I can hardly relate to Kim Kardashian, but we are both single moms.
Kardashian was criticized for not mentioning her nannies in a recent interview about parenting.
On the other hand Andy Cohen was relatable despite mentioning the nannies he has.
It's a rare occasion that I identify with a Kardashian. All of my body parts are original. I only have 203 Instagram followers. I'm not sure what "contouring" is. But when self-help guru Jay Shetty's podcast interview with single parent Kim Kardashian dropped in late May, I was hopeful. Unfortunately, my hope was short-lived. Yes, Kim vaguely discussed single parenting in the interview — "It's just me to play good cop and bad cop" — but online outlets dragged her immediately. Absent from her parenting narrative was the rumored one-to-one ratio of nannies to children in her home.
Reality TV personalities such as Kim Kardashian attract us with their extravagant lifestyles, but they connect and maintain our attention with displays of vulnerability. Acknowledging privilege doesn't alienate audiences; in fact, it shows that despite affluence, parenting is hard.
I'm a single mom who loves reality TV
As a single mom and scientist who studies families, reality television is the ultimate escape from my too-serious life. I revel in the drama of Real Housewives' Puppygate or Scary Island storylines. I about lost it when Chrishell from "Selling Sunset" shacked up with G. Flip. I follow every "Indian Matchmaking" character from Aperna to Bobby Seagull.
But my interest is not solely in the drama. The appeal of these personalities is that they are at once aspirational and sympathetic. I can't tell a Louis Vuitton from a Louboutin, but there is comfort in knowing that when it comes to family issues, we're actually quite similar.
The appeal of real humans as television characters is that their vulnerability can illuminate the commonality of the human experience. I'll hopefully never have to settle a $100 million low-cal mixed drink lawsuit like "RHONY's" Bethenny Frankel, but I know what it's like to be exhausted by the antics of a rage-texting co-parent while raising a young daughter.
I don't post my breakfast to TikTok, but Khloe Kardashian's recent admission that she and her daughter are "sickly codependent" caused me to examine how enmeshment with my daughter might hinder my intimate relationships. Reality television characters provide outlandish landscapes and storylines alongside raw human emotion. In the 2-D world of flawless social media posts, these unscripted, intimate moments provide a reminder that regardless of income, we can't escape the shadow of family.
All parents can relate to some level
Thus, the online backlash against Kim Kardashian's convenient removal of nannies from her parenting narrative demands the authenticity of the experience. There is no shame in saying, "Even with resources, I still suffer from mom guilt. If I feel this stressed with nannies, imagine what it must be like for moms without help." But in making childcare labor invisible, Kim negates any goodwill listeners have for the struggles of all parents, regardless of the number of Instagram followers. They show this in their emphatic rejection of her narrative.
Kim's interview contrasts starkly with another heavily-publicized podcast interview with Bravo mastermind Andy Cohen. In it, he speaks about the help he has during the day. But he is also very specific in recounting his struggles as the only single gay dad on the playground. He describes the loneliness he felt when his second child was born and how his missteps as a parent often leave him in tears.
As a single mom almost since my daughter was born, and who is the only single parent in my daughter's entire preschool, the fact that Andy Cohen pays nannies dissolves as an alienating factor when he narrates his struggles so specifically. Kim Kardashian expresses vulnerability by saying, "Parenting is hard." Andy Cohen shows how it is hard. Those of us looking for common experiences in our reality stars prefer the second method of connection.
Single parenting is probably hard for Kim Kardashian
To be sure, Kim Kardashian could say anything about parenting and still get dragged through the blogs. It seems as if two groups of people just can't get it right: Kardashians and moms. But for those of us who parent alone every single day, the experiences of reality TV personalities who are also single parents serve to unify our distance.
I believe that parenting is hard for Kim Kardashian. I also believe that having a low ratio of nannies to children provides some relief from the struggles many single parents face. An acknowledgment of this tension should quiet even her toughest parenting critic.
Jill Inderstrodt, PhD, MPH is a maternal health researcher. She writes about family health as a Public Voices Fellow with AcademyHealth in partnership with the OpEdProject.
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