Sister Wives

Confession of the day: I’m addicted to the TLC reality show Sister Wives. My husband and I stumbled across the half hour program one Sunday night during that brief, sacred interim that marks the end of the weekend. We’re not big TV watchers (Parenthood and Castle make up our entire roster), but we usually find ourselves cuddled on the couch every Sunday night, enjoying a final hour or two of rest before Monday morning rears its busy-busy-busy head. And wouldn’t you know? There is nothing on TV on Sunday night.

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The first time we landed on Sister Wives, we watched because we couldn’t tear ourselves away. Have you seen the show? It’s about a polygamist family (one husband, four wives — they call themselves sister wives–and sixteen kids) and it’s like witnessing a train wreck — you know it’s going to be horrible, and you really shouldn’t be watching, but you can’t look away no matter how hard you try. I’ll admit that I spent the entire half hour wondering how in the world four women and one man juggle the intricacies of the marital bedroom. You don’t need to know the specifics of my thought process because I’m sure you’re thinking the exact same thing: EWWWW! I quite literally shudder at the thought.

But after watching a half dozen episodes or so, some of the shock factor wore off and I found myself actually liking this weird family. Never mind that Kody is a total creep and Robin has some pretty obvious emotional issues. For the most part, they are relatively normal, well-adjusted people who dote on their children and enjoy relationship with each other. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not condoning polygamy, nor do I consider myself desensitized to it. In fact, if anything I think I’m hyper-sensitive to it because I feel like I know how these women feel and why they have allowed themselves to be a part of something that most of the world finds disgusting at best.

Your line (heavy on the sarcasm): Uh, excuse me? You think you have polygamy figured out? Do enlighten, oh wise one.

Okay, okay. I’m no professional here, but it struck me as I was watching Sister Wives last night that I get it. Or, at least, I get a very small slice of it. These four women are a part of the kind of vital, vibrant community that most of us deep down long for. I’m not talking about sharing a husband, I’m talking about sharing life–to the extent that my strengths and weaknesses are complemented by a community that both cherishes and challenges me.

We live such individualistic, autonomous lives that it’s no wonder we boast the highest rates of discontent and dissatisfaction in the world. Our families are often self-contained planets, fully functional and independent, to the point where we run ourselves ragged being everything to everybody in our tiny sphere of influence. We cook, clean, grocery shop, do load after load of laundry, decorate, garden, volunteer, work outside the home, drive carpool, mediate, counsel, cuddle, play with our kids, make dioramas, attend meetings, participate in Bible studies, and run, run, run from one thing to the next. Then we flop into bed at night so exhausted we dread the sound of the alarm clock the next morning.

Whether I like to admit it or not, there is something raw and honest about the lifestyle of the four sister wives on TLC. One sister wife works. Another takes care of the kids. A third wife clips coupons, buys groceries and cooks healthy meals for the small army that is their family. Every woman works to her strengths and stands in the gap for her sisters and friends. I don’t agree with their solution, but I admire the fact that they are willing to openly admit the problem: we can’t do it alone. Or, more to the point, I can’t do it alone. Maybe you can. But I have been recently plagued by the understanding that something has got to give in my life. I can’t write and edit books, blog and network, parent and do the whole Susie Homemaker thing and still manage to find time to brush my teeth every day. I won’t even go into the moral dilemma of taking precious shower time to shave.

So, I admit that there’s a problem, but I don’t agree with the solution presented by Sister Wives. I’m a big help, aren’t I? Actually, I do think there is a more palatable answer to the problem of rampant individualism: authentic community. And I don’t think that community has to share a bed with one husband. Can I get an amen?

I long for community. I long for the sort of relationships where my friends and family see my weaknesses and not only love me in spite of them, but realize that their God-given gifts may very likely be coordinated to fill a gaping hole in my life. It’s not easy to enter into this sort of emotional intimacy, nor is it fun to admit that you simply can’t do everything on your own. I’d love to be Superwoman. To be successful and beautiful and gracious and a perfect mother to boot. But the truth of the matter is, I forgot Clifford day and my son was the only first-grader in his class who didn’t wear a red shirt. And though I talk a big game about tilling a vegetable garden this spring, I’m going to put that dream to rest right now and tell you that it’s not going to happen. I can’t do it all. But we can.

I don’t want a sister wife. But I do want sisters. And friends. Mothers, grandmothers, cousins, and neighbors. I want to live in the sort of community where someone will text me on Wednesday morning to remind me that it’s a chapel day and my son needs to wear his theme t-shirt (because you know I’m going to forget). And where another friend will call me from the grocery store to ask if I need a gallon of milk (because you know I do). Most of all, I want to live with the understanding that I don’t have to do it alone — and neither do you.

I guess this is a sort of going public for me. No, I’m not a polygamist. But I want to be a part of a community that requires me to sacrifice, to think about someone else’s needs in addition to my own, and to reap the blessings that come hand-in-hand with stepping outside of my comfort zone and into a place where I can live in honest authenticity with people I love and trust. Yikes. Do I really want that? Am I willing to give myself that wholly and completely? I hope so. I guess we’ll find out.

In the meantime, I’m on my way to the store. Does anybody need a dozen eggs?

the good life

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