The one episode of reality TV that featured my family was a much smaller thing than we thought. Shared delusions are central to relationships with abusers, and the chance to soak up the spotlight was no exception for my parents. The show itself was embarrassingly bad – the production quality was abysmal, and we had our dysfunction as a family on display as the subject of entertainment.
Nevertheless, a few months after the first season of Kids by the Dozen aired in early 2007, my parents had already written a book about it, with a big yellow star on the front that says “As seen on TV”. They didn’t realize it was embarrassing at all. In fact, they saw it as a way to proselytize and convince other people to have more kids. By extension, we kids couldn’t express our embarrassment, either. We had to be proud of our “awesome” family. Being on reality TV was a big break for the family business, and other evangelical Christians were interested in the religious aspects of the book’s message.
I thought that my family was at least a little famous because my parents had a platform saying so. I had a part in that platform. I helped write my mom’s cookbook and several speech and debate resources. I didn’t have a choice, but I didn’t think I needed to have one, I believed wholeheartedly in the message. I thought god was directly talking to me, and my family members, and that he had told my parents to build this lifestyle for their family.
Perhaps the most confusing thing about becoming an adult was that I had to realize I was not, even slightly, famous at all. I’d always thought that the show had been a huge success. Yes, we had “haters,” as dad called them, but our Christian beliefs encouraged us that non-believers would attack us. What he neglected to mention is that people were commenting online about how he seemed to be a controlling patriarch, and out of concern for us kids.
It was naïve of me to believe it for so long. That is part of what I’m trying to say here, though – our isolation and lack of access to proper education made for a collection of naïve children and young adults. We believed what our parents taught us because they were the only teachers and source of safety and livelihood that we had.