Why We Should Care about Jon and Kate

As a rule, I do not watch reality television; so I cannot vouch for the details of Jon and Kate's marriage the way many people I know can. But I do know this much: There is much to be learned from their story -- particularly for the modern generation.

Aside from the obvious -- that money and fame can bring out our darkest impulses, or at least shed light on our priorities -- the most obvious reason for Jon and Kate's fall has to do with the lack of respect the two have for one another. Having watched about 10 episodes at the beginning -- several years back -- and then parts of some recent episodes, I see a change in Jon. I remember thinking several years ago that he appeared to have respect for Kate but winced a bit when she spoke. My husband would watch the exchanges between them and say, "They won't last. He'll put up with that to a certain point, and then he'll check out." He was right: Inherent disrespect will destroy any marriage.

I do not mean to play marriage counselor here. Really. In fact I've remained largely silent about marriage. But as someone who's witnessed a lot of divorce -- my father was divorced (before he married my mother), I've been divorced, my sister has been divorced, and my husband is a product of divorce -- I have strong feelings about marriage. I also have strong feelings about the modern generation: where we've gone wrong as a society, and how we can do better.

Jon and Kate's story is an important one. Jon and Kate, in their early thirties, are the quintessential example (the size of their family notwithstanding) of modern parents: They are young; they are raising kids amidst chaos; and they act more like roommates than they do husband and wife (and I'm not just referring to sex, though that is definitely a biggie). Kate points out that families of multiples are more prone to divorce, and I appreciate that statistic (if it is indeed true; I haven't researched it). I can see how this would happen. Raising children brings out the best and worst of all of us, and the two greatest stresses on any marriage include being the parents of very young children and being the parents of teenagers. These two experiences can, and often do, strain marriages to the breaking point. It's not popular to talk about -- Who wants to think of children as being harmful to a marriage? -- but it's a fact nonetheless.

Still. The fact remains that there are parents whose marriages survive -- and thrive -- despite the reality of child care. Rather than focus on the marriages that fail, wouldn't we do better as a society to follow the lead of those who thrive? Why do we insist on turning to marriage "experts" in the media when the best examples are often found in our own backyards? Look for the folks who've been married for decades. Ask them what they think. Ask them what they did. Or just observe. We can learn a lot if we just observe.

The reason Jon and Kate's story is so important is that, like so many young couples today, their marriage is missing two key ingredients: respect, and the belief that they come first and their children come second. A friend of mine wrote a great blog about this. Check it out.)

In this month's Parents magazine (June 2009) is an article called "Happy Parents, Happy Kids," by Holly Robinson. Robinson admits she used to put her child before her husband, using an example of the time she planned a special weekend with her 5-year old son, Aidan. The two of them were going to take a hike, go to the science museum, and hit a new restaurant she claims they (as if her son gives a whit about a new restaurant) wanted to try. This was a weekend jaunt -- not a weekday excursion while her husband was at work (since, naturally, she works, too). It took the author's mother -- who's clearly from a different generation -- to ask her daughter what her "poor husband was going to do while you're off having fun."

Robinson then writes, "She clearly didn't realize how much times had changed. When I was Aidan's age, family life wasn't focused on the kids. We used to play by ourselves outside all day and go to bed early. My parents would routinely trot off to cocktail parties, and my husband's parents took week long, child-free vacations."

Hello? And this is bad because...? Parenting has shifted so dramatically that many couples today have no idea how to navigate the muddy waters. Children's needs haven't changed one bit. They still need a parent at home, as well as two parents who love each other, are committed to one other, and who stand together on every action they take. "If you and your spouse become distant, it places pressure on your kids to fulfill your emotional needs," writes Robinson.

This is precisely what is happening today. The modern generation has changed the entire dynamic of family life -- by removing both parents from the home, living stressful and chaotic lives, ignoring their marriages, and catering to their children. This is not the way healthy families operate. Healthy families require a parent at home, parents who love and respect one another, a peaceful environment for children, and a clear understanding on everyone's part that Mom and Dad are the boss -- and children are welcome accompaniments to an otherwise happy life.

Jon and Kate's story demonstrates what can happen when parents put their children before each other. It also shows what can happen when one partner treats the other with such disdain that divorce is inevitable. In the July 6 issue of People magazine, Jon Gosselin says this about his marriage to Kate: "I was too passive. I finally stood up on my own two feet, and I'm proud of myself."

So what's the answer for modern parents? Pay a little bit less attention to your kids and a lot more to your spouse. How to cultivate a good marriage is not complicated. It's hard as hell, but it isn't complicated. Men need affection, respect, and tons of sex to be happy. Women need affection, help on the home front, and to be understood. While both parties are responsible for meeting one another's needs, men are far better at holding up their end of the bargain. Most men (not all) will follow the lead of any good woman who treats him with respect (and hopefully, gives him lots of sex; but they'll even compensate for this if they have to as long as the respect is there).

The problem is that men get no respect today. Their needs have been completely dismissed in a world where women now rule. Women's magazines. Women's needs. Women's desire for balance. Women's health. Women's depression. Men are lucky to even be considered for marriage, since we can just get their sperm and move on with our lives. And those who do marry -- which is to say, most men -- have no voice on the home front. They just mill about, doing whatever they're told. Like Jon did.

Treating your husband like he's a boarder in his own home -- as if he's an idiot whose sole purpose in life is to provide you with sperm and be ordered around -- is a recipe for disaster. Kate should have read The Surrendered Wife. She may have saved her marriage.

Bottom line: Treat your spouse with respect, and never put your children before your marriage. It really can be as simple as that.

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