In 2007, TLC’s Jon & Kate Plus 8 was an instant hit, introducing the world (or, at least, cable TV audiences) to the not-so-typical Gosselin family.
As the title of the show implied, Jon and Kate Gosselin have eight children: a set of twins (Cara Nicole and Madelyn “Mady” Kate) and a set of sextuplets (Aaden, Collin, Alexis, Hannah, Leah, and Joel). The show followed the parents as they struggled to keep up with the sizable challenges of raising their extraordinary family.
When the show first aired, the sextuplets were 3 years old, while the twins were just shy of 7. Today, Cara and Mady are preparing for college, while the sextuplets recently celebrated their 14th birthday. It’s been a crazy journey—and most of it was televised.
Now titled Kate Plus 8, the family’s show is still on the air, albeit in a much more limited form. The most recent season was a limited run of only three episodes—understandable, given that the family has spent most of their lives on the air—in which Kate and crew prepared for their 13th birthday celebrations.
We decided to take a look at the family’s history and some of the lesser-known facts about their rise to international fame.
The couple welcomed their twins to the world in 2000.
While attempting to get pregnant, they learned that Kate had developed polycystic ovary syndrome, which prevents normal ovulation. The couple decided to undergo treatments to stimulate ovulation, which Kate later described as a series of “painful injections.”
In 2004, Kate underwent fertility treatments again, which resulted in the sextuplets. Born prematurely, they ranged in weights from 2 pounds, 7.5 ounces (Aaden) to 3 pounds, .5 ounces (Collin). The births captured national headlines, and after a series of popular documentaries, the family agreed to start production on a reality show for TLC. The first episode, which aired on April 4, 2007, featured the family visiting a pumpkin patch.
The show was an immediate success, attracting millions of viewers per week. Behind the scenes, however, Jon and Kate were fighting regularly. Jon later said that the TLC show put a tremendous amount of stress on his life.
“It is hard being on this side of the camera, and not just sitting here, that’s the easy part, but just going out in the world and trying to live your life,” he said in May 2009. “People see your life as episodes, and you see it as a date on the calendar. We don’t have privacy at all. If I go out, people know I go out and photograph it and do everything they gotta do…That’s tough for me. I can’t be Jon, I have to be Jon and Kate Plus 8, which is a real hard thing for me. I still haven’t come to grips with it.”
In 2009, the couple separated, then filed for divorce, which led to a lengthy (and very public) custody battle. Things got ugly pretty quickly; Jon characterized his marriage as “kind of like 10 years of a business transaction,” while Kate claims that Jon “changed overnight,” staying out late and making extravagant purchases instead of spending time with their kids.
“People closest to me thought I was crazy and making it up,” Kate told People in 2016. “When they saw it for themselves, they were like, ‘Whoa.’ They saw the proof—and then I saw all the letters from women saying, ‘I’ve been there, too.'”
Per reports, the kids have had a somewhat troubled relationship with their father.
According to Jon, that’s partly because the custody arrangements favor Kate. In 2016, he told Yahoo! that he hadn’t seen Collin in a year and a half.
“I can’t do anything,” he said at the time. “It’s unfair of [Kate] to do that, considering she claims that she does her best for all my kids. Dah, dah, dah, drama. ‘I’m perfect.’ No one’s perfect, honey. Trust me.”
“Now all the secrets are coming out because I’m not afraid to say anything. ‘How come you only get four kids?’ Because who I get is who I get. Whoever comes through that gate or gets off that [school] bus is who I get. And Collin is homeschooled, so he doesn’t get off a bus.”
Twins Mady and Cara pushed back against their father’s characterization of their home life.
“Here’s how I feel about this,” Mady said online. “This year I’m going to turn 16. I’m going to be learning to drive, taking the PSATs, thinking about college…so much is going on in my life. And the last thing I have time for is a toxic relationship.”
“He makes it seem like we’re being kept from him, which is insane,” Mady said in 2016. “He should maybe spend some time thinking about why we don’t want to see him, and maybe realize that if he ever does want a relationship with us, talking about us on TV is not the way to make that happen.”
“He doesn’t even know us. How can he dare to talk about us?”
Jon, however, maintains that he has limited options for contacting his children.
“If the kids want to come, they come,” he says. “I love them all, but I am going to focus on the ones that want to come. My hands are tied.”
In the same interview, Jon mentioned that he has no contact with his children when they’re at Kate’s house and criticized his ex-wife for not working with him to schedule full-family visits. He has resolved to avoid the entertainment industry, instead working as a consultant, and he’s been dating Colleen Conrad, a nurse seven years older than him, since 2014.
“I wouldn’t be here today if I would have made different choices,” he told In Touch in 2017. “Who knows who I would have met? There is good and bad with every decision,” he exclusively told the mag. “I love my kids and I am happy they are financially taken care of, but who knows what the aftermath of filming or being famous will affect them as young adults.”
Meanwhile, Kate’s still single (much to the chagrin of her kids).
“Now, more than ever, my kids actually are getting annoyed that I’m still single,” the mother revealed in a promo for Kate Plus 8. “If I had the avenue [to start dating], I’m in.”
Of course, dating isn’t always easy when you’re a well-known television personality. In April 2018, reports began circulating that Kate would appear in a TLC dating show called Kate Plus Date, and she confirmed the rumors in an interview with People.
“As we’re talking about Mady and Cara going off to college which is becoming more and more of a reality, it’s gonna happen, it almost became like a worry for them, too, like, ‘Mommy, you’re gonna be all alone soon,'” she told the magazine. “But it was very apparent, now that they’re older and talking about dating and how they’re all gonna get married someday … it became apparent: They want someone for me. They want me to have somebody in my life.”
Kate says that she sees a reality dating show as a safe alternative to blind dating, noting that she’s comfortable on camera.
“I won’t be just doing some scary online thing,” she told People. “I mean, online dating, seriously—I put my profile in there and people will know who it is within 90 seconds. No, this is probably the safest way for me to date, let’s be honest.”
Meanwhile, she’s preparing for the inevitable heartbreak of an empty nest.
“To think that when the little kids are in college and my house is empty? I can’t fathom it,” she said in a TLC promo.
Mady and Kara, now 17, will soon head off to college. Kate celebrated her daughters’ 17th birthday with an emotional social media post.
“Happy birthday to my girls!” she wrote. “My heart hurts because you’re almost adults and will soon leave for college, yet it smiles because I am seeing who you’ve become: brilliant, beautiful, kind, caring, logical, responsible, empathetic, honest, amazing individuals!”
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….And then you blink, and they TURN SEVENTEEN!! Happy birthday to my girls! My heart hurts because you're almost adults and will soon leave for college, yet it smiles because I am seeing who you've become: brilliant, beautiful, kind, caring, logical, responsible, empathetic, honest, amazing individuals! I love you both SO VERY MUCH! Let's have a wonderful day together celebrating Y❤️U! #Cara #Mady #SeventeenthBirthday #ILoveYou #ForeverAndAlwaysNoMatterWhat 🎁🎈🎂🎁🎈🎂🎁🎈🎂🎁🎈🎂🎁🎈🎂
“I love you both SO VERY MUCH! Let’s have a wonderful day together celebrating Y ❤️U!”
And if you’re ready to really feel old, Kate recently shared one of Mady’s selfies, adding in hashtags like #CherishingEveryMoment and #LimitedTimeLeftAtHome.
The sextuplets, meanwhile, seem to be enjoying their teen years. Alexis is still the family comedian. Aaden, the smallest of the sextuplets at birth, now sports a chic pair of rectangular frames. Leah no longer has braces, and Hannah is now the president of her 7th grade class, and Joel, the youngest, has developed an easygoing personality and a bright smile.
But Collin, for the most part, stays off-camera; he’s currently living full-time at a facility for children with special needs, where he’s regularly visited by his siblings and parents. His absence is a source of controversy for the show, but Kate insists that she’s doing what’s necessary to help him reach his potential.
“Collin has special needs,” Kate told People in 2016. “[There’s] a fairly fluid diagnosis of what those needs are, but he needs to learn certain strategies to help him deal with things. This has been a struggle we’ve had for a very long time, and it’s one I’ve dealt with on my own. I’ve felt very alone in this.”
“We miss him so much, so it’s been hard because there is a huge hole in our family without him here,” she said. “But it comforts us to know he’s where he needs to be right now, and I can feel good about that.”
— BillyHo (@Bill_HoJr) May 22, 2013
While she didn’t elaborate, we wouldn’t expect to see Collin re-enter the public eye anytime soon. In fact, the entire Gosselin clan seems to be spending more time off-camera—with the notable exception of Kate—and that’s perfectly fine. After all, six teenagers are a handful for any family; we’re guessing that a 12-episode commitment wouldn’t make things much simpler.