Can We Please Stop Celebrating Celebrity Co-Parents?

Jen Millard December 21, 2017
Celebrity Co-Parents

It seems like hardly a month goes by without another high-profile celebrity split.

In 2016, Brad and Angelina and Naomi and Liev broke our hearts. This year, Fergie and Josh and Chris and Anna are competing for the same dubious honour.

The end of any marriage is a sad and painful thing but having it play out in public is probably a special kind of torture.

Celebs are put on a pedestal, of course, and we usually just roll our eyes when magazines and websites push their content using pictures of famous people doing things mere mortals accomplish every day, like getting pregnant or giving birth; going to the grocery store or working out.

OMG Beyonce had twins!? Bow down and respect this utter miracle that only six or seven thousand other women experience each year.

Celebrity splits between couples with kids means the headlines will inevitably become less about the gory details and more the couple’s seemingly heroic efforts to co-parent. This is when congratulating celebrities for being normal and decent really gets under my skin. Lauding famous people for co-parenting their child(ren) is like congratulating fathers for “being hands on.” Celebrating stars who co-parent as though they’ve brokered peace in the middle east is nauseating and I’d like it to stop.

Like divorce, parenting in the public eye is probably a nightmare. God knows I don’t want anyone following me to school drop off or catching me giving my kid hell at the playground.

And I know most stars don’t ask for this kind of attention but honestly, ENOUGH with the “how they make it work!” stuff. Congratulating celebs for acting like decent humans is insulting to everyone involved. It perpetuates unhelpful stereotypes and sets unreasonable expectations for people who are co-parenting in the real world.

First and foremost, the children of celebrities should be off limits. Growing up in a famous family is difficult and disorienting enough, but seeing your parents’ divorce as mere entertainment for others is cruel and unusual.

When my parents divorced I just wanted to crawl under a rock. I wasn’t embarrassed by their split and there were no gory details to keep private but it was still a deeply personal and painful experience. I was in my twenties when this happened, a reasonably well-adjusted, functioning adult and it still shook me up and took a long time to get over. Having the whole world know what we were going through would have added an extra layer of suck to an already overflowing suck sandwich.

A parent’s divorce has nothing to do with the child(ren) who should, therefore, be off-limits when it comes to covering this “news.” Speculating about how famous people will co-parent puts the little ones at ground zero through no fault of their own. With apologies to Taylor Swift, I’d like to suggest we exclude the children of divorce from this narrative.

And then there’s the insulting way gossip rags frame their stories of divorce around “HOW THEY MAKE IT WORK!” or “CHRISTMAS WITH THE KIDS!” Do we think so little of famous people that we need to celebrate them acting like decent human beings? Apparently we do because that’s all I seem to read about.

Don’t get me wrong, I think anyone who “uncouples” while keeping a semblance of family intact deserves our admiration. Putting your kids’ needs first despite what might be going through your own head is one of the most selfless acts of parenting I can think of, and parenting is FULL of selfless acts. Despite the hard feelings, disappointment and betrayal your former spouse might have inflicted on you (or you on them) being able to smile and make nice for the kids (and the cameras) must take an incredible amount of effort.

However, I go back to the cringe-worthy concept of parenting in public and every time I read a story about celebrity co-parenting I think about the additional layer of judgement and expectations we heap on parents – and not just famous ones. What if they weren’t successfully co-parenting? What if they weren’t spending holidays together and inviting the ex-spouse over for Sunday dinners? Would that make them bad people who were doing divorce all wrong? Does it make us bad people who are doing divorce all wrong?

Being a celebrity is difficult. No, stop laughing, I truly believe that it is. The things I relish most in life are my privacy and my anonymity. I put a lot of personal details out there in my writing, but no one stops me on the street, follows me to Starbucks or takes pictures of my kids. No one (publicly) judges my outfits, weight, hair or career choices.

But celebrities also have the resources to make co-parenting more feasible than it is for the rest of us. They have managers and hired help to sort out the details. They can afford to jump on a plane and escape when things get rough. They can pack up and leave, or easily rent a house down the street to make co-parenting less logistically challenging.

Most of us don’t have those options. Moving house is a lot more complicated on a real-world salary when we’re also dealing with our own emotional pain AND trying to hold down a job AND comfort our kids AND deal with finances, lawyers, real estate agents and the like.

When we hold celebrities up as exemplary co-parents we set a near-impossible standard for how to behave and what to do doing a divorce. When something deeply personal and painful becomes click-bait I think we all need to think about why it’s so interesting to us.

Coverage of celebrity divorces and co-parenting is the next evolution of the “stars without make-up” craze. It taps into our baser needs to see famous people knocked down a peg, to see beautiful people experiencing not-so beautiful things. Maybe it’s harmless, or maybe it’s a sign that our celebrity-obsessed culture has reached a new low. But until we stop buying the magazines and clicking on the content it’s only going to get worse.

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