Growing Up as the Daughter of a Real Housewife
In an exclusive excerpt from Danielle Staub's forthcoming memoir, her daughter, Christine, recounts her childhood as the daughter of one of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey."
Illustration by Thomas Warming
When I think of my mother, Danielle Staub, I picture someone beautiful and strong. A single parent, sexual abuse survivor, gay rights advocate, and a fearless defender of those she loves. My mother has a big heart, and I am grateful for the sacrifices she made to provide for my sister and me. I admire her for overcoming great odds. If you believe what you've read about my mother in the press, you probably just rolled your eyes. That's OK—I'm used to that.
It has been us against the world since the first day my mother appeared on The Real Housewives of New Jersey. In her two seasons on the show—and the half dozen years following—my mother has been described in many ways. She's been called trash, garbage, a pig, an extortionist, a felon, a husband stealer. She was even branded as a "prostitution whore." Imagine an irate woman flipping over a table as she screamed that name at my mother. Actually, you don't have to imagine at all, because the scene lives on as one of the most iconic moments in reality television history. As for me, I don't need to be reminded. My little sister and I were there. We saw the table fly on our mother, we heard the expletives, we ran as fast as we could to try to catch up catch up as she was chased around the restaurant, and we heard her cries for help. We felt helpless and unable to defend her.
My name is Christie Staub, and for more than half of my life, my identity can be summed up in one sentence: daughter of one of the most notorious figures in unscripted television history.
In May I will graduate from Seton Hall with a 4.0 and double major in psychology and sociology. I've already been accepted to an Ivy League graduate school on full scholarship. While higher education might not be a prized commodity in the reality show universe—at least, it wasn't on my mother's show, with characters being blatantly dismissive of the need for college—it is something my family values. One day, I hope to be a medical professional. I already know what the job entails, because I was born with a rare heart condition. I had my first heart attack at age nine and since then have spent the years in and out of doctor's offices.You didn't see this on television, but everyone knew about my condition behind the scenes—which of course didn't stop producers and housewives from terrorizing my mother in front of my face. There were lots of things you never saw, both onscreen and off.
Freshman year of high school, for example, I was cornered by a group of football players. "C'mon, Christine," one of them said, as he motioned towards his crotch. "I'm ready for my daily blow job." I was mortified. Not to mention confused. Behind him, the other guys snickered. "Don't be shy, Christine," he said, moving closer. "I mean, isn't this what you and your mom do for fun?"
This wasn't about a 14-year-old freshman. This was about fame, and insinuating someone's daughter was a "slut-in-the-making" made for great TV.
I had no idea what they were talking about. My sister and I didn't watch the Real Housewives. We had seen enough crazy when we filmed, and I was more focused on grades and athletics than TV or boys. I called my mother and told her what the boys said. Moments later, she arrived at the school to discover me in full panic attack mode. After she read the riot act to a nonchalant school administrator and threatened to file a police report, I asked her, "What was the boy talking about, mom?"
My mother told me the truth. During an on-camera interview, one of the housewives proclaimed that my mother had predilection for giving daily blow-jobs to random men. She had a good source—or so she claimed—and found the information highly disturbing. If the mother was that much of a ho-bag slut, she insinuated, just imagine what she was teaching her daughters? Enter football players in search of their daily blowjobs and my mom racing to the high school to rescue me.
Even if this housewife had known truth, it wouldn't have made a difference. Even if she'd known how the soundbite affected me, she still would have said it. This wasn't about a 14-year-old freshman. This was about fame, and insinuating someone's daughter was a "slut-in-the-making" made for great TV. A teenage girl hyperventilating in the Principal's Office? Nobody wanted to see that.
With each episode, the bullying and harassment grew worse. After another housewife said my sister and I appeared "dead in the eyes," strangers felt the need to repeat the line to us. When the show labeled my mother a criminal, people called us the children of a felon.
My mother's storyline was edited and produced, placing her in scenarios to achieve a desired outcome. She wouldn't normally be involved in these scenarios; they were dictated by the producers, and they just told my mom where to show up for filming. In season one, my mother didn't expect this to happen. These were the early days of reality shows. In 2006, The Hills was in its first season, and the Real Housewives franchise had yet to become a household name. Today, reality stars are savvy, but a decade ago, talent lacked a frame of reference. Other than Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, my mother had never seen a reality show. Just be myself, she thought. Little did she know that myself is how the producers choose to present you. Every story arc needs an antagonist and a protagonist—that is what creates the conflict and resolution, i.e. the drama.
Imagine if all of the arguments you've had in your life were filmed by a stranger.
Imagine if all of the arguments you've had in your life were filmed by a stranger, and they took out the worst things you said, edited it together, and then presented the footage on TV to define your character. Would you say that characterization was accurate? Anything that is produced, and edited in this manner, is fictitious by default, but unlike an actor, my mother didn't have the advantage of hiding behind a character, not to mention that the term reality forms a perception that is impossible to overcome when the viewers aren't aware of what goes down behind the scenes.
The producers had the power to manipulate my mother in anyway they pleased to increase ratings. When the second season ended, my mother decided to leave the show. The network portrayed her decision as her getting fired, but she left to save her life and her kids.
Leaving the Real Housewives, though, isn't easy. The show continues to air all over the world, and the character that was produced for my mother has been impossible to overcome. My mother can't find work because of the preconceived notion America has about her. Since she left the show, my family has fallen on hard times.
In the end, we had no choice but to run. We packed a few suitcases and left my hometown in New Jersey. Overnight, I left the only home I'd ever known for a nondescript apartment in an anonymous town. We didn't have furniture, so we slept on blow-up mattresses. I worried about my grades. I missed three weeks of school as my mom desperately searched for an educational institution where I would receive more respect and protection—a place where fellow students would not demand blowjobs.
I missed my bedroom. I missed furniture. But in the end, I found something much better. I felt safe. Unfortunately, there are some things you cannot ever escape. Even now, all these years later, people see me as a character created by a producer. They see me as the daughter of an infamous reality show prostitution whore. They may not have called me garbage like they called my mother, but that's how they made me feel. They took away my name and my voice.
My name is Christine Staub, and I will no longer be the excess debris created by a produced, manipulated, pseudo-reality universe. I will never again be a character defined by unethical producers, and exploited by networks all over the world. I am no longer a child, powerless without a voice.
As for my mother, she has been silenced for far too long, and now it is time for her to open up about every dirty detail once and for all. I don't care what any TV viewer believes her to be, or how any media outlet defines her. I know who she is, and I admire her. Now I have a voice, and the time has come for my mother to reclaim her own—to reclaim the respect she deserves.