I've noticed two things about the Jon and Kate Plus 8 drama that's been unfolding in the media over the past two months:
A. Few people are surprised by the announcement last week that Jon and Kate Gosselin—parents of sextuplets and twins and stars of the reality show on The Learning Channel—are separating.
B. Nobody seems to be happy about it.
It's true that in America we appear to be drifting away from a commitment to marriage, with more couples than ever living together and having children out of wedlock. Our divorce rate remains one of the highest among nations. But a story like this shows me that most of us still want the dream to come true—we want couples to stay together and live happily ever after. We remember how special a solid marriage is, and how important it is for children to have parents who love each other and work out their differences with no thought of pursuing divorce.
Last week's Jon and Kate Plus 8 had to be one of the saddest hours of television I've ever seen. Also, one of the most frustrating.
It was sad to see evidence of a marriage that has fallen apart.
The images were a bit jarring: Eight happy children—the twins and the sextuplets—playing outside in their new playhouses, juxtaposed with clips of their parents interviewed separately on the same couch. Happy images of the family in past programs, cutting to the parents saying they needed to split up for the sake of the children.
As the show progressed, I found myself arguing mentally with Jon and Kate. When they spoke of their terrible communication, I thought, You won’t talk to each other, but you’ll talk to the camera and reveal your thoughts and feelings to millions of Americans?
When Jon said, “I will do anything for my kids,” my inner reply was, So how about fighting for your marriage? Don’t you think that’s important for your children?
As I look through coverage of Jon and Kate in the media, I don't see many people happy about the Gosselins heading toward divorce. They're wondering why the Gosselins don't seek counseling. They're worried about what this will do to the eight Gosselin children. It's a cultural conversation: Yesterday a co-worker was driving to work and heard a long discussion on the radio about what Jon and Kate could to do save their marriage.
"This episode was the hardest, ever, for me to watch," one Entertainment Weekly reader lamented. "After the show was over, I broke down and cried. It was extremely hard (beyond words to describe) to even hear Jon and Kate say they are splitting up. When you grow attached to a family, it is very hard to watch it all fall apart. I wish Jon and Kate were able to talk it out and not let it end this way. I am mostly concerned about what is going to happen to the children. I wish the family the best of luck and hope things can only get better."
For some, watching Jon and Kate's marriage deteriorate brought back some unhappy memories. "Enough already!" another viewer commented. "Now the viewers (not me anymore) will be 'treated' to the sad reality of a broken family. I think most of us have seen something like this within our families and friends. It will be very painful to watch these two people and their children—too much reality for me."
A counselor recently wrote for a Christianity Today blog that she was “squirming in my seat” as she watched the program:
The problems they were describing (in separate interviews) were actually quite common and normal in most marriages. I’ve heard many people express their anger and sadness about feeling underappreciated, having to put dreams on hold, and enduring their spouse saying and doing hurtful things The biggest test will be how the Gosselins, who are professing Christians, choose to deal with these universal marital issues … Most disturbing was the eerie silence in the midst of their anger-filled monologues: there was no counselor to intervene. Self-justifying, self-righteous, bitter statements were left hanging in the air unchallenged and unquestioned, with no outside perspective. Unless they have an intervening wisdom, they are headed for destruction.
I guess we like happy endings, and we can still pray for one here. I'd love to see Jon and Kate attend a Weekend to Remember® marriage conference, for example—provided they left the camera crew at home. Marriages much worse than theirs have been saved when couples realize the need to make Christ the center of their lives and their relationship.
Their relationship is not hopeless. But they need to humble themselves to the point that they are willing to follow God no matter where He leads.