In recent weeks, I have recorded and watched a few episodes of a series on television called Wife Swap. The show selects two families and has the wives/mothers of each family trade places for two weeks. For the first week, the wives must follow the written rules and directions that are given for the household they are visiting. The second week they get to change the rules to their own preferences. The family must then follow the way of life of the new wife, doing things as she thinks they should be done. Usually, this goes way overboard and is not always very fair to the household. The families chosen are, of course, total opposites in the way that they live.
In one particular episode, the first family lived as if they were in the military with very strict rules. The parents made the children do chores from sunup to sundown, only allowing them breaks for meals, school and homework. They would bounce coins on beds to check that they were made properly. They would pull entire drawers full of clothing out and onto the floor if they were not filled properly. The children would then refold and fill the drawers appropriately. The children were so programmed that, when the parents were away, the oldest daughter would assume the role of the mother with her siblings. Each of the three children felt they had no freedom to live.
The second family believed in total freedom. The children did as they pleased; they were messy to the point of food fights in the home. (And these included their father!) They were allowed to cuss and hit each other and had no respect for their parents or any other adult. The entire family was accustomed to sleeping on mattresses in the living room, just because they could, and throwing dirty or clean clothes about the house randomly. A vacuum was rarely, if ever, used.
When the wives switch places, there is always tension—they hate the way the families in which they are placed live and must tolerate living as they do for a week. When it is their turn to change the rules, things inevitably get worse. The fathers of the household get very angry with the new mother’s choices and will go so far as to call her names and/or treat her so disrespectfully that she cries or feels forced from the house. During this part of the show I find I must fast-forward through much of it, as it is just so disturbing that people would treat each other in such a way. (It always makes me wonder, why do the families sign up for the show if they are so antagonistic about change?)
Usually, by the end of each show, the fathers have eased off a bit and follow some of the new rules (either because they see how the change might help their family or because they want the new mother to just back off). After the two weeks, the two couples meet together to share their experiences and complaints. They then end the show by returning two weeks later to see what changes the families have retained.
I found the whole premise of the show disturbing, but was also intrigued by what I saw in the results. This is why I chose to record and watch more than one episode. Although, I am fully aware that no assumption is always 100 percent accurate, I felt what I had watched was a good example of how people act in general.
What I discovered was that those who were most strict in their households and had the biggest egos were pretty much unwilling to change after the swap. While they might add family time or an event, it was strictly structured and often timed or specifically scheduled in. These were also usually the families with the most wealth. They cared more about appearances and endeavored to make sure their children would be smart and wealthy as well. But this all came at costs—no room for fun or freedom of any kind.
Over the years I have known a couple of families like this and in one, the children either ran away or left home at 18 and barely spoke to the parents. It is a very sad situation, but interestingly their parents still feel that their children are ingrates and never appreciated all that they had given them. They could not see that they drove their children away. It reminded me of what it says in Proverbs 28:11, “The rich man is wise in his own eyes.”
It’s not that riches make people evil, but frequently the rich only seek more riches and not only strive for it, but expect their children to achieve it at all costs. Because of it, they may look down on those who are not striving for it, as was the case in most of these shows.
The other side of things
While the poorer and wilder families were willing to change some in the end, they were also the ones who fell into an idle way of life and had no real goals or guidance in their lives. The adults focused on their jobs, usually ignoring the children and leaving them to fend for themselves. Almost all ate take-out food rather than cook. They lived as they did under the guise of freedom but were, in reality, quite lazy. They thought being their child’s buddy was more important than telling their kids what to do.
I also know a few families like this. They are more concerned with their own daily lives than with their family. They are selfish, have no other goals and want life to just come easy without any demands outside of their jobs.
Both types of families usually have children who do not have close friendships in their lives. This occurs either because the children are too embarrassed to bring friends home or because they are not allowed to bring friends home.
The importance of balance
We as Christians must be careful not to lean too far in either of these directions. We must remember to train up our children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6); but at the same time, we must not drive them away. Colossians 3:21 warns us: “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (King James Version).
We are told throughout the Bible, in various ways, to have balance in our lives, to be careful not to swing too far in one direction or another. We do not want to strong-arm our families, but we do not want to let them run rampant either. It can sometimes be difficult for parents to balance the love they have for their own children against the discipline that should be given. I don’t think there are any of us who claim we are perfect in that area.
We also must not lose focus of the goal, the narrow path that leads us to the Kingdom of God. While I realize this goal was not one the families in the show held for themselves, it is the focus we as Christians should have. Along with this are the teachings we are given throughout the Word of God. All we need to know is laid out for us there.
Loving one another
The families in this TV program showed little love towards the outsider they had invited to their home. Granted, they had no choice in who would be arriving, but by signing on with the show, they had opened their door. If they had demonstrated love to each other, I am sure that they would not have a program to air at all. This type of programming thrives on the controversy.
Jesus Christ told us that we are to love one another. In John 13:34-35 He states, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one to another.” And in John 15:12 Christ says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Had these families practiced just the most basic of manners toward the guest in their home, they could have breezed through the two weeks. Instead they chose to fight and antagonize one another. They stood fast in their ways and refused to change or were only willing to open up in the most simple of ways.
Does this remind you of any trait within yourself? Often when God tells us we must be different, we are unwilling to change—we become steadfast in our wrong ways. If we do choose to accept change, we often only take hold of a little bit of it. Many of us are unwilling to accept His terms, feeling it is too much for us. In reality, however, God’s plan brings us more freedom than we might imagine. Living God’s way and using His Holy Spirit allows us to use the conscience God gave us to guide us in a right way of thinking. We choose to treat others—including our spouse and children—as we would want to be treated, with honor and respect.
Families overall are falling apart. Parents often support their children financially long into adulthood and then may follow-up by suing them for not repaying them. Children abuse their parents physically; they swear at their so-called friends; they may even lie and cheat to get their way. When a parent is too strict, the children may leave home and abandon all the values their parents tried to instill in them. Or they may pass those strict ways onto their own children, thus repeating the cycle. When a parent is too lenient, the children may grow into free-for-all adults who end up in a life of crime or abuse—all the while feeling there is something they are missing in their lives.
We have choices in our life; let’s make sure that the way we choose to follow also follows the Word of God.
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