Dear Kim and Kanye: Your New Daughter Is Not a Game

Why the birth of the latest Kardashian girl gives me pause.

So over the weekend, Kim Kardashian had herself a baby. Kim tweeted that her as-yet-unnamed child is a “miracle,” which of course she is, because all babies are miracles. The baby’s daddy, Kanye West, delivered an album, Yeezus, which he recorded in France while Kim was stateside, waxing large with child and finalizing the finale to her two-and-a-half-month marriage to basketball player Kris Humphries.

I wish the new parents all the best. But I’ve got my fingers crossed for that little girl.

In a recent article in Time magazine headlined “Why I Watch Reality TV With My Kids,” TV critic James Poniewozik noted that contemporary television tends to “gamify aspects of adult life—cooking, traveling, keeping a house, holding a job.” The observation rang strikingly true. Chopped, The Amazing Race, Survivor, The Voice, All-Star Celebrity Apprentice—via every arena imaginable, young people today are taught that life’s a game to be won or lost. (They’re also taught that losing isn’t the end of the world, which isn’t such a bad lesson to learn.) Apparently the real, actual adult world is too threatening for millennials to contemplate without an overlay of game show to make it all, you know, fun.

In some shows, the competition is overt. In others, it’s more veiled. What, really, is the Real Housewives franchise but a competition over who can behave most badly? Isn’t Teen Mom, pared to its essence, an exploration of which young mother can be the worst at nurturing? Nobody watches Teen Mom for the rare occasions when its young madonnas clasp their illegitimate offspring to their overexposed bosoms; the payoff is when said madonnas whore it up with guys other than their baby daddies—or, even better, scream obscenities at their own moms.

I like cooking competitions. I love The Voice. It’s when the showdowns come over human relationships that things get dicey for me. Toddlers & Tiaras is a good example. On that show, parents bribe, cajole and threaten their kids into the most un-kid-like behavior, always claiming that Kacee or Chelsee or Britnee just loves having her heinie bronzed and her hair teased and her brows plucked and her two-foot-tall self stuffed into outfits that resemble wedding cakes. Another one that gives me pause is Dance Moms, in which girls who mostly seem like very pleasant kids get manipulated by their moms and their bloated Machievellian coach into becoming perfect little bitches. There’s no drama in niceness; what gets ratings are prima donnas pitching hissy fits.

If grown-ups want to act like idiots and hang out on desert islands and fly in hot-air balloons and try to outdo one another at making an appetizer using boysenberries, pigs’ knuckles, turpentine and Play-Doh, they’re welcome to it. Bring it on! I’m happy to watch bad behavior on the part of consenting adults. I’ve come to draw the line at kids in reality shows, though. I just can’t bear to look.

The Kardashian family has managed to build a highly successful franchise on letting just about everything hang out. We’ve seen the insides of their homes, their cars, their closets—even what passes for their souls. Mom Kris Jenner doesn’t seem to need any sort of filter between her and her girls and the world, and said girls seem to have absorbed the lessons learned at her knees. Kim famously wore crippling stiletto heels throughout her pregnancy—which ended five weeks prematurely. Style over substance, I guess.

Kim and Kanye, I know that even as I write, you’re likely in negotiations over which tabloid will snag the first photos of your bundle of joy. As your agents and lawyers set to work, keep in mind that with babies, there aren’t any second takes. What you do in the next three highly formative years—together or separately, grudgingly or in the spirit of celebration—will largely determine the course of your daughter’s future. I suppose it’s too much to expect you to keep her out of the public eye. But childrearing isn’t like cooking, or singing, or finding a job, because it’s not about you. It’s about someone more important than you. Let’s hope you can rise to that.