Last night, I watched a TV program that€™s become an endangered species. Cutting Edge: Four Sons versus Four Daughters was a reality show, but €“ hold the front page €“ it didn€™t try to humiliate the people it was filming. What€™s more, the people concerned were two middle class families, leading lives of uncomplicated happiness somewhere in middle England. Where was the angst, the secrets, the affair with the tennis coach? Each family had four children of the same sex, and the show swapped parents for the weekend to see how different their lives might have been.
The show€™s producers had obviously been briefed to find the UK’s most gender-stereotypical families. The four girls did hours of dance lessons each week, had a house filled with My Little Ponies,and couldn€™t stop painting the fingernails of anything that didn€™t move €“ even big burly dad, the haulage contractor, was regularly subjected to makeovers. Over on the boys€™ side, it was endless football, plastic guns and go-kart racing. Both mothers worked part-time, and were very happy with their lot. As were the dads. In short, there wasn€™t much of a story. And the story there was could be condensed into: €˜Mums of girls get to go shopping. Mums of boys get to watch football€™. As a documentary, it could have been so much more.
I’m a mother of four boys, and was dying to see if I€™d watch the program secretly seething with jealousy about life with glorious girls. Perhaps a life policing games of goodies and baddies wasn’t actually as much fun as I seemed to think. However, I laughed at the makeovers and the messy pink bedrooms, though admitted that the girls looked sweet doing their ballet lessons. They were also a lot quieter than the boys, and smiled and chatted all the time. But seven hours of watching wobbly infant arabesques a week? I realised I probably had more in common with the mother of boys who was quite happy to watch her sons and husband hurl themselves around a go-kart circuit, while feeling no need to join in the €˜fun€™ herself. There was a moment when the burly dad of girls, who runs a second-generation family haulage business from the bottom of the garden, seemed as though he was going to point to his collection of diggers and trucks and sigh about his daughter€™s lack of interest in them. But he admitted that he wasn€™t sure he€™d have chosen a career in haulage for himself anyway, and really didn€™t mind that his daughters were unlikely to take over.
I€™m not saying I wanted a fist fight and parents breaking down over their lack of a son or daughter. But it would have been nice to ask the children what they thought of their new parents for the weekend. I€™d also like to have got into the issues of education €“ are boys as backward as generally reported when it comes to schooling? And are mothers of boys more likely to allow their offspring to get away with doing household chores?
Cutting Edge documentaries are generally lauded as watercooler TV. In this instance, I can’t imagine anyone getting wound up by the show’s conclusion which revealed that both sets of parents were extremely lucky, had wonderful kids, and €˜Wouldn€™t have it any other way€™. On the plus side, we spend so much time hearing about shoddy parenting, and people dashing to the States for gender selection, that it was nice to hear that what you get couldn€™t be more wonderful. I’m just not sure we need a slightly feeble documentary to remind us of the joy of parenthood.