Nurturing Resilience

Raising children to be competent and caring.

Honey Boo Boo: A Great American Family

A "redneck" Georgian family can teach us a lot about what makes a family work

I’m not one to watch reality TV, but I was intrigued to see what could possibly be entertaining about a family from Georgia who pimp out their children for beauty pageant exploitation. What I was surprised to see was a video documentary of the things that make poor families work. In fact, it felt better watching the jaw-dropping ordinariness of Honey Boo Boo (is this really worth watching?) than reading the stomach turning upper class snobbish laments of Yale Professor Amy Chua (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) who extols the virtues of driving your kids to hate you if it gets them on the stage at Carnegie Hall. Honey Boo Boo strikes me as the opposite side of the coin; here are the people who Chua has to step on to get her little princesses their success. The people who have to drive the buses and taxis that take Chua's children to their practices, farm the food that is on their tables, produce the steel that makes their cars, and clean up after them once they’ve left the Hall. Alas, I stereotype. There are plenty of great upper class families just as there are great lower class families like Honey Boo Boo’s.

In fact, there is research that suggests families from lower and lower middle class families can be much happier, and better functioning, than their wealthier peers when all their basic needs are met. Watching Honey Boo Boo and her “normal” Georgian family, there is lots to admire. Consider each of the following points. How does your own family compare?

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Honey Boo Boo and her family eat together. A lot. A good deal of the show I saw, shot on a July 4th weekend, shows the family cooking and eating together. And we know that a family that eats together at least 3 times a week is one where the children are less likely to have behavior problems.

The family has lots of shared activities. They go four-wheeling together, down to the “department store,” which are trash containers at the local dump. They play together. They spend time with one another and the banter they share shows they actually enjoy each other’s company. Shared activities are often identified as a glue that keeps a family working together. Quality time doesn’t mean heart to heart talks. It can also mean shared interests and time spent doing things (My clients often forget this).

Honey Boo Boo’s parents model self-respect. Sugar-Bear, the father, admits when he can’t put together a ‘some assembly required’ backyard pool, and Mama is happy to describe herself as voluptuous rather than obese. Not bad in my books, where too often parents spend most of their time reminding their children of what they want to be (think of endless diets and the trite complaints of desperate housewives). It was nice to watch people who actually like themselves and are doing no harm to anyone being who they are.

There are likely other strengths of this typical American family, and likely many flaws too. I don’t think I’ll ever know what these are. I had to stop watching. Frankly, it was simply too mundane, too commonplace to consider entertainment.

If I have any criticism of the show it is that it has tried to make viewers feel smug that we are all better than these “rednecks.” I’m not so sure. They look pretty normal to me. It’s the obsessive, uptight, and unhappy families watching that would make for better television. Then again, I'm confident I know little to nothing about reality TV.

Michael Ungar, Ph.D., is a family therapist, a researcher at Dalhousie University, and the author of The We Generation: Raising Socially Responsible Kids.

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