Wife Swap USA – a tale of two families

Last night Belle and I watched Wife Swap USA.

Yes, I know it’s mostly staged and it’s all rubbish, but I don’t care. I love it. So there. I particularly love the last five minutes when they go back to their own families and, despite having spent the swap coming out with lines like “I’d rather be DEAD than spend another day with that DEVIL WOMAN!”, they take home lots of Valuable Lessons, and all become balanced, loving families, living happily ever after. And no, I don’t even love that part in an ironic way, I just like to think it’s true.

I particularly like watching Wife Swap with Belle, as she gives me an interesting perspective on my own parenting, and sometimes I can see she has been made to think about some aspect of her own behaviour. There’s nothing like having your annoying habits caricatured on TV to make you cringe at just how annoying they really are. They always pick families of opposite ends of a scale (obviously) and I like Belle to tell me where she thinks I fall – am I more like the mom who built a skateboard ramp in her garden and has not one but two cheap fridge freezers full of burgers and chips, or the one who makes her kids drink vegetable water and write essays?

It reminds me a bit of when I was a child and my mum would pick out strangers in the street and ask us whether or not they were fatter than her. (“She still does that to me,” says Bee, reading over my shoulder. “You’re obviously going to say yes aren’t you?”)

Last night’s seemed to have a profound effect on Belle. In one of the families there was an only child – a girl of ten – who did remind me a lot of Belle. She was sometimes sweet, but other times rude and outspoken, refusing to do as she was told and answering back a lot. I could see that Belle recognised herself, and that this was making her feel a tad uncomfortable.

When the programme had finished, she went off to her room for ten minutes and came back with a schedule she had designed for herself. “These are my chores Mummy. Monday – wash and hoover…”

“Is that washing yourself?” I asked.

“No silly, washing the sideboards.”

“I see.”

“Tuesdays – wash and hoover, Wednesdays wash and hoover, Thursdays – wash and hoover, Fridays – wash. I wanted a day off the hoovering.”

“Well that’s lovely,” I enthused, “but I’m not sure we really need to worry about hoovering every day.”

She gave me a dubious, pitying look. “I think we do Mummy, we’re really not very clean.”

I’m thinking of applying to go on the show. As far as I can see it would be a win-win situation – they’d inevitably pair me with some clean freak who washed her kids regularly and spent Sundays cooking wholesome meals in batches for the freezer, so I’d get a couple of weeks away with a nice tidy family and come home to a clean house. Genius. And in the meantime I’m going to have very clean sideboards.




  1. 16 July, 2010 / 7:48 am

    I can’t say that I have ever seen the show. I did enjoy your description and loved the finish, with Belle’s list.

    I hope we will get a follow up, to see how she is sticking to it.

    If she makes it a week, I think she wins. I don’t know what the competition is, but I definitely score it 1 – 0 Belle wins.

    • 16 July, 2010 / 5:40 pm

      Well, I’m afraid to say she hasn’t done very well so far. She’s at her Dad’s this evening, so was planning on doing her sideboard washing before school, but claimed instead to ‘feel a bit sick’…

      1-0 to me I think.

      • 16 July, 2010 / 6:10 pm

        Yes, I think that you are right. It is still early though. Perhaps if she knew that people all over the world were keeping score?

        • 19 July, 2010 / 8:33 am

          Well – I can report that she hoovered the living room yesterday and wiped down all the sides in the kitchen! She’s a good girl :-)

  2. Alison Williams
    16 July, 2010 / 12:03 pm

    You could also apply to Holiday Showdown and tell the producers that you cannot stand luxury 5 star holidays!

    • 16 July, 2010 / 5:41 pm

      I’ve never heard of it but it sounds promising. Could I add as a condition that I would absolutely hate it and really go mad if they arranged for Colin Firth to emerge from the hotel swimming pool?

  3. 16 July, 2010 / 12:36 pm

    what a result! i am ashamed to admit i like wife swap too, and also v v ashamed to admit, and not sure if i should… that i often ask tom if certain people in the street are fatter or thinner than me….

    • 16 July, 2010 / 5:42 pm


      It must be just something mummies do! I’m sure I’d do it if I hadn’t been annoyed by having it asked of me already for years :-)

  4. 16 July, 2010 / 1:24 pm

    love your daughter and have never even met her. She seems very mature.

    BTW-flylady has a program for kids. It’s all about giving your kids good organizational habits from a young age. ( http://www.flylady.net )

    • 16 July, 2010 / 5:43 pm

      She is very mature, and terribly quick. She really GETS stuff – serious stuff and jokes – that I wouldn’t expect a child her age to get.

      She gets her quick wit and maturity from her mother of course…

  5. Beth
    16 July, 2010 / 5:06 pm

    That is so funny – it’s that sinking moment when you realise your child is telling you that your house isn’t as clean as their friend’s houses. I’ve just said that we have a better immune system! Hoovering twice a week is good for me!

    • 16 July, 2010 / 5:44 pm

      You hoover twice a week?? I’m very impressed! I only actually recently BOUGHT a hoover. For a couple of years before that I just did the occasional sweep with a dustpan and brush if it got too gruesome.

  6. Emma
    16 July, 2010 / 8:58 pm

    This sounds like a plan of attack for me too! A couple of weeks away in a nice tidy house and then coming back to mine being perfect!!! The only downside being of course that the whole world would know how completely disgustingly messy we are!!!!

    • 19 July, 2010 / 8:31 am

      A small price to pay for a clean toilet…

  7. 17 July, 2010 / 9:25 am

    How sweet and funny! It makes me think I should really redo the family chores list I made 5 years ago… None of it applies any longer which means that the kids get off having to do any! Ooops. Your Belle would say we’re a bit slack on the organization front. Please ask her to drop by and do our schedules for us.

    • 19 July, 2010 / 8:32 am

      Oopps indeed! You really need to update that! Perhaps I need to set Belle up as a freelance schedule designer. £500 a day sound fair to you?

  8. 17 July, 2010 / 3:01 pm

    I love a bit of Wife Swap and the US one is way better. I watched one once where one Mom didn’t allow her kids to leave leftovers and whatever food they left they were made to eat at the next meal. The swap kids were snivelling into their breakfast chicken nuggets in no time. You’re dead right, it’s quite sobering to see someone with your traits behave horribly. Maybe, like national service, it’s something that should be introduced as mandatory for all families.

    • 19 July, 2010 / 8:34 am

      That would be a great idea! All parents have to do it once every two years or something, just so they don’t forget…

  9. Amanda
    18 July, 2010 / 1:12 pm

    Hi found your blog whilst paniking a bit about taking my 4and10yr old daughters to bestival this year.I have only been single for 5months and whilst I sometimes feel confident and ok I also still get overwhelmed .I’m camping near friends but esentially alone.my 10yr old is mildly epileptic and although she has been fine for two tts I always feel I have to make extra sure she gets enough sleep.you’ve been to bestival before and have been a single mum for longer than me.what advice would you give?

    • 19 July, 2010 / 8:41 am

      Wow – general advice or festival advice?! Festival wise – if you mean Camp Bestival (which is the one I’ve been two – basically the little sister of Bestival), then I can reassure you that it’s very laid back, not crammed with people like Glastonbury or anything. Everything is nice easy walking distance, cars close to tents, camping close to the main site etc. It can get noisy quite early in the mornings as there are quite a lot of families with kids and babies – you could consider ear plugs for sleeping? You can get those little squishy foam ones that are pretty good. It’s not mega-loud or anything, just expect to hear other families. And take wipes :-)

      Single-life wise… doing things like festivals is great for your confidence – you’ll come away really impressed with yourself I’m sure that you coped so well. Loads of couples don’t even feel brave enough to take their kids to festivals! I guess the main thing is that, whether you’re in a couple OR on your own, it’s ok and very normal to sometimes feel overwhelmed with parenting – it is a very intense thing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, to make time for yourself. When you’re on your own it’s really important to look after yourself, and keep yourself sane.

      Is that helpful?? x x

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