I know this is going to sound crazy, but I’ve been trying to get in touch with Jon and Kate Gosselin from the Jon and Kate plus Eight program on TLC. I have never written so much as a fan letter to anyone although I have interviewed a few celebrities in my magazine writing days. This has absolutely nothing to do with fan mail or interviewing them. I have a strong desire to contact them and say: WAKE UP!
I rarely watch television. My 13-year-old daughter liked this program because she loves babies and young children. The children are adorable and the episodes usually had some sort of fun or challenging activity going on while the parents interacted with each other and the kids. I found it only moderately interesting, but I sometimes joined my daughter to watch.
For those who may not watch any television or haven’t noticed all the front cover magazine stories on the way to the check out stands, let me update you.
Jon & Kate Plus 8 is a reality television show about Jon and Kate and their eight children: a pair of fraternal twins and sextuplets. The cameras are in their home and focus on the challenges of raising multiple children. The show is currently one of the highest rated programs on TLC and the fifth season premiere was seen by a record 9.8 million viewers, the most watched show of that evening including broadcast television, twice as many viewers as the show’s previous series high.
Jon and Kate’s different personalities were readily apparent. Yet, husbands and wives are often very different, thereby presenting the usual marital challenges. They seemed no different from many couples. There were seemingly minor squabbles but they would come together at the end of each show and talk about it all.
The show suddenly grabbed my interest when I heard things were falling apart in a big way. Reports of marriage infidelity and the two living very separate lives made headlines. On June 22, 2009, legal proceedings were initiated in Pennsylvania to dissolve the ten-year marriage of Jon and Kate. The episode announcing their separation became the most watched episode of the series, with 10.6 million viewers.
The Way of the World
The reason for my newfound interest in Jon and Kate is from my Catholic perspective as an author of a book on saved marriages and also as a wife and mother. Mark and I have had our own ups and downs. We know the stress of raising a large brood. But we also have grown together in our faith in God and faithfulness to the teachings of the Catholic Church. If the odds makers had taken bets on our marriage, they might have given us ten to one odds in favor of us splitting up. And the “one” would have been thought possible due to the children and Catholic teaching against divorce. There was a time when that was the glue that kept us together. But let me tell you, although those are two good reasons, to live an authentic Catholic life, you need more. You need love. And the only true love is the love that comes from God. Only then is there love enough to spread throughout the family and weather the storms. It is the love that never ends. You don’t get it from your spouse, you get it from God. You become filled with that love and then it spreads from there.
Mark and I have not always been the poster children of happy couples, but by golly, though hell and high water, our marriage is stronger than ever now. Our secret? Prayer and filling ourselves up with God’s love. This is something we’ve chosen to do. It did not just happen. I once heard Fr. Corapi state, “Remember, love is not a feeling it is a choice.” Since love comes from God, it means asking for it and wanting it above all else.
Recently, when I expressed regret to my oldest son, Aaron, that Mark and I used to argue in front of the kids, Aaron remarked that even if he and his siblings got mad at each other over something, within minutes, they were always talking and friends again. No one holds grudges in our family. That made me realize that in the midst of our bad example we had also provided a good example. You see, we had no money to take off on separate vacations or set up separate residences. Instead, for good or for bad, we were stuck with each other. Given that we were both striving to be good Catholics, the response to our marital discord was to turn to God and ask for the love we needed. Even if I was furious with Mark, I knew neither of us was going anywhere so the only thing to do was apologize to God and spouse for any bad behavior on my part and ask for the love we needed to go on.
Just the other day, I went to a talk given by Fr. Tom Richter who spoke on the love of God. He stated that Jesus filled Himself up with the love of the Father. Nothing stood in the way of this for there is nothing of greater value.
Fr. Tom made a powerful point when he said that when he ministers to men in prison, he tells them that the most valuable thing they can have in this world, they can have in prison—to fill themselves up with God. So many people that live supposedly free lives deny themselves this most important thing. Jobs, money, prestige and social life are all things that people often seek at the exclusion of God. Even though we know mentally that God should be our all and be at the center of our existence, we push Him out in favor of lesser things. To fill ourselves with the love of God is to be complete and to be in union with the greatest good. But people often instead choose worldly things that will rust and corrode, leaving little or no room for God.
What does any of this have to do with Jon and Kate? Everything. I’ve watched as they’ve made more and more money. Re-runs attest that their home and lives, although complicated by a large family was once simple in other ways. There was not a lot of money or luxuries. The couple was a team. As Kate went to have her tummy tuck, (a charitable donation by a plastic surgeon) the couple hugged and kissed before Kate went into surgery. Jon valued his wife and expressed that he could not imagine trying to raise their children without her. She, in turn, expressed her love for Jon.
High ratings turned this show into a regular weekly program. Before the eyes of many, Jon and Kate began to live the American dream. Nicer clothes, vacations, a bigger home and all the luxuries money could buy slipped into their lives. Yes, the two personalities sometimes clashed and having a camera in their home must have created stress, but something much uglier began to happen: money corrupted this family. Jon and Kate can both buy whatever they want and go wherever they want now, with or without the kids. This, they do.
All the while, Jon and Kate continually look straight into the cameras and say, “The children come first. I’ll do anything for my children.” Anything? How about Retrouvaille, a serious marriage program to work on saving their family? How about marriage counseling? How about turning the cameras off and walking away from the money and publicity? The money and all that the show has given them is supposedly for the children according to Jon and Kate. The house belongs to the children so Jon and Kate will take turns living in it during their time of custody.
But what do the children want? There’s no abuse forcing one to flee this relationship. The example they are setting is horrible. Jon and Kate cut each other loose so quickly, without any indication that counseling and/or God had been brought into the problem.
My other daughter, Mary, likes to watch another reality T.V. show, Eighteen Kids and Counting. This is about the Duggar family, which consists of parents Jim Bob and Michelle and their 18 children. This family has a camera in their home too. But the lifestyles are very different. The biggest difference is that God is continually brought into the center of things. They family still maintains a relatively simple lifestyle and it would appear at least from what the camera captures, the love of God is at the heart of this family and the material world of fame and fortune does not infringe on that. One reality T.V. family is still thriving, the other falling apart. One family is centered on God, the other seemingly not.
So, on the surface, it appears that the Gosselins have attained everything but on a spiritual level, they have nothing. The family is splitting apart before ten million viewers. It’s the American way and there lies the tragedy. This couple and so many in our society are blind to the fact that without God in the center, things eventually spin out of control.
Filling oneself up with God—not money—is the way to love and happiness. Studies have shown that big-time lottery winners typically become less happy than before their win. Have you ever met a person filled with the love of God that was unhappy? Do you know of people with lots of money who are unhappy?
Volumes of research in recent decades have shown that more money produces virtually no increase in life satisfaction. Instead, the studies indicate that dramatic increases in one’s wealth creates only short-term happiness that lasts until people get used to their newfound status.
The Journal of Science reported in June of 2006, “The belief that high income is associated with good mood is widespread but mostly illusory.” One study concluded, “People with above-average income… are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experience, tend to be more tense, and do not spend more time in particularly enjoyable activities.”
It is true that even poor people divorce. But a God-centered couple does not. Even if their personalities are very different, it’s all about love. We all know couples that are as different as night and day and yet they have love. And just as the Beatles once sang, “Money can’t buy me love.” No, God’s love is not for sale. He gives it freely but we need to desire it — above all else.
The Gosselins are not really living the American dream; they are living the American tragedy. I know some will tell me not to be so simplistic, that their troubles are about more than money. I would agree. My contention is that the troubles are actually about only one thing — God, or rather the lack thereof. God centered marriages might still have their struggles but they don’t fall apart.