Dec 23, 2010
An Open Letter To Kate Gosselin
Metro Parent Publisher Alyssa Martina shares her thoughts on – and disappointment with – the mom TV reality star after she spoke at a Metro Parent event on May 14, 2009
Thank you for coming to Detroit last Thursday and being a part of Metro Parent Magazine’s Distinguished Speakers Series. I know that the many moms in the audience were excited to see you. I also appreciate your sharing with us the difficult time you are going through right now. The life of a celebrity isn’t an easy one as you are learning first hand. You’re in the spotlight now – surely, you’re facing some trade-offs for offering your family to the public.
You’ve become a public figure yourself, Kate, and what you say and how you behave will all be examined under a microscope. That’s the price, I suppose, for being willing to share your life on your television show, “Jon & Kate Plus 8.” You get a nice paycheck, some great perks and celebrity status. In the balance, your life becomes exposed, and you no longer have the same control as you did when you led a more private lifestyle. I’m not sure I’d take this deal but your priorities are clearly different than mine and I applaud you for trying to keep it real.
Quite honestly, although we were delighted to bring you to town, as a mother myself, I was surprised that you’ve hit the road to promote your two books, given all that’s going on and the responsibilities that you have with eight children, all under the age of 8. You have a full plate, and it must be a struggle to balance all of the demands on your time and in your life.
At our program, you spoke at length about your quite adorable kids – twins and the sextuplets (I recall hearing you say that you didn’t like the word sextuplets and prefer referring to them as “multiples”). Although you have a beautiful family, it can’t be a piece of cake raising such a large brood! You said it yourself: Nothing has come easy for you; you and your husband, Jon, have struggled for everything. Although I’m not a regular viewer myself, I’ve heard from many moms that your show’s popularity is due to the fact that “ordinary moms” relate to you and feel that if you can swing it, so can they!
Your remarks at the presentation offered several lessons for the 800 (mostly) moms who came to hear you. You had some great insights which I’ve classified into the “Four ‘G’s”; that is, four lessons that have guided you since the birth of your set of six.
The Lesson of Gratefulness
The first lesson you’ve learned raising eight kids is that parents should never take for granted all of the wonderful things that we have. Gratefulness is indeed important and, as a parenting tool, it’s even more relevant. Children learn this attitude of gratitude from their parents.
Gratefulness gives rise to happiness and focuses on the fullness of life. Without gratefulness, we can’t appreciate the small and large wonders that our children provide. We can’t value the truly remarkable blessings they bring us, even when we’re tearing our hair out! Without gratitude, our mind focuses on the next thing on the list that needs to get done, rather than being mindful and grateful – of the here and now. The Lesson of Gratitude is crucial to living a rewarding life. As Albert Einstein observed, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Yes, it can always be better, but it can always be worse, too. Much worse.
The Lesson of Giving
You also shared The Lesson of Giving. Before your children, you characterized yourself as being self-absorbed. You indicated that you were never one to look beyond the needs of your own family or to look beyond yourself and help others. With so many people helping you during that first year after the birth of the multiples, you began to appreciate the importance of giving and sharing to those who had less.
I must say that I was a little put off by your insight that when you give, you are rewarded in turn. In theory, I support this notion, but the rewards are far less material than you suggested, Kate. You explained how when you give, you almost always get something tangible back in return, confirming to you that your gift was the right thing to do. To be honest, your story of writing a check to a nearby family who had some major struggles in their life only to receive, almost serendipitously, an anonymous gift card for the exact amount was disheartening to me.
I’d like to believe that the spirit of giving inherently suggests that you won’t necessarily get back anything in return. That’s the whole point of generosity – giving for the sake of giving. What you get back is the intrinsic satisfaction of helping others. I found your comments about giving and generosity a little self-serving. Still, the Lesson of Generosity is an important one for all parents. True generosity springs from compassion. As the Dalai Lama once said, "Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive."
The Lesson of Getting Through
Next, you shared with us the Lesson of Getting Through – the lesson of the “grind.” You noted how mundane and repetitive a parent’s job is. “Moms get up, make breakfast, feed breakfast, clean up breakfast, then make lunch, feed lunch, clean up lunch … and so on and so on.” You mentioned how it sometimes feels like a pointless job, but it’s an important one and that parents shouldn’t lose their focus or give up.
Kate, you are probably an expert on the repetition of parenting! One diaper after the next, one meal after another, one potty training followed by a second, over and over again; of course, the endless litany of chores, responsibilities and tasks scream of being a mom or dad.
I liked how you spoke of this aspect of mothering your kids, but I would have enjoyed hearing more about the fruits of your efforts. Think about it – we do this not because it’s fun or easy but because there’s purpose behind it. It’s not pointless or futile, and the rewards are vast. Rather than shuddering at the monotony of parenting, I suggest that parents appreciate that children often thrive and grow into independent, secure adults when surrounded by routines, schedules and security. Without some order and, yes, a lot of repetition, our lives can become governed by chaos, clutter and ambiguity. The burdens – and ordinariness - of parenting also offer lessons in patience and perseverance. As a parenting expert, I advise parents to focus less on the arduousness of the work and more on the outcomes. Perhaps, St. Thomas More said it best: “The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”
The Lesson of Guiltlessness
Another key learning that you shared with us, Kate, is that guilt has no place in parenting. The Lesson of Guiltlessness is a good one, because too often parents feel guilty in how they raise their children. “Continue what you’re doing,” you offered the audience. “And, never be sorry for a job well done.”
You spoke about how “mommy guilt” can get to you. It must be hard for you, especially now that you’re touring around the country. You acknowledged that you don’t get enough time to snuggle with each of the children and that, being so goal driven, it’s hard for you to be in “the moment” with the kids.
Your advice to “leave it alone – there’s always tomorrow” is sound. Parenting has the unique capability of making parents feel guilty. You are quite right when you suggest that parents should rid themselves of guilt. It’s destructive and places the focus on perfection. Being a parent is a continuous process that actually requires making some mistakes in order to learn, improve and grow.
Graciousness, The Lesson You Left Out
I think, however, you forgot one very important lesson that is also a crucial skill for parents, Kate. Graciousness is a critical skill and attribute for all parents. You failed to show any graciousness in your appearance last week. I did not find you to be a particularly kind, warm or nice person. You were unfriendly and actually quite aloof and rude to your hosts and sponsors. There were many in the audience who perceived a sense of snootiness as well. I know because they came up to me afterwards and mentioned it.
I often tell parents that we model the way for our kids. The lesson of graciousness captures traits of kindness and generosity of spirit, both important in building character in our children. Graciousness is more than social etiquette. It’s the quality of being pleasant, thoughtful and kind-hearted. As parents, when we act graciously, we demonstrate to our children that we value this trait and want to see it in them. The way to raise a kind and gracious child is to be a kind and gracious person.
Kate, I know that you are going through a difficult time, as rumors abound about your marriage and your personal life. Unfortunately, when you decided to share your life with a huge viewing audience, you gave away many of your rights to claim privacy. You clearly enjoy several benefits and perks of a celebrity lifestyle. This was clear in your new “look,” sporting a lovely new hairstyle, and arms that rival Michelle Obama’s. But that doesn’t mean that you need to be haughty or carry an air of self-privilege at the expense of others. Otherwise, you risk being seen as an opportunistic “Octo-mom” looking for fame and glory. Remember that parents like you specifically because they relate to you as the “mom-next-door” and not as a self-important starlet.
Kate, you are entitled to have it all. And I wish you and your precious family much success in the journey ahead. You deserve a wonderful and enriching life. But, please understand that you can’t demand the accoutrements of a celebrity life without also knowing that there is a downside: namely, losing some of your freedom and privacy. As you continue to be in the public eye, don’t lose sight of this thought: Wherever you go, whatever you do, walk with kindness, compassion and gratitude for others as well as yourself and know that you model the way, not only for your children, but for parents everywhere. That is the most important message we can pass on to others.
Metro Parent Publisher and President and Certified Parenting Coach