Thursday, September 8, 2011

"You're a house cat, you're very important and you have little to do."

How I learned to be a good wife and parent from Kate Gosselin 
and Betty Draper.

 Could these two TV Moms have anything in common other than just that, being TV Moms? One is a fictional creation of a an upper class 1960's world. Here's the twist: The other is a fictional creation for reality TV in the 2000's. Yes, I'm sorry to say, but Kate Gosselin is as made for TV as Betty Draper. She has created an image, a brand and a TV show all around her children. She's the frazzled mom of 8 who had to pick up the slack from her lazy husband (now ex-husband). Betty is the bored mother of 3 who is frazzled in her attempt at perfection. While Mad Men creator, Matt Weiner has crafted Betty with the help of writers and show development, Kate has written her character over the course of her sextuplets' lives. 

 I had noticed that Kate came back into the spotlight (her favorite place, regardless of what that means for her children). Her show had been canceled and even her most fervent supporters are noticing the cracks in this woman's mental health. She's convinced that she and her children deserve the lifestyle that Jon and Kate Plus Eight provided them and now she wants to go into "television production". Instead of seizing the moment, loving her kids and stepping away, she only wants more.

 We are now on the third season of Mad Men. The sweet, scorned and silent Betty Draper is long gone. She's totally unlikable to me. Fans and critics alike can't quite agree on if she should be acting this way or if her behavior is justified. Her children spend more time with their African-American nanny/housekeeper than their mother. She sends them away with one word and only brings them to her for chastisements. She is severe to her husband, who for a time only wanted forgiveness and reconciliation. 

 These two women have permeated our culture through television. Mad Men is a huge success and continues to garner praise. We are all waiting with baited breath for the next season. Kate has gone from being a little known hero in Christian circles for not "selectively reducing" (can I just say that's the worst phrase ever and I am pleased that she didn't pick and choose her children) her multiples, to being a tabloid punching bag. Remember when she and Jon were on every cover of every magazine? First saying they weren't divorcing and then they were separated and finally, they were divorcing and Jon was off with some young girl?  

Showing the cracks in veneer, 1960.
Showing the cracks in the veneer, 2009.

  Last night it dawned on me that I could learn quite a bit about marriage, family and motherhood from these two. 

1. Appearance is everything.

Betty Draper is falling apart. You'd never know it though. Her house is immaculate, her husband is handsome and successful, she has obedient children, and even perfectly manicured nails. If we were a fly on the wall, which is what the show affords us, we would realize that everything around her is chipping away except her nails. The neighbors will never know though, she has an outfit for everything. Not just for herself, but for her kids and husband. They look great. The united Draper front.

The Gosselin children are always matching. Not only that, but they are constantly matching while wearing GAP Kids, Gymboree or especially made clothes sent by fans (remember the number shirts?). I can't afford to keep just two kids in GAP Kids or Gymboree unless I find a couple pieces on sale. Much less 8 in matching outfits complete with accessories. Did you ever wonder how that happened? For a couple that struggled to provide when the kids were born, they sure were doing well after JK8. Kate would even sell "unworthy" donated items to consignment stores in the area. There's also the whole issue of Kate's evolving look. The worse things got with her home life, the more "done up" she became. While I totally understand her desire to look better after her stomach stretching to contain 6 children, I do fault her with how far it's gone. Even when the charade was still going on with the family being a happy unit, she continued to look more and more "put together". No more stretch pants, no more dirty blonde hair. Appearance was and still is everything while a marriage falls apart and kids are subjected to their every move being filmed. They even upgraded their house to a multi-million dollar mansion that was suppose to isolate them from the paparazzi & curious public. As long as everything is bigger, shinier and newer, nothing can be that bad, right? 

2. Treat your kids like little interruptions to your day and life.

It's one thing when Betty is cold to Don. He's sorta got that coming to him. It's another when she's an ice princess to her children. She's willing to send them to bed hungry, ignore their needs and stick to a nice schedule of nothing but discipline. I do understand that the 60's were a different decade in parenting. Children were to be seen and not heard. But this goes beyond social ideas of child rearing. Betty Draper cannot stand being around her children for very long. She has contempt for them and it breaks my heart. There's an episode where she catches her oldest, Sally smoking a lit cigarette. She punishes her severely and locks her in a closet. Sally weeps and mentions that she misses her father (who has been kicked out of the house). I could only think "How would she know it was wrong? It's all you do? Even while pregnant?" Nothing is Betty's fault. It's everyone else's fault.
Just like our favorite reality TV mom. Kate almost acts like it's the duty of our society to help raise her children. When the sextuplets were first born, they required a state provided nurse due to their premature bodies and special needs. After the initial year was up, Kate went to the government and asked that the state (aka Tax payers) continue to pay for the care of her own children. She expected her parent's (her father is a pastor) church to fill in the needs for cribs, baby clothes etc. She wouldn't take hand-me-downs, only new items. She also gave away (or sold depending on who you ask) cribs for her sextuplets because they didn't all match. To this day, Kate treats her kids like little problems to be managed instead of children to be loved. They aren't allowed to follow her to the kitchen, they can't tell her their problems because that would be seen as "whining", and most importantly they just be loved on by her. She's too frazzled. That's part of the reason I stopped watching the show. She was far too busy pretending to take care of the house (she had a nanny and house keeper that weren't seen on the show) to just "be a mom". Her kids exhausted her and she let them know it. While Betty Draper is often seen sitting at the kitchen table waiting for Don to come home or while the kids run around, Kate was often seen sitting in a white lawn chair while the kids played. Stick a cigarette in her fingers and Kate is a spitting image!

3. Punish your husband for not being a mind-reader. 

We just watched an episode where Don and Betty are whisked away to Rome for two nights by Conrad Hilton. Despite their short time there, they enjoy the two romantic nights and get along famously. When they return home to three children, Don's job and Betty's shenanigans (no spoilers here), she instantly turns her back on Don. She replies to him in a short manner. While in their room, Don reaches out to her, trying to keep the spark alive by reliving their time in Rome. She looks at him and bluntly says "Don't." Don gives her a gift of a charm (the Coliseum) for her charm bracelet. She is practically bristling when she says something about not being able to see all the sites of Rome. Don just stays put, defeated. Don is a man (a Jon Hamm man, if you will), not a psychic. If you wanted your mind read, go see Madame Leota (that's for all you Disney fans out there) and plop down a few bucks. If you want a good marriage, use your mouth and talk.
When Jon and Kate were married, no one could ignore her constant berating of him. This man couldn't even breathe right. He couldn't feed the children right, he couldn't be the right weight, he couldn't build shelves properly. He just couldn't do anything at all without Kate being on him for it. No wonder he lost his mind after they separated. "Sweet, terrible freedom!", he sang while putting on his Ed Hardy shirts! For two people who went around speaking at churches and duping many generous Christians out of their hard earned money, these two couldn't get along for anything. They played the roles of loving Christian husband and wife for several churches, and then asked for cash only "love offerings" after their presentation. It did bother me, even while I was a viewer, that Kate had no respect for her husband while he (Jon is not perfect, but I believe he's better at parenting) actually worked hard and loved his kids the best he could. This couldn't just be a matter of TV editing. There was too much of it. There isn't a Christian woman I know who loves her husband the way we've been called to love him (like Jesus wants us to) that would yell across Toys R Us: "JOONNN!! HELLO!?!?!" How on God's green Earth was he suppose to know what she was thinking? She never told him. When he mentioned that she hurt his feelings and embarrassed him, she shrugged it off and made an excuse for her bad behavior. Kate just assumed Jon should fall in line with the rest of the kids, not come alongside her like a godly husband. That's why he always failed with her. She just assumed he should know. 

I'm sure there are plenty of other comparisons between these two moms. It just had me thinking and questioning what I valued as a parent and wife. How do I build a life for my family that has no comparison to these two women (other than sometimes sporting some wickedly cool vintage duds like Betty and maybe crushin' on Jon Hamm a little)? Here's what I can take from these shows:

1. Appearance means diddly-squat.Your kids are going to look like disaster zones sometimes and your home isn't going to be perfect. You are not always going to be put together. That's okay. While it's really nice to have a clean and organized home (I'm working on that) and matching kids (that I won't subject them to, they are two very different people). Life is not always going to be scheduled, you aren't always going to have the car of your dream,  the house with the white picket fence or the manicured nails. Those aren't the important things. The important things are Jesus, love and a safe place for your family to come and rest. Even if you do have the nice house, the expensive car and nice clothes for your kids, you're not going to be happy because of it. 

2. Children aren't to be managed. That's my major beef with quite a few Christian child-rearing/baby advice books. Children aren't robots to be scheduled, chastised and controlled. Children are little souls who don't just need rules, they need grace. The last thing I want running around my house when I invite all my grown kids back for a Thanksgiving or Christmas is a pharisee. I don't want my own children to annoy me. ;) Kids are to be seen and heard. They are to be cherished, adored and hugged. While Betty is a product of her time, Kate is a product of an impossible ideal of religious perfection. Her children will fall in line because she's the parent! She's so "overwhelmed" by her kids that she can't even deal with them on a one on one basis. She cannot enjoy them, she's too busy organizing them. They are seen as unit, not individuals. They all must need the same attention, food and discipline (I have an inkling of a feeling that she got some of her ideas from some "Christian" parent driven scheduling gurus). Might I remind any of you reading this that there isn't a perfect parent nor is there a perfect way of parenting. 

3. Communicate with your spouse. So basic and yet so incredibly vital. I know that there's a lot of stress in a marriage when you fail to communicate. Don't be so selfish as to think that you're the only one in the marriage that understands things and that you by yourself are hauling all the workload. The whole point of marriage is a partnership to better understand the way God loves us. We aren't getting married to be happy, we're getting married to understand holiness. To sacrifice for the other, to equally submit and love each other. Don and Betty Draper look like Ken and Barbie, but they are miserable. Don't be fooled by the notion of Hollywood love. Realize what true agape love looks like.

Okay ladies, any other parallels you see on TV between famous TV Moms? Roseanne and June Cleaver? Claire Huxtable and Carla Tortelli? Tell me!

P.S. For those of who wonder why I am so Anti-JK+8:
I was once a huge fan of the show. Cameron and I would watch when Josiah was a baby and I was pregnant with Mae. The idea of multiple kids caught my eye and I loved watching cute kids on TV. It was brainless! The longer I watched though, the more something seemed "off". Why would a Christian woman scream at her husband about forgetting a coupon to buy something as they move into their multi-million dollar mansion? Why are these kids so easily upset while some even display signs of depression? I stopped watching the show about 9 months before the bottom fell out of their marriage. I couldn't take it anymore. The appeal of two struggling parents with cute little ones was fading. The show became a commercial for everything from Juicy Juice to a 5-star ski resort in Colorado. It seemed that all of us Christians that love kids so much, seemed to forget that these kids were technically working and had been for most of their lives. They don't know what it's like to live without cameras and strangers in their home. Something was rotten in the state of Pennsylvania... I started to research and found Gosselins without Pity. A blog created by a few women who wanted to bring about change to child labor laws in other states (California has the Coogan Law for child actors). They also wanted to tell the truth (sometimes brutally) about Kate and Jon. For the first time I felt like this wasn't a show I should watch. There's a verse in Luke that says "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.". I felt like the Gosselin kids were "little ones" and that what their parents were doing to them was a one big long trail into messed-up adulthood. I pray for them whenever I think about it. 


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