Hippie-like, free-spirited Atlanta family in ABC’s ‘Wife Swap’ this Friday

May 12, 2010, by Rodney Ho

ABC’s reality show “Wife Swap” is set up for conflict: take two moms with differing philosophies and have them live  with the other family. Watch the fireworks fly!

The formula is in fine form this Friday when a self-described liberal “hippie” family from the Lake Claire neighborhood of Atlanta swaps wives with a conservative rancher family in East Texas for a couple of weeks. For the first half, the wife follows the family rules. During the second half, they try to impose their own changes.

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The Texas mom Debbie Spencer plays the traditional housewife to her rancher husband Mike and football playing sons Kirby (18) and Chase (16). She cooks, cleans and stands until the other three have finished dinner. Mike calls her the best waitress in the county. The sons can't even pronounce the word "feminine."

Feminist Atlanta mom McKenzie Wren (left), 45, allows her kids to explore life without gender boundaries.

“We have completely different worldviews,” McKenzie said in an interview by phone Tuesday. “We’re a gender-free family.”

McKenzie, who works in public health with refugee families, watches virtually no TV. With her sons Elijah (10) and Devon (7) and her husband and professional clown Reuben, "we like to dance around, do art, go to green spaces and play." She's a storyteller. She and her kids dress up as elves and do children's shows. She is part of a drum circle, which is how she even heard about "Wife Swap." And in a detail ABC surely enjoyed including in its press materials, she hasn't shaved her armpits in 20 years.

Her son Elijah, she said, loves pink. And with his long hair, he is often mistaken for a girl. Devon enjoys tie-dye.

“What idiot would do a reality show like this?” McKenzie thought at first. But the Haller-Wren family decided it would be “a fun adventure. And we’re legitimately nosy about people’s lives. This gives us a real look at someone else’s life.”

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On the show, Debbie (left, in photo with Reuben)  is immediately uncomfortable with the hippie lifestyle the Haller-Wrens lead. She leaves a drum circle Reuben takes her to.  She can’t believe he does the dishes without complaining. She is unhappy how “unmanly” the kids are.

McKenzie is treated like a servant in the Spencer household and reduced to tears by the hubby after he discovered her underarm issue. After eating burgers and fries and such for days, she tries to cook them healthy cuisine, including Indian and Thai. The teen boys are not impressed. “A gourmet meal for them is meatballs and fried potatoes with green beans from a can,” she said. “I didn’t see a piece of fruit while I was there.”

Overall, McKenzie said she had a great time in Texas. “I got to ride some ATVs on a beautiful ranch,” she said. But she admitted “it was hard. There were conflicts.”

McKenzie said her family learned more about fiscal management from Debbie. “The Spencers had retirement accounts and their futures all planned out,” she said, something she admits they did not have.  But Debbie’s attitudes about gender roles “were irrelevent to our life. We’re proud of our boys for being who they are.”

She hopes she gave Mike Spencer a sense that male-female roles are not so “Leave it to Beaver” in this day and age and that the family could treat Debbie with a bit more respect.

But “the boys are being groomed to be the same as their parents,” McKenzie said. “They have no curiosity about the larger world. That is very sad.”

The concept of “Wife Swap” came from the U.K., where many reality shows come from. It has never been a major hit on ABC but along with “Supernanny,” has been solid Friday night filler, bringing in 5 to 7 million viewers as week over the years. It’s also the show the Balloon Boy family participated in a couple years back.

On TV

“Wife Swap” on ABC at 8 p.m. on Fridays

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