Ep. 145: The Real Scoop on My Experience on “ABC’s Wife Swap” with Robyn Openshaw
I finally tell the story of what it was like to be on a reality TV show “Wife Swap” that 21 million people watched (the first time. It’s aired dozens of times as a re-run since then), and how it accidentally gave birth to one of the greatest miracles of my life.
LINKS AND RESOURCES:
Get the Birthday Beet Cake Recipe
- [06:07] How did GreenSmoothieGirl come to be? I was the subject of a TV show in 2007, ABC’s “Wife Swap,” and my eating habits got aired on national television. But how did that happen, too?
- [08:32] How “real” is reality TV? We know by now that reality television is scripted, manipulated, and downright false at times. How did the show’s formula for “Robyn Openshaw: Mean Mom” impact me?
- [24:34] My most painful moment. The show had one lie that was very hurtful to me: it told the world I was “so obsessed with efficiency” that I force all my children to celebrate their birthdays on the same day. Here’s the truth.
- [42:34] What did I learn from ABC’s “Wife Swap?” I learned there are always silver linings (GreenSmoothieGirl is a big one!) and two main things: 1) be you. Don’t let anyone change you. And 2) don’t judge people harshly. Give people, and what comes through your eyes and ears and heart, benefit of the doubt.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Robyn: Hey there, my friend. This is Robyn Openshaw, and I’m the GreenSmoothieGirl online.
Today I’m going to talk about my “Wife Swap” episode, something that I’ve never talked about before, but I think it’s time.
Before we launch into it, we’re going to be running a contest where we’re going to give away $100 gift certificates to 10 of our listeners here on the Vibe show.
All you need to do is give us a review and put something identifying in it so that when we shout you out on the show, maybe read your review, then you can identify yourself and we can pay you the hundred bucks.
I want to read one today from the past. I really like this one. It’s by someone identifying as Ears2theground. The title of her review is, “Thanks for the Yin Vibes!”
This is what she said:
“‘Does this raise my vibration?’ is the question I’ve been taking the time to ask myself before engaging with an activity or work project, food, social situations. Basically, any decision. This podcast has supported my intention to be more conscientious and compassionate and I’m so grateful for that. Robyn has mentioned a few times recently that she feels like she’s reached so many of her goals and she wonders where to go from here. I hope she knows that so many podcasts out there have the, “be more effective, do more dream big!” in a well-intentioned but almost aggressively ambitious way. I listen to those podcasts as well, but there’s definitely a very important place for a podcast like Vibe in which energy is more intentional, focused, compassionate. Basically, the Yin we need in this very Yang environment. For every Ben Greenfield I could use two Robyn Openshaw’s to balance. Thank you for being the much-needed yen. It is a breath of fresh air.”.
Well first of all, Ears2theground, thank you so much for that review, for taking a minute out of your day to express the support for my work. It is a far more than full time job and it means so much to me when you take the time to tell me what the show has done for you. And I totally laughed about the Ben Greenfield. “You need two Robyn Openshaw’s to balance out every Ben Greenfield.”.
What’s super funny is that I was just in Switzerland with Ben and his wife where, after my three weeks of liver detox retreats, Ben ran two weeks and I stayed for a day into his so I could orient everybody there. It was actually Ben’s first time and he and his wife and I laugh when we get together about what a hard-charging guy he is, and he wants to win all the Spartan races and he wants to optimize human performance.
I never thought about it before, but the way you put that is so perfect. He is very Yang, and it’s not good or bad or right or wrong, right? We all have Yang in us, and we also need the Yin.
My show is definitely more reflective than pushing. And I appreciate the comments. It really made my day.
Today I wanted to tell you the story of how GreenSmoothieGirl even came to be. If you’ve been paying attention, you might know, but I would say 99% of people who follow me have no idea that GreenSmoothieGirl going up on the Internet and being a place that millions of people have learned about, not just green smoothies, but lots of health- and wellness-related issues — especially how to eat more whole food — was a direct result of my having gone on a network reality TV show.
In fact, our episode was one of the most-watched reality TV episodes ever, with 21 million people watching during Sweeps Week of season four of the show called “Wife Swap,” which was owned by ABC Disney.
Nowadays, 12 years later there are tons and tons and tons of reality TV shows. They come and they go, it might last a season or two. But this was network, this was ABC. It was co-owned by Disney.
Our episode still airs regularly on the Lifetime channel, even to this day, 12 years later. And I only know that because every single time that it airs, people message me on Facebook. “I saw you on ‘Wife Swap,’” or “Why do you make your children celebrate their birthdays on the same day?” Nobody gives me heck about the green smoothies anymore. And that’s because of the phenomenon that started from that show.
When I was in Switzerland last month, I had someone ask me, “How did the GreenSmoothieGirl site get born?”
I told the “Wife Swap” story, which I’ve probably told that story a hundred times over the years. Gosh, maybe more. And that made me realize, “Hey, this would be a good podcast episode to talk about.”
So today is a show where you should grab your cup of coffee and settle in for this because, while it’s not necessarily going to help you decode your childhood subconscious programming or help you decide whether to get a mammogram or any of the other usual topics around here, this one is pretty juicy.
It’s a story that I’ve never told in a public way. Probably primarily because I had to sign a nondisclosure with ABC and Disney back in the day, but I don’t think they would be too upset. I’ve seen other “Wife Swap” participants talk online about their experience. And now that the shows longer in production, I’m going to tell you what my experience was like on the show. If they do get mad about it here, well I guess we’ll just have to delete it.
The “Wife Swap” Beginning
How did I end up the subject of a TV show in 2007, where I swap lives with a woman in inner city, Albuquerque? Most of the homes there had bars on the window. Even though these are lower-end homes for sure, many of them, or all of them, had fences around them. People, even if they had very, very little, really protect their homes because it was definitely inside the city.
They had a teenage daughter, and you wouldn’t know it, but they had an older daughter, an older lesbian daughter, who didn’t want to play. She didn’t want to participate in the show. So, to watch the show you would think they had one daughter, but they really have two. They owned a skate shop; more on the skate shop later because it’s pretty interesting.
What people tend to ask me is what’s it like to be on reality TV? And the second question is something to the effect, (almost always) “Is anything about it actually real?”
What’s funny is that 100% of the time when someone talks to me about “Wife Swap” on the surface, people seem to understand that these shows are heavily produced, heavily edited, manipulated, scripted. Anyone you talk to at this point in 2019 has known somebody who went on reality TV, usually one of these smaller startup cable shows, and many of them tell sad stories or scary stories about how they were manipulated or misrepresented.
But then I noticed on the flip side that, even though people will say words about how they know that academically, I noticed that we also still form a judgment about the people that we see on these reality TV shows. We decide if we like or don’t like someone instantly based on that super manipulated, edited version of the truth.
I think one thing you’ll get from me telling my story today is that it’s a lot more manipulated than you think. A lot of times just check yourself and say, “Could I be wrong here? Could I be partly wrong about this person? Could I be completely wrong about this person?”
People who knew me said, after they saw the show, that they felt like they were seeing someone they didn’t recognize; they felt like they didn’t know me at all. Everything I did was so manipulated. If I laughed, they would cut that out. That would literally be footage that doesn’t air because that’s not who I was being scripted to be.
They would tell me what to wear. They would tell me to put my hands on my hips. They would pick the stodgiest clothes they could find in my closet and tell me to wear it. And I’d be like, “I already wore that yesterday. I feel like I’ve already worn that for most of the show.”
I couldn’t totally read between the lines at what was going on. I definitely had seen enough of the show to know that there’s always the fun, easygoing, laid-back mom. There’s always the hard-charging, ambitious, educated, structured mom, with the clean house or whatever. Every single show is like that. So, I expected to be scripted to a certain point and to a certain extent, I didn’t mind being scripted. Because to a certain extent that was true of me, those sorts of stereotypes.
But people who had not met me, somebody said to me afterwards — because some of the results of being on “Wife Swap” at least during that time, and I would remind myself every day, “Hey, this is going to pass. Everybody’s obsessed with this right now, but this is not gonna change my life. It’s just a blip on people’s entertainment radar and that’s it,” I didn’t really invest a lot of energy in the terrible things that people were saying about me, the biggest one being, “Gosh, who would force their kids to celebrate their birthday on the same day” — someone said to me, “People who know you won’t pay any attention to it. And the people who don’t, don’t matter.”
I’m not saying they don’t matter as human beings, but that really was very true. People who wanted to judge me for forcing my children to have their birthdays celebrated on the same day, which was probably the most hurtful thing that show did. It wasn’t the only thing that the show tried to do to my character or to force my family into these grossly oversimplified, stereotype roles. The reason that was so terrible for me is that it was almost a pure lie. It actually it wasn’t true.
The other things… It’s like, “Well, if they want to string me up for the fact that I make my kids write five paragraph essays when they’re terribly unkind to each other, I don’t mind that because it’s true.” I didn’t mind that. I wouldn’t have minded if people were critical because they’re like, “You’re so awful for making your kids drink a green smoothie every day.” I wouldn’t have minded that. Truly.
It was the one that seemed to be central — and I never saw it coming because it wasn’t true that was probably the most hurtful thing — and it was the thing that I would find myself [explaining] when I’d run into people in public because everyone in our community saw it. They were having parties; we have a lot of people who knew us. I’ve been on the planning commission. We’d lived there since college, have four kids. I was a charter school founder of two different charter schools. I know a lot of people, and people were having parties and eating popcorn and discussing the show. And then of course they wanted to have something to say to us about it afterwards.
That was the thing I found myself explaining to people or wanting them to hear me out. I can understand why people who knew me said, “I felt like I was seeing somebody I don’t [know], I didn’t recognize you. It was like you were playing a part.” And I felt like saying, “Yeah, well everything I did was so manipulated and then they cut parts out that would give it context.”
They even came back two weeks later after the show filmed and would tell us to put on a certain clothing items and do something. They had my ex-husband march up the stairs. “William! March up the stairs!” And we found out why later as they wanted to make the scene where the kids did some truth or dare thing. I don’t know. I wasn’t there.
Believe it or not, I’ve only seen the show once. I never wanted to see it again. It’s still to this day a little bit painful. So, I’ve only seen it once and I probably can’t remember a lot of how it all got edited. I definitely remember how it impacted me and how people responded to it.
They wanted a meeting where the new mom told my children to impose their rules on their father and they had some truth or consequence, I think it was.
They tell him to go to bed, go to your room. They needed him stomping up the stairs, angry, even though he was actually laughing in the scene and he actually thought the whole thing was pretty funny.
I barely recognize myself either in the show, to be honest. If I cried in the two weeks of film (you know, cameras in your face 24/7, and they definitely worked hard to get me to cry, I’m not even a crier) but the four times I did cry, they showed it. It was quite the pressure cooker. I’m not entirely surprised that I cried four times, but I was shown every single time I cried. You would think I’m a big crier if you saw the show. I probably in real life don’t cry four times a year.
And like I said, they cut every single time I ever laughed. And I laughed a lot. I laugh a lot in real life. In the show, there were so many scenes that got heavily edited because fun was just not a characteristic that they wanted in my personality or the personality they had scripted me to be.
They actually went in my closet and got some dockers out and I was like, “Wow, you’re gonna have to dust the dust off the top of those dockers. It’s been years since I’ve worn them.” I wore them because I would go teach at Brigham Young University and faculty there wears dresses if you’re a woman, obviously, and occasionally like some very business-y kind of pants. I had some dockers in my closet but it’s not something I would have necessarily really worn even back then. They made me wear them day after day after day.
I found out later I actually had an original assignment which I wouldn’t have known at the time because they don’t tell you where you’re going.
I had agreed to do this show when they contacted me because they heard about this green smoothie and they wanted to see if I would be on the show. And my family was all about it. My ex-husband was fairly enthusiastic about it, and the kids were losing their minds. They were so excited to do it, but I was hesitant. I was concerned about how my family would be manipulated. And I backed out at the last minute of doing it.
The show was upset. I had refused to sign their contract because I read the whole 50-page thing and I had two issues with two of my kids.
One of my kids was a bed wetter way, way, way past the age where bed-wetting is acceptable. I was worried that they would make an issue of that in the show. And I wanted that written into the contract; I’m not going to put my children through an experience that will end up shaming them. And the other issue was another one with my children, which is that my youngest was very much a mama’s boy and I was afraid my being gone for two weeks would be hard on him. I didn’t want them showing him crying or doing his mama’s boy thing. I just couldn’t imagine him having to go to school at the age of seven years old and have kids saying, “You cry a lot,” or whatever it was.
When I told them I wanted those two changes made to the contract, they refused and they said, “We’re ABC. We don’t make changes to our contract.”
They’re probably also used to people who are willing to just bend and do it regardless of that. I wasn’t super motivated by the money of the show. In fact, I wasn’t motivated at all. I did use it after we did go on the show and took my family to Europe and it was a nice trip, but that really was never a big factor for me.
I had some hopes about what kind of impact I could make, and what ended up happening with GreenSmoothieGirl now having been a big part of making the idea of green smoothies, or a really nutrient-dense habit that fits in a sort of fast food, rush world, helping hundreds of thousands of families. We get millions of visitors a year on the site. That’s the amazing upside of the experience that we went through. I didn’t have a vision that big. I just had a feeling that I could, in something that I did in my life or in my parenting, make a positive impact for other people.
So, I was interested in doing it, but when they wouldn’t make those simple changes to protect my children, I backed out. Then a few weeks later they came back and they’re like, “Please, please, please be on the show. We’re going to change the contract for you to protect your two children from the issues that you’re worried we’re gonna show.” And of course, they, they assured me, “Hey, we’re not doing the show to shame children.” Well, no, they’re not. They’re doing it to shame the adults.
But anyway, I found out later that the show I had been matched up to and didn’t end up going on, they had to scramble and get another woman to do it.
I was [supposed] to swap lives with a family in West Virginia who runs carnivals. They drive around — they’re carnies — and they go around to all these different small towns and set up these carnivals. And I would have been living in a fifth wheel with their three obese children who run around completely unsupervised around the carnival eating funnel cakes. So the situation I was in was much, much easier than that. I’m really glad that I didn’t end up going to West Virginia, living in a fifth wheel at the carnival. I’m sure that would have made for a crazy show.
My family was in Albuquerque, and the home was not messy or dirty. I know that’s often a theme in the show, but they may have wanted to make them be the “sort of down-on-their-luck, working class, chaotic family.”
But the fact of the matter is they didn’t cook. I got their pots and pans out to start cooking and there was dust all over. They didn’t cook.
There were some things that were very typical. The kids in the skate shop had never had a vegetable, many of them. And they were really cute about drinking green smoothies, like I introduced them to beets and most of them had never seen a beet or even knew what it was, let alone had eaten it. So there were lots of fun moments like that, and some of them even are shown in the show. But the show’s formula is, “overachiever, structured upper-middle class mom meets working class, fun-loving, unstructured house-is-a-mess mom.” And only the details change.
[The formula] wasn’t entirely true on both sides. They were definitely working class. One of the things that you would think watching the show is that they set this other family up to be getting kids off of drugs by having them come skate in their skate shop. Well, that’s not true. The kids were on drugs. They were open with me about that. [Laughter]. They talked a lot about drugs.
I really enjoyed spending time with the kids. But not only are they not getting kids off of drugs, they also aren’t making any money. It was a government subsidized skate shop and there really wasn’t any money changing hands. They were just taking advantage of a Native American grant and getting money through the government. I looked at their (what do you call that, ticker tape? That comes out of the cash register) back in the snack shop. And there’s hardly any snacks, and the snacks they did have were just super random.
You could tell that no one really cared about making money there, but I think it was because the population they served was a bunch of 16-year-old kids from the inner city didn’t have any money and they seem to pretty much just take the snacks. The tape that came out of the cash register — it was a fairly long tape — it was literally a year’s worth of purchases.
I kind of thought one of the things that they would do in the show is maybe have me work on their business, and it was definitely on the table, but then we just didn’t get time to do it. But I was like, “You know, I could help you with this business,” but it makes sense why they didn’t hone in on that. They probably talked to Gabe, the dad in the show, and found out that they’re not really looking to make a profit. That was not the point of the skate shop. Not sure what the point was except that it was a definitely government funded.
The show honed in on a few things. The green smoothie for sure. The fact that if my kids weren’t in the car by 7:23 AM the “Mom Bus “had left the station and they had to walk to school. That was sort of a silly thing, but a funny detail that show me… You know, they would literally tell me to put my hands on my hips. I’m not sure putting my hands on my hips is a thing that I ever really do in real life. They would instruct me to do that and I was like, “Oh, whatever.”
I would give on these little things because some of the things they wanted me to do were things that my character won’t allow me to do. So when they would ask me for a dumb little thing like wearing dockers or putting my hands on my hips and standing behind my child when he plays the piano, is practicing the piano, then I would just do it. I was like, “Well, I can see how I’m being framed up to be here, but I don’t really care.”
There was the whole Mom Bus thing and the point of that is to show me as being super rigid and intense and punishment-oriented. They also honed in on the fact that if my kids broke major family rules (like we’re talking about lying or stealing or if they have a big conflict, two of them) one of the couple of things that I used to do with my kids a lot — in fact, I have a drawer full of these five paragraph essays or apology notes — writing a sincere and loving apology note to repair a relationship after you’ve been super unkind to your sibling.
I didn’t mind them showing that at all. In fact, my guess is there are probably parents who saw that and thought, “Oh…!” They definitely wanted me to look really negative doing that. Like I was just a mean mom to do that. But I hope it was useful to them.
My mom used to have us write five paragraph essays and I don’t know if that has a whole lot to do with the fact that we’re all good writers, all eight of us, but worth a try. We are all very good writers.
I had my kids write a lot of five paragraph essays and I have a drawer full of some of the really funny ones. Sometimes I would read them and literally laugh out loud at the stuff that my kids would say, and sometimes they would say snarky things that undermined the intent of the letter to each other or the essay.
My former university students, every once in a while, one of them would do this too. They’d throw in something snarky in there because they’re either mad or because they’re seeing if I’m really reading. And I read it every time and if they said something snarky, I’d go to them and say, “Do you want to erase this and put something that would make your sister feel better about the conflict? Or do you want to rewrite it?” Or whatever. And they usually never did that again.
Of course, I did slowly put together that the show’s agenda was to make me look like a mean mom. And I’ll tell you what, there isn’t anything in the show that they showed that if I had parenting to do over again, that I wouldn’t do that again. I feel like there’s a possibility that writing those essays taught my children something about forgiveness.
I think there’s a chance that what I did there with all the essays and apology letters they wrote had a role in making good writers out of my kids. Very frankly, they’re all outstanding writers. Maybe it’s hereditary. I mean, I’m a professional writer, but I don’t know. I think that probably was part of it. I hope that that helped them in school, and I hope it helped them develop their frontal lobe where, we may feel like we’re in the right, but learning to say we’re sorry and repair a relationship is super important.
Painful Moments from “Wife Swap”
I told you there’s one thing that the show did that was very hurtful to me. Not so much now because everybody’s just moved on from it. And anybody who sees it now knows that they’re seeing something very, very old.
But the show actually had a voiceover saying — watch for those voiceovers in reality TV shows because they make really strong statements that may not be as true as you think they are — the voiceover said something like this: “Robyn is so obsessed with efficiency that she forces all four of her children to celebrate their birthdays on the same day.”
When I saw that in the show, I had not seen it coming and it totally took my breath away because first of all, nothing about that was true, but there was a kernel of truth to it. So it was like maybe 90, 95% false. But the kernel of truth was people who watch it can’t think of any plausible reason why what they saw wasn’t true. And they really bought into this idea that I don’t care enough about my children’s individual birthdays to let them celebrate them individually.
In fact, because the show knew they were lying, they even enlisted my child and told him what to say to drive their lie home. And I’ll tell you more about that.
Here’s the two kernels of truth in that big fat lie. One kernel of truth is that all four of my children have birthdays within three weeks of each other. All of my children are Leos by the way. Leo’s love other Leo’s. So that was really nice for me, raising my kids. They didn’t really fight very much. But we have family on both sides who were hours away. And so, by having a joint family party, which we did do a few times, we could have our extended families come at once.
So that did happen two, maybe three times over the 20-something years I was raising kids, especially when they were little, that their family parties were combined. And I think that both sets of grandparents were grateful for this. And you know, I’m the oldest of eight children and my then husband was oldest of seven children. So lots of aunts and uncles and cousins run in their own lives. We didn’t want to make them come four times in three weeks. I’m sure you can understand.
But as for the friend parties — we did do friend parties and they always had their own — here’s the second kernel of truth that they took to be this ugly thing that wasn’t: there were two exceptions to my children having their own friend party, and really they still did. One year (and you can only do this when your kids are all within a certain age range, right? You can’t put a seventeen-year-old with a nine-year-old, but my kids are all pretty close together, and this worked) one year I rented out the entire skating rink that belonged to us for the night and another year — I only did this twice — another year I rented out the city pool.
But even then, they had their own friends, their own cake, their own presents. We sang the song separate while all the other kids were in the pool or on the roller-skating rink. I would pull everybody off for Emma’s birthday party, she had her own cake. There was quite a lot at work, but it was what my kids had decided to do. They were super excited. They wanted to do it. They knew they were getting their own party. I mean, I made four cakes. I don’t know if you have my recipe of the chocolate beet cake. We’ll put it in the show notes. It’s the birthday cake I made for my kids, but I decorate each one for each child.
So you can imagine when you care a lot about your parenting and then a reality TV show makes you out to be something you never even saw coming that makes you look like you’re super selfish and obsessed with the efficiency… It was quite devastating at that time. So those are the two kernels of truth. And they never mentioned the fact that my children all have birthdays right about the same time. They let the viewer believe that their birthdays were spread out throughout the year, like in most families.
That was an example that I hope you remember. I hope you remember, and hopefully it makes watching reality TV more fun when you task yourself with the puzzle of, “How could this thing they just showed us actually, at least in the minds of the participants, be almost completely false?”
I was out of town, I was actually out of the country, when our show finally aired. It aired like nine months after we actually shot all the footage. We saw the show when it was recorded, after the fact. And I had heard a few things about it, but I mostly just got home from out of the country and watched it.
My husband and I were sitting on either side of our oldest son, and he had just turned 15 at the time, and the show finally airs and we’re sitting watching it for the first time as a family. And apparently the producer of the show had put the camera on him and asked him a question, but all you get in the show is my son saying this: “Ever since I can remember, we’ve all celebrated our birthdays on the same day.”
As this came out of his mouth, both my husband on the other side of him and I turned our heads to him slowly and our mouths are just hanging open. Our jaws are on the ground. And we just kind of look at him for a second and I said, “… Cade, why did you say that?” And he said, “Because they told me to.”
That was something I did not prepare my children for it. When I left, I said, “Make good choices. Be inviting, include the other mom in everything that you do, we are going to give her the master bedroom,” which we don’t have to do, but we gave her our — it was a very big house that I raised my children in, downsized since then — we had this huge master bedroom suite and we gave it all to her.
None of that came in handy because when the cameras left, because they’re unionized camera people from New York City, the minute the cameras walked out the door, she went into the master bedroom and nobody ever saw her. So there was no socializing or whatever.
I was out with Gabe and Shelby in the evenings, just like we were staying together and enjoying each other’s company and getting to know each other. They had a really hard time getting any conflict between Gabe and Shelby and me because we actually formed a relationship and we were very friendly to each other and we enjoyed spending time together. Well, I guess I can only speak for myself, but that is just a little insider information.
We were so astonished when we saw our son saying something that he knew was a lie and we knew were lies, but it was a child being told [to do so] by all these British producers and directors who flew in from New York City and were very powerful and very professional.
They literally told him to tell a lie to the camera.
Some of the other things that aren’t necessarily as they appear in our experience is, I mentioned that I laughed and had fun all the way through that show. We did so many fun things. There were things I wanted to do that the show wouldn’t let me do because it would not show me to be the severe, extreme mean mom.
Before they ever even came out, when we were just kicking around ideas, I told them I wanted to have a party on the Cul-de-sac and get some live music and do pizzas and green smoothies. They didn’t want anything to do with that, that would not at all fit what they wanted me to be.
I remember a scene that they edited heavily in the skate shop when I was writing rules on the wall and I was collaborating with the kids about it and we had a meeting. And I loved seeing all the kids’ different personalities as they would pop out with ideas and whatever.
It was a really fun meeting and I remember a lot of us cracking up and having to recover and continue on, but you only see a couple clips of it, and you would think that I ran that like lady Hitler.
It was fascinating to see what they did with editing. They definitely put it out there that the family that I went to stay with was running this skate shop to get kids off of drugs. Nope. They weren’t involved in anything in getting kids off of drugs. That wasn’t even anything anybody discussed. They aren’t involved in any organizations to that end. They don’t screen the kids for drugs. And many of the kids, while we were filming the show, were on drugs. I hate to say it, but everything from marijuana to meth. And that made me really sad.
It isn’t a real business. They weren’t making any money there. It was government subsidized. They used their Native American status. The dad in the show was Native American and so he was entitled to some government reparations or some kind of something, I’m not sure. There was no actual money changing hands, maybe just a little bit to make it look a little bit like a business, but hardly.
The “rules change” ceremony was totally written by the show on her end. She just showed up and read what the show told her to do and then they executed on all of the things that had to happen.
For me, they told me that I was the first one who insisted on actually writing my own rules and collaborated with them on it. I thought that was so very weird.
They did have to execute on everything because for instance, one of the things was, “We’re going to start eating real food around here,” and “Let’s have a garden in the backyard.” Keep in mind their backyard was hard, baked dirt. It was Albuquerque, New Mexico in August. And the staff, because the whole house — you wouldn’t know it, but the whole house is just full of sound equipment people and producers and directors and a lot of people that you don’t see in the scene that are there for these reality TV shows — they went into motion and within a day and a half, there was a fully built square-foot garden with all the vegetables in it that I had wanted. And it looked amazing. I’m sure it died right after that because there were no sprinklers. There’s no easy way to get water to it. It was totally made-for-TV.
When I got home from this experience, I walked in the door and my house was in shambles. I was walking around seeing potato chips and grease ground into my couch cushions. The backyard was a mess. Nobody had even so much as vacuumed the whole two weeks that I had been gone.
I actually broke down sobbing and I contacted the show, that was like on a Saturday, and I contacted this show on a Monday and I demanded that they send someone to clean the house. But there were things that were done that a house cleaner wasn’t going to be able to fix.
The table meeting with the other mom. It was another thing that hurt me very deeply because she really attacked me and she used that table meeting, instead of to have a conversation and have some understanding and I was really excited that I wanted to tell her that we took the kids, wearing white shirts and ties — which of course the show bought, none of these kids had clothes like that — and I took them into this bunch of businesses in a business park and had them trade services, like clean up their business for college scholarships, and the businesses responded really well to us. I was coaching the kids how to pitch these businesses. And the kids were excited about it and I wanted to tell her about that, and I wanted it to be a positive thing.
Not only did the show not even show the amazing things that happened in that scholarship program. And by the way, I have followed up with the family and said, “Hey, I committed at that table meeting to give to college scholarships every year. I’d love to help send some of these kids who are interested in their future and have some academic goals. I’d love to help invest in them.” And I couldn’t even get them to answer me.
I felt very sad about what happened in the table meeting where Christine attacked me for being a terrible mother because I made my child (according to her), I made my child cry by having her write essays.
It’s funny because that child, Libby, is my highly sensitive person of my children, and she cried on command all the way through the show. I just had dinner with her. She was here from college; she’s stayed in the college town to work for the summer. But she came home for a couple of days and I got to see her last weekend and she was talking about this. She was talking about how she thinks that the essays and the letters that I had her write is a really ingenious way to parent and to drive a point home with something more significant than a lecture. She didn’t have the feelings about it that Christine attacked me for. She says, “I was crying because they were telling something about my dad and me that wasn’t true. That’s why I was crying. I wasn’t crying because I think you’re so mean for making me write an essay.”
That was actually just a detail that here 12 years later, I just had an interesting conversation with my daughter about it.
I think that even though my kids were rock stars afterwards, and they really liked that part of being part of the show, all the attention they got, they got their 15 minutes of fame, they would all tell you some interesting stories about how totally manipulated the show was.
There was one really funny thing that they honed in on (that I really laugh every time I see it because people will send me little clips of it or whatever), my former husband would take my youngest son’s door off of the frame and put it in the garage for slamming the door.
Both of my youngest children are very emotional, he was a very emotional kid. He’s the one that I was worried was going to have “I Miss Mommy” meltdowns and I wasn’t allowed to talk to them. I wasn’t allowed to call them with my cell phone. I was really worried about that, that I wouldn’t be able to check in with him. And I had never left him for that long.
They honed in on that because that’s a pretty weird punishment, right. They built him a door, in a frame, on a platform and they put it in the backyard. I can’t remember if it’s the beginning or the end but there’s definitely an outro at the end of the episode where my son is wearing his white shirt and his tie from his charter school that he goes to (they definitely wanted the kids in their charter school uniforms, you can imagine why, that totally fits the profile, right?), he’s wearing the dress shirt and the tie and he is slamming and slamming and slamming the door.
I think we all agreed that that one was actually pretty funny because he was getting a lot of attention, which he loved. Everybody was laughing. The directors and producers I guess thought he was just a riot. I saw that in the show and that was actually one of my favorite parts.
Another part that really bothered me is that I was very worried that they would take my children out of school a lot, and I didn’t want to come home to them being way behind in school because of being pulled out so much for two weeks. At the very last minute I found out I had to sign a power of attorney so they could take my kids out of school and I did not like that at all but I was in too deep to be able to get out of it at that point.
Having to sign over my rights was really scary. They promised me that they would take the kids out of school as little as possible. And the minute I left for the airport, they went and got my kids out of school and they never put them back in. Not a single one of them.
There were half days and whole days where little or nothing was going on that they had to be on camera for. But I was very frustrated by that, and the mess all over my house and the tons of cleanup, and even repair because they were just having parties, and nobody was tending to the place.
I cleaned Christine’s house before I came home, I vacuumed and made sure the kitchen was spotless. I didn’t know who she was, I’d been hearing about her from the kids in the skate shop and whatever, I just wanted to treat her with a lot of respect. Then I got home and found out what [happened]; I think my ex-husband definitely had the worst experience of the two of us. Because he only saw the mom who switched lives with me when the cameras were on. And then she disappeared.
She was total silly putty in their hands, apparently willing to engage in as much conflict as she was told to do. She seemed sort of angry and like she had really bought into the fiction that I was some kind of bad mom and she had bought into the idea that she was there to play a role as good mom showing bad mom how to do things. She and I couldn’t have been more different, at least in the way that we engaged with the show anyway.
Overall, I think my family really enjoyed doing it. It definitely makes for a good story. And my motto in life is, “Either things work out, or they make a good story.”
I actually borrowed that from my dear friend Laura Bailey. I did an episode about when Laura Bailey’s husband, Alan, whom I had also known for 25 years, passed away suddenly. Three years ago this month, actually. I get that from her. She says, “Either things work out, or they make a great story.” Learn to be a good storyteller, because then everything in your life is easy to leverage.
But, what did I learn?
What I Learned from “Wife Swap”
I promised you that I would talk about what I really got from this “Wife Swap” experience because even negative experiences have some really great silver linings. If you look for them, they’re always there.
One is: don’t trust reality TV to make anything meaningful or real out of your life. Maybe just don’t even do it, or do it and then be along for the ride and have a sense of humor about it. That really helped me, is to just go, “Hey, let’s don’t over-invest in people’s reactions to this.”
I don’t live or die anymore by what people think of one or two things that I do. If I treat the show as a metaphor for what it’s like to have someone who has a telephoto lens inside your home, someone who is impersonal, maybe someone who has an agenda of their own, I would say one of the best things that came out of this was developing a thicker skin. And just realizing that this too shall pass. I couldn’t go out in public for at least the first month without people just pouncing on me everywhere, sometimes strangers in the grocery store or whatever.
Learning that the people who know me aren’t going to buy into some competing information about me, and nobody else’s opinion really mattered in the long run.
The big irony is though, I posted on Facebook recently because I decided to do this episode. I said “Okay, so I went on ‘Wife Swap,’ what do you want to know about it?” And some people said, “Why did you do it?”
I’ve tried to cover the answers to the questions that were posed to me on Facebook, but one of them, that, “Why did you do it?” Or somebody put it this way, “What got into you??”
You might guess that it was the $25,000 and obviously that’s no small amount of money. It was also heavily taxed, and I knew it would be. I really was not super motivated by that. We definitely told the kids, “If we do it, we all earned it. So we’re going to go on an international trip together for like three weeks”. And so they are probably motivated by it. But I wasn’t because I really was scared.
I was downright terrified because I knew there was entirely the possibility that the show was going to make us look like jerks, make us look like bad parents on national television. And going into it, if I’m honest, I probably had a very unrealistic belief that I could influence that. That I could just show up and be me, and be in integrity, and it would all turn out okay. And that wasn’t true. They had massive power. They were there to make a very specific piece, truth or fiction. And they did not care about my family or me and they did not care about the truth either. They were cranking out a piece of entertainment, on a deadline and according to a formula.
But the irony is that this career I have now though that has provided for my family post-divorce because I don’t get any help putting my children through college. My children’s other parent has paid $0 million of tuition and other expenses for my three children who are in college. None of that would’ve happened and I wouldn’t have had this forum to educate people on so many topics that are super important.
And people write me all the time telling me about the difference that it makes in their lives based on the research and education that I do about these many topics. That would have never happened if it weren’t for that show. So that is one crazy silver lining. It’s like you can’t make this stuff up, you know, like that saying truth is stranger than fiction. Me and the “Wife Swap” story are totally a “truth is stranger than fiction” life experience story.
The reason the website went up is that my contact at ABC Disney when I was working with them on just signing a contract and the logistics, they told me, “People are gonna reach out to you because of this crazy green smoothie thing that you do.”.
You have to understand that, back then, there were 50 searches a month worldwide on the search engines. Which means nobody even had heard of such a thing. That’s not even a tiny, tiny, tiny drop of water in. There were no green smoothie demos except for mine and like a couple others on YouTube. Now there are thousands and thousands of them. What do you know now, that you can get a green smoothie at Jamba Juice and just about anyone anywhere in the country. That was not the case back then.
I had taught some little local classes before I put the website up. But the show got me thinking, “What if there is a potential for good here? What if I could go on this show and help other parents who are like, ‘Gosh, I want to feed my kids healthier, but I gotta find easy, really high impact ways.'” And what’s funny is that ABC told me that people would be just flooding to me in droves trying to find me. That didn’t end up being true, that tons of people would try to find me on the web.
I think people will Google me, but they aren’t necessarily our kind of demographic. They’re not necessarily the kind like you who stick around for the education and dive deeper into my podcast or my blog or read one of my books.
That hasn’t been a driver. The show itself hasn’t been a driver really for the success of the green smoothie movement that I had a big hand in moving forward.
I was not alone in that, but probably the biggest driver out there. Or for my little mommy blog becoming something that can help me put my children through college by myself. And the last 10 years since “Wife Swap” to be honest, has really just been a great blessing and another wonderful silver lining.
And no, my divorce was not caused by my going on “Wife Swap.” [Laughter] I heard stories about that. I heard that people’s marriages have ended over them being on “Wife Swap” and I think that’s ridiculous. I think that must’ve been a very strange relationship in the first place if “Wife Swap” ended it.
I was legitimately excited to see him: the whole thing where they make us run across the parking lot, many of the wives at the end of that experience jump into their husbands arms, I totally did that and I wasn’t doing it because they told me to, I was doing it because I was so legitimately happy to be home and with people who understood and loved me after that experience.
So even though the show itself didn’t drive a lot of traffic to this little blog that I had put up, it had actually gone completely viral and I was getting tens of thousands of hits a month on that fledgling site long before the show ever aired.
As weird as it sounds, how things started was with “Wife Swap.” It began a huge groundswell of public awareness that I got to be part of, on how to do some very simple and quick and easy things to help improve your nutrition and achieve better health and help our children do it.
Being on the show led to me putting the site up, putting the site up, caused Ulysses Press –my first publisher — to come to me and asked me to write The Green Smoothies Diet.
I didn’t want to call it The Green Smoothies Diet. I wanted to call it something else, but they insisted that had to be a diet book. Later, they would not allow me to write Green Smoothies for Dummies when Wiley came to me and wanted me to publish that; Ulysses press wanted to pretty much own me on the topic of green smoothies.
Later I published a book called The Big Book of Green Smoothies and that was recipes from our readers and some from us, it’s a 230-recipe book of green smoothies. I self-published it and Ulysses came in and threatened to sue me. And then my attorney discovered that they were violating the contract in multiple ways and they dropped it because they were actually the ones in violation of the contract.
Lots of behind the scenes stuff I’m sharing with you today, maybe it’s too much information, but if you’re a parent, I’m sure you can imagine that opportunity.
My kids really wanted to do it and that is why I did it. That was really the first impetus is, “Boy, this will be such a big adventure. We’ll be talking about this as a family for decades.” And we are, we are.
I finally just found out — my daughter told me last weekend — where the only DVD is that we had. We had a few of them and they’ve all disappeared. And I think they’ve apparently all disappeared into my children’s homes, my children’s friend’s homes because I do not have a copy of the DVD. I do not know where you can get one online. I’m sure you wanting to see it. I’m also not super motivated to help people see it [Laughter]. Like I said, when you’re that manipulated and they make you look that bad, you’re not super motivated to help people see the show. But it does air on Lifetime channel.
So, there you have it. The unadulterated version of events I probably would’ve never told in that first 10 years because ABC didn’t want me talking about it and now, I doubt that they would care with the show not in production anymore. But I hope I’ve at least entertained you a little bit today.
Here are the takeaways for you. If I boil it down, what my experience with reality TV teaches about living a higher vibration life.
One: be you. Don’t let anyone change you. Stay true to your integrity and who you were put on this earth to be.
Number two: don’t judge people harshly. Give people, and what comes through your eyes and ears and heart, benefit of the doubt, because there are things you don’t know in the story that would make all the difference if you did know. I hope this story, my family’s story, I hope it impresses that on you.
To sum it all up: don’t believe everything you see on TV. Use your critical thinking skills, and I will see you next time.
[Related episode: Ep.07: 13 Secrets For High Vibration Parenting]