Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sleazy TV Causes Identity Crisis

So, I was watching Wife Swap a couple of weeks ago. Wife Swap. Could they have come up with a skankier name? How about "A Revealing Exploration of the Psychology of Families with Contrasting Lifestyles"? Don't they know I have a reputation to uphold?

Wait... I think I already admitted on this blog to watching Sponge Bob and Fraggle Rock when I have time. I guess my cultural snobbery is already shot.

As I was saying, I turned on Wife Swap, and was immediately sucked in by what I saw. It was about two practicing Christian families, with completely different styles of devotion.

The liberal family said prayers every day, several times per day, however in all other ways they were non-traditional. The wife was an executive and the breadwinner. The husband had three Masters degrees and a PhD. in Christian theology. He was the stay-at-home parent and housekeeper. They each had a daughter from previous marriages, ages 11 and 12.

The conservative family was very traditional. The stay-at-home mom cared for her husband and six children. The kids were all home-schooled. Every step they took was dictated by reference to the Bible. They even did their chores with instructions to maintain an attitude of cheerful obedience to Jesus. All but one of the kids seemed happy to maintain their lifestyle. The cute, blond, 18-year-old twin girls were adamant that they had no interest in dating until they were ready to be married. The 13-year-old daughter was a bit of a rebel, but in the end she always respected her parents wishes.

The liberal family gave their children lots of leeway. The girls were permitted to spend their time as they pleased, and to come up with their own dreams for the future.

The Dad of the conservative family bluntly admitted that he was brainwashing his kids. I think he meant it in the sense that he wanted their minds to be clean, which is why he didn't mind fessing up. He was extremely controlling of his family, especially his rebellious, 13-year-old daughter. When the liberal mom took her aside to offer her some new ideas, the Dad literally removed that child from the house for the remainder of the week. He didn't want her being exposed to bad influences, like the idea that she might have her own career someday instead of being a stay-at-home Mom.

Everything I've always believed told me that the liberal parents were right and the conservative parents were wrong. But when I looked at their kids, I had to start questionning my own beliefs.

The two girls from the liberal family always seemed bored and miserable. They didn't do their assigned chores. They didn't respect their father. They were what you might expect from a couple of hormonal, pre-teen girls: moody, selfish, and whiney.

The six kids from the conservative family were absolutely the opposite. They were energetic, cheerful, motivated, well-spoken, and helpful. They were respectful to each other and to their parents. There was none of the sullenness one normally associates with teenagers.

Given a choice, I would much rather have spent a day with the conservative kids. This despite the fact that the father's strict parenting techniques are completely against what I've thought were beneficial. So how do I explain that?

I started out watching the show to observe how the Bible can be interpreted with wildy differing results by different people. Part of the miraculous nature of that book is that it creates itself anew each time it falls into a new pair of hands. Even the so-called fundamentalists can't agree with each other on what it finally means. These two family represent two of the extremes.

So, what do you think of all this? Because I am seriously questioning my liberal presumptions.


Karen said...

I think you need a compromise. But I was not raised in "liberal" manner and I wouldn't raise children that way. Children thrive on routine and boundaries. Giving them free reign to be "creative" is not doing them any service.

At least that is my opinion. ;)

Claire said...

Sounds like an interesting show!


Warped Mind of Ron said...

I agree with Karen, children need boundaries and rules to be happy, but I truly believe that as they approach adulthood and able to make rational decisions they should be made aware of the options available to them. To serve a religion only because you do not realize that you have any other choice is not really a commitment to the religion.

Anonymous said...

Swap em!

Logan said...

Our upbringing, peer-influence and schooling, traumatic & mundance experiences all affect our "lenses" as we look at the world. The Bible provides a set of (mostly fixed, by this point) data that we first view through our own lenses. If we don't look _at_ our own lenses (most helpful with the perspectives of others) we default to just living with what we have, and *surprise* the Bible reads like we already think. By all means, question your presumptions, but it works much better with good friends and mentors, compared with on your own. What does the Spark of today think of Spark-of-10-years-ago's "lenses"? What will Spark+10-years think of today's?

Maxie said...

wife swap is crazy. I know that people love to watch the drama and all, but I just don't get the point.

Aurora said...

I wrote so many answers to this that I have deleted. Well, I'm skeptical. Maybe the kids were in a good mood that week. Maybe their loving mother has more to do with cheerfulness than their authoritarian father. Maybe it's not about Jesus but about the amount of reading the kids do (and in religious families, that's usually quite a lot). So I wouldn't give up your liberal principles just yet.
I DO think that someone who's calm and sure of their authority is better at being authoritative. And that makes for a calmer relationship. And if the authority figure is a sensible person, great.

Keera Ann Fox said...

As others have noted, it's not about the Christianity, it's about the boundaries given children.

I have read somewhere that it is far better to be raised with too much discipline because then you know what rules are and what it means to break them. How can kids who grow up with no rules test the rules?

I grew up in a religiously liberal household, but with boundaries. Nothing strict, just very clear rules. It also has a lot to do with trust. I obeyed the rules because a) I could question them and b) my folks never lied to me or manipulated me, so we ended up with mutual trust. Respecting children is not the same as letting them run wild.

Nilsa S. said...

For me, I think the end result is just as important as the journey there. I want to raise my children to be independent thinkers and doers. And if that means putting up with their hormonal stages for a few years, so be it. The last thing I want are children who question nothing and take everything for face value.

Dianne said...

I think whining and hair flipping and boredom are part of being a teen. I'd much rather spend time with that then what feel like Stepford children.

The Dad's reaction to the 13 year old having valid rebellious feelings and the liberal Mom wanting to tell her there were choices in the world is, to me, downright child abuse!

There's another show - a Mom with a horde of kids and each kid down the line takes care of the next - I guess while Mom gets pregnant again. All the kids say and do all the right things but they all look dead inside.

My son always had firm, clear rules and boundaries but he also had the right to be a person - with his own feelings and thoughts.

Sparkling Red said...

Very interesting comments so far! I love to hear everyone's views on the subject.

mex (aka Syb) said...

i love love love wife swap.. almost LIVE or wednesdays.. hadnt realized how salicious the name was UNTIL my BFF said "WIFE SWAP??" Whoa.. what's THAT about..she seemed mildly disappointed at the G-rated synopsis!! LOL


Anonymous said...

Spongebob and Fraggle Rock are pretty cool. Definetely much better viewing than anything called "Wife Swap."

Kell said...

*Sigh* I loved Fraggle Rock. I miss Jim Henson.

Anyway, well, I don't have kids, but I can see why you would be confused and questioning. Some of it, too, remember was what the director wanted you to see and might have been trying to steer you to a conclusion. Don't abandon your liberal ideas yet. I think balance and consistency are important. You don't have to hide them from the big bad world, but it's the parent's responsibility to make sure they are ready for it. Some find strength through religion to do that, but I think like anything, there's a danger in pure saturation of an idea rather than finding a way to utilize other things with that base.

jameil1922 said...

i agree with karen abt a compromise. it's so necessary. kids need structure but not rigidity and they certainly don't need to be brainwashed. he said what he meant. he'd thought of that phrase and of how perfectly it fit what he meant.