Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wife Swap

I have never been on board with the whole reality TV thing. Even as a teenager, when "Real World" was paving the way for all these crazy shows that would follow, I did not see the thrill. That said, I enjoyed the first couple seasons of "The Apprentice" in '04 and '05, and when I happen to stumble upon it while channel-surfing, I enjoy the occasional episode of "SuperNanny" and am quite intrigued by the show "Wife Swap."

The latter happens to be on in the background right now, and this episode is typical of what I've seen in this show before--they often pair families where one is very family-oriented, and one is more independent. Each wife has to walk in the other's footsteps for a couple days, and then gets to implement her own rules and teach the husband and kids to live as her family lives.

In this episode, there is a family in New York state that loves lumberjacking (all except the oldest son, who is an artist, and is shunned by his more outdoorsy parents and brothers) and a Seattle family in which the dad and grandmother take care of the kids while the wife works full-time and then performs in a burlesque show most nights of the week. Obviously, they pair extremes for the entertainment value, but it is interesting to see how the lumberjack wife spends more time with the kids than they're used to, and they love it. Even the husband decides he needs to confront his wife about spending more time with the family. The burlesque wife gets the boys to put down their axes and actually help around the house, and gets the burly dad to appreciate his artistic son's interests.

I'm intrigued by this show, in many ways, because it addresses issues of what a wife's role is to be. One side (of people on the show and society in general) argues that an active wife and mother with her own interests is of more value to the family because she is fulfilled and happy. On the other hand, people argue that her primary responsibility is to the home, husband, and kids, and that distractions from that are detrimental to her children's well-being.

I am interested in this issue now because, frankly, I never expected to love work. Just a few years ago, I couldn't wait to quit work and be a stay-at-home mom. Now, I absolutely love my job, happily staying late to get things done and checking e-mail from home to stay on top of things. I've also recently been given some additional responsibilities that I'll elaborate on once they've become a regular part of my work, and while these can seem daunting right now, given that they may require me to put even longer hours before my long trek home to Clarksville, I am eager to become to the most indispensible editor I can be. (My JV field hockey coach's words ring in my head: "Ask yourself, 'How can I be indispensible to my team?'")

Since I was a kid, I've dreamed of getting married and having kids (that's what little girls are conditioned to want, right?) and I still deeply desire to become a mother to three or four children. (That's way down from the 6-10 I wanted when I was a kid!) Now that I have a job that I love, and that I could not imagine quitting entirely when I become a mother, I am more seriously thinking about the issues of parenthood and how one balances the various roles of modern womanhood. I wonder, what will I do when I have children, and am trying to work through tele-commuting or whatnot, balancing Matt's days to visit the shut-ins with my time in the office, sharing the at-home duties? Will I feel I am neglecting my kids? Will I feel I've lost a piece of my identity if I work less?

"Balance" is the buzz-word, and what so many seem to strive for. "Trying to have it all," the homemakers call it, pejoritavely. I suppose that's what I will stive for as well (a couple years from now), but despite this goal, I am sure it is much more easily said than done.

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