Joanna Gaines Taught Me a Lesson

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Have you ever watched HGTV‘s show Fixer Upper? Fixer Upper is a home renovation show hosted by Chip and Joanna Gaines. They fix up homes in Waco, TX. Chip is the brawn and Joanna is the design brains and beauty. I’m in awe of Joanna Gaines.

She is a mother of four, has a successful television show, a design business, a bed and breakfast, is a devout Christian and is younger than I am.  I have two kids. Compared to her I’m not really a parent. I don’t have the kind of successful business she has, I don’t feel at home in any religion, and I’m getting older by the second.

I’m not saying I would trade places with Joanna. I don’t know what her life is really like behind the cameras. Her kids might hate that she’s not around or their whole lives might revolve around the business and just once they’d like it to be different. She seems super nice, but maybe she’s a good actress. I don’t want to live on a farm with all those animals. Some days I’m not even sure I want the dog. But she sure does make life look clean, neat, and well-adjusted.

It’s hard not to compare myself to her when the laundry is piled taller than I am, dog hair tumbles across the hardwood floor, the mail needs to be sorted, kids need to be driven to a thousand places (that’s not much of an exaggeration) and I have words to write, clients to appease and appearances to be at. Joanna makes it look easy.

But it ain’t easy. In fact, even as I write this the laundry needs attention, again, I’m out of shampoo, I have to figure out how to grab both kids today at the exact same time from two different places, this blog post has been a thorn in my side for days, I need to write a blog post for my client, and I have a word count for the new novel I must hit. I did manage to brush my teeth, cleanup last night’s dinner, and set the house alarm before I left to go to the Starbucks and write. It’s a win, ladies and gents! It’s a win.

We all know social media and television make life look like it’s all homemade food and hand sewn clothes. It isn’t. Life is messy. I don’t believe half the posts I see from moms who go on and on about how proud they are of their children and how amazing this kid is and this mom can’t believe how lucky they are. Every parent (okay, not every) feels that way about their kid. We all love our children with such a fierceness it could blow up the universe. These same moms also want to pull their hair out of their heads from time to time, imagine a vacation alone on a sunny beach with no one yelling “MOM!!!” and have at some point wondered why they thought being a mother was a good idea in the first place. Oh, trust me, it’s true. (If you don’t have teenagers, don’t weigh in on that comment. Come back to me in a few years. We’ll talk then.) Doesn’t make anyone bad for thinking that. Perhaps our Joanna has glimmered that thought too.

Last night I was talking to a friend who had suffered the rampage of Hurricane Sandy. Long story short, she and her family recently moved back into their home. She’s expecting baby number two and the house isn’t ready, the room isn’t ready, boxes everywhere. I said, “It will all get done in time. Don’t worry about it.”

Why do women feel such pressure to be perfect? Me included. Is it because women before us burned their bras and fought for our opportunities to hold great jobs and raise families and own homes and not need the help of another human being while doing all of this, least of all a man? Or is it because the Joanna Gaineses of the world paint a picture we try to strive for? It would be easier to climb Mt. Everest than keep our stuff together in a picture perfect way without help. Heck, even the climbers of Everest have help. They don’t go to the top alone, why should we?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in this whole it takes a village to raise a child business. No, your child is your responsibility. You raise him or her. The occasional car pool is one thing, but the constant watch my child so I can work and go on vacation in Disney mumbo jumbo doesn’t fly with me. Sorry, my opinion. (Before someone goes nuts, I’m not referring to the single mother working three jobs and living in a studio apartment trying to make ends meet. She needs the help. So, help her.)

But it is okay to say, I can’t do that right now. I can’t volunteer for one more group, or wash the car, or dinner is just going to have to be cereal. It’s okay to say to our partners, I need your help with the kids, the food, the horses, the bodies I’m trying to bury. And we shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Our home, children, job, and appearance don’t have to be perfect. And while we’re busy perfecting all these things we’re forgetting to better our souls. We should strive for more kindness, compassion, and generosity. We need to perfect our listening skills, because as a former Speech, Theater, Commmunications major I can tell you with assurance listening is a skill that can be learned. We need to experience things that make us feel better. Yoga, long walk in the parks, sunsets, coloring books, laughter.

When our souls are running over with warmth and peace we’ll be the better mother, wife, friend, business woman. Then and only then can we become the Joanna Gaineses of the world.







2 thoughts on “Joanna Gaines Taught Me a Lesson

  1. You know from reading my blog that I’m a guy’s guy, Stacey: I’ve written pieces on 24, Rambo, John Carpenter, Game of Thrones, and the Pacino/De Niro crime-thriller classic Heat. Hell, my forthcoming novel — about cops, gangbangers, and zombies fighting their way through the world’s largest penal colony — is an ode to alpha males! But all that said, my two favorite TV shows — and I’m not kidding — are Gilmore Girls and Fixer Upper! Nothing gives me greater pleasure than my weekly fix of the Gaines’ magic! So, there you go: That’s one more thing we have in common!

    The definition of a professional is someone who makes what they do look easy. All the great athletes and artists fall into that category. But it’s only when you study and practice a particular discipline yourself that you finally understand how much effort goes into making it all look so effortless. Joanna Gaines is a consummate professional, and there’s no question that what you see on Fixer Upper is consciously contrived and staged to promote and sell her brand — and that brand, to a large extent, is domestic perfection. This is not a criticism; I admire the hell out of her skill and professionalism. And, if I’m practicing self-honesty, I want a piece of what she’s selling! (Unattainable though I realize it is.) The perfection that’s presented on Fixer Upper is just as fictitious as the town of Stars Hollow: It’s an idealized fantasy. And there’s nothing wrong with fantasy, so long as we recognize it for what it is. (You and I recently discussed the perils of submitting to fantasy over on my blog.) Fixer Upper is an aspirational fantasy, and there’s no harm in its aspiration, just so long as it keeps us striving toward something good, not something perfect. We do need to pursue projects that make us feel better, as you so elegantly assert above, and if our fantasies feed the wellspring of our imagination and ambition, more power to them. But they should never leave us feeling “less than”; we must never lose sight of the fact that the portrait they present, pretty as it may be, is never the full picture: Nothing as appealing as the lifestyle and aesthetic of Joanna Gaines is as easy as it appears.

    Terrific post.


    1. Sean,

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. I love that Fixer Upper is one of your favorite shows and to admit that shows a self-confidence in your masculinity. You really hit the nail on the head (if you’ll allow me the cliche) that Joanna Gaines is a professional and her brand is domestic perfection. When we watch her, that is exactly what we want in hopes of that perfection changing everything that doesn’t sit right in our worlds. Only the truth is, even if we had a slice of that perfection all that bothers us would remain the same. When we change our expectations of perfection that is when we’ll find true happiness.

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