Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Wife Swap

No, I am not going to advocate anything immoral. Rather I would like to comment on a reality show that I have enjoyed watching lately: "Wife Swap."

The name is rather sensationalistic and designed to provoke, but really a more accurate title would be "Housewife Swap" or "Mother Swap" because there is no true swapping of wives in the carnal knowledge sense. Rather, they take one woman who lives a particular lifestyle and swap her with another woman who lives a lifestyle the diametric opposite of hers and they live with their new "family" for two weeks. In the first week, they have to live by the rules of the home that they are going to. On the second week, they get to make the new "family" live by their rules. The results are often interesting, sometimes funny, and very revealing.

This past week they took a disciplined vegetarian/health conscious homeschooling mother married to an ex-army husband with well behaved and clean-cut children and switched her with a woman whose family lived on junk food and who had two undisciplined teens who were quite a bit more disrespectful. Other swaps have taken place between a rich woman who spent $3000 a week on clothing, had 3 nannies for her 3 kids, and who spent a good 4 hours a day working out, getting her hair done and going for spa treatments, with a bluecollar wife who drove a school bus, cleaned and cooked for her family, and ran a wood-splitting business. They also like to contrast women who are fanatical about their housecleaning with those who are extremely laid back, those who are strict disciplinarians with those who are easy-going friend-of-the-children types.

I just find the whole thing very fascinating as it provides some insight into how various families live. One of the most interesting aspects is that you get to see that there is no one way of doing it right. Every style of house-keeping/child-raising has both its strengths and weaknesses. After the swap is over, they go back some time later and find out if there were any changes made as a result of the swap. One thing that you usually see is that the children and spouses have a new appreciation for their own wives/mothers. It is really hard on the easy-going spouses to have to deal with the substitute disciplined types and they usually end up with a meltdown. The disciplined households are typically horrified initially about a more relaxed way of doing things, but they tend to loosen up a bit and enjoy themselves more. In almost every case the families do end up making some adjustments whether it is to incorporate a bit more discipline than they had in the past, or to loosen up some standards they were keeping and didn't need to; so everyone benefits in the end.

Some of the more surprising things I have noticed is that the so-called easy going women tend to be the more venomous towards the disciplined types when the couples meet at the end and do an evaluation. The poor disciplinarian wives think they have done a good thing in bringing some structure and discipline and a higher standard of cleanliness to a household only to be screamed at that they are hated by the easy-going one. Interesting dynamics! One has to wonder what is behind that: true indignation? humiliation? embarrassment? I often find myself sympathizing with the anal wives and families, but at the same time really feel for the loosey goosey types who felt smothered by the restrictive lives they were forced to live.

It has been good for me to watch these programs. It helps me to see what works and what doesn't work in other homes. It also helps me to be a lot less judgemental about different styles of doing things that differ from mine (excluding, of course, things of an inherently immoral nature). All the same, I don't think I want to experience these lessons first hand. I'll let others expose themselves on nationwide television and learn my lessons the easy way.

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