By Daryl Austin, ,
Published May 24, 2018
I recently wrote an opinion article for USA Today that was critical of the parenting choices of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” couple, Chip and Joanna Gaines. I regret writing it.
I didn’t write it to be hurtful, out of jealousy, or to cause controversy – all motives I was accused of. I wrote it for one simple reason: because I believed every word I wrote to be true.
I was speaking from the personal experience of running my own company for nearly eight years. My own experience has taught me that even just one business venture takes an awful lot of time and effort each day, and that if I wanted to give my wife and three young children more of my time, I’d have to say “no” to many personal ambitions along the way. So I have.
I run my business and life this way because I believe we live in an if/then world of cause and effect. If you want to lose weight, then you need to eat better and exercise. If you want to play the piano, then you’re going to have to take lessons. And so on.
So when I heard Chip and Joanna Gaines say (again) that they wanted to spend more time with their children, I wanted to respond: “If you want to spend more time with them then stop saying ‘yes’ to every business opportunity that comes your way.”
Many parents just like me have to work many hours each day to provide for our families. But I saw Chip and Joanna as being in a different position, because they no longer need to work as much as they do in order to provide for their kids.
The Gaines take on so many new responsibilities so often because they want to. Which is great. There just seemed to be a disconnect between the amount of time they say they want to spend with their kids, and the business decisions they make that appear to prevent them from doing so. I thought it was a valid argument worth exploring.
Then Chip Gaines responded to me via Twitter with an argument of his own, and suddenly an avalanche of his and Joanna’s supporters came crashing down, as I expected they would.
Before I knew what was happening, dozens of major news organizations were covering the controversy including Fox News, and HuffPost, “Today” on NBC, Country Living, Deseret News, All The Moms, Yahoo Lifestyle and many more. Within a few days The Washington Times and Relevant Magazine had each published opposition articles slamming my opinion and point of view.
The funny thing is that none of it deterred me in the slightest. Especially because tens of thousands of people had shared my article on social media and I was getting the feedback I wanted from the people that understood and appreciated what I was trying to accomplish.
I wrote about Chip and Joanna Gaines specifically because, as reality television superstars, they have presented a lot of information over the years and portrayed a lifestyle for their viewers to develop opinions about.
I developed one such opinion. I was convinced that the lifestyle they presented to the world was a great recipe for building loads of successful companies, but not necessarily a way to have more time together as a family.
I wanted to make it clear that – regardless of how they juggle their businesses and family responsibilities at present – building a brand and empire from the ground up required them to sacrifice a lot of time away from their young children in order to get to where they are today. Fellow entrepreneurs would be wise to remember that fact when considering going down a similar path.
All I was trying to do was provide a different perspective and discuss the potential consequences of the you-can-have-it-all lifestyle Chip and Joanna seem to portray to their millions of followers.
For that reason, I was proud of what I wrote and I shut off my haters by taking my family out of the country for a pre-planned vacation to Mexico. But within 10 minutes of arriving at our destination and hopping on a tour bus, I started to feel very, very small.
It was Mother’s Day in Mexico (May 10 every year) and our beautiful Mexican tour guide was a mother of five spending her Mother’s Day with a bunch of tourists. Her name was Sophia and she spent nearly an hour telling the people on my bus what it was really like to be a mother in Mexico.
As I listened to her, I looked out the windows and saw huge piles of trash on both sides of the road. I saw farmers working in their fields during what Sophia called one of the worst droughts in recent history, and I heard stories of kids who can’t go to school anymore.
All around me I witnessed poverty I’ve never known. As we saw a group of young children digging through piles of trash, my 7-year old looked up at me with tears in her eyes and asked: “Where are their moms and dads?”
Suddenly the parenting choices of two well-meaning American parents paled in comparison. Especially because as bad as it seemed to be for some of the children I witnessed in Mexico, I knew in that moment that many children all over the world were suffering even more.
I smiled as I realized how lucky any of those kids without parents would feel to have a mother and father like Chip and Joanna Gaines. I don’t know them personally, but I suspect they really are terrific parents. I’ve never said or thought otherwise. And just because Chip Gaines chooses to spend his time differently than I do doesn’t make him any less of a father.
Mine was a flawed argument that projected my if/then belief system onto another family. My intention was to start a conversation about what it actually means to put family first, but my means of doing so were way off course.
If our society is ever going to have the conversations we need to be having, judging and shaming one another is a terrible place to begin, especially when there are so many more serious concerns that need addressing.
I still believe we live in an if/then world of cause and effect. But after this experience, the bar for which causes I want to affect has been significantly raised. I’ve never backed down from anything I’ve written before now, but maybe progressing in my beliefs and doing better next time is what being a fixer upper is all about.