shul, our school, the neighborhood and the relationships we retain from the parents group that grew out of childbirth ed class more than 15 years ago. Truth is, most of these relationships are with other Jews. Most of our long-lasting relationships have developed through our synagogue (where we’ve belonged for 18 years) and the day school my kids have all attended. As scientific studies about happiness and longevity have documentedthere is much to be said for the ties we make around these hubs.
If we ever really needed help, I have no doubt that our Venn diagram of communities would provide support, as they did when my mother died and when our second child was born with a medical problem.
There is also so much to be said for going to synagogue together. When our family bonds feel frayed by tension or bickering between the kids, we make a point of going to Shabbat services.
There are things about being in shul — a change of environment where there are other people to chat with, time to focus on what is larger than we are, like community and God, and the pleasure of singing — that really help. Our younger kids go in and out of the sanctuary, playing with friends and then coming in to sit with us for a while and be part of services, then running back out again. As we leave the synagogue, I find that we are again smiling easily at one another and we feel, in small but important ways, renewed.
Perhaps Jon and Kate should come to shul with us, or even their church. They should go together as a family and with an extra pair of hands or two, so the parents can sit together and focus on services while others watch the little ones.
I betcha it would help. As the 9.8 million viewers who turned in for the season premiere this week know, they desperately need it.