“Sister Wives” has just made polygamy look enticing. Not in the way you’re thinking.
Lately, I’ve been hearing parents mention the TLC cable network show that just wrapped up part one of its second season. “I’m a sister wife,” is how one woman described herself at a recent children’s birthday party. In other words, she was the parents’ friend with a benefit: She babysits.
A few weeks before, another friend told a group of mothers from my daughter’s playgroup that the show had made her finally understand polygamy. “It’s about the babysitting.”
“Sister Wives” debuted in 2010, a reality spinoff of the popular HBO series “Big Love.” Where “Big Love” made polygamy sexy by concentrating on the tense relationships of its adult characters, “Sister Wives” makes multiple marriages look mundane and workable, especially from the child-rearing aspect.
The four wives share responsibilities for 16 children. Episodes show them sharing home burdens, corralling the children, cooking family meals.
In in a region with notoriously high child care costs, it’s no wonder the show’s representation of polygamy is inviting. In D.C., the average cost for infant care is more than twice the average cost of college tuition, according to a 2010 report by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies.
In urban areas of Virginia, parents paid $14,612 for a year of infant care; in urban areas of Maryland, $12,534, the report said.
Those costs are actually for the lucky parents who make it off waiting lists or find a sitter they can afford and trust.
Jokes aside, what “Sister Wives” reveals may be less about the reality of polygamy — and with the heavy-handed editing there’s little to glean from this particular slice of “reality” — and more about the mainstream culture viewing it.
As my friend pointed out, sister wives are built-in babysitters who don’t need background checks, don’t need to ease into a relationship with children and each one always has a backup. Plus, the services are free.
Now that’s something to fantasize about.