Editor’s Note: This opinion column originally published on USA Today. These views belong to the writer and do not express the views of All the Moms.
I love Chip and Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s Fixer Upper. There is much to be admired about them, including their commitments to their faith, marriage, family and community.
There’s an important distinction, however, that I think their millions of fans and would-be imitators need to remember: Chip and Joanna Gaines did not get where they are now by putting their family first.
The family-first facade of the Gaines family
The Gaines are often portrayed as the gold standard of “family first” couples.
- “Nothing means more to Chip and Joanna Gaines than family!” said an article in the February issue of Life & Style.
- People magazine put the pair on the cover in October 2017 with the headline “Our Family Comes First.”
- Just last month People published an article that opened this way: “For Chip and Joanna Gaines, family always comes first.”
My wife and I recently heard from a friend who said she loved that Chip and Joanna show what you can accomplish when you put your family first.
I thought to myself, “Are we talking about the same couple?”
It’s an image Chip and Joanna work hard to convey.
From photo shoots to scenes from Fixer Upper, there are countless “captured” moments that show the Gaines family spending quality time together. Chip and Joanna make the case for putting their family first in nearly every interview they give, from Success magazine to ABC News.
- Chip told Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s Today Show that “the most important thing in the world” for them is their relationship, “followed very quickly by these four beautiful kids.”
- Joanna told People that “Family is the most important thing in the world.”
Except it isn’t so. Not if actions really do speak louder than words.
I’ve always believed that we prove what we value most by where we choose to spend our time.
So where do Chip and Joanna Gaines spend their time?
The many business ventures of Chip and Joanna Gaines
In addition to running their home and 40-acre ranch, they also run a successful real-estate company across the Texas cities of Waco, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, Houston and San Antonio. Their real estate services include land development, renovations, rental property management, remodeling, fixing and flipping homes, a brokerage, and managing a large team of real estate agents.
Since their oldest child, Drake, was born in 2005, they have also started or maintained additional ventures that include two weekend stay locations, two best-selling books and a third one on the way, a shopping center they estimated drew 70,000 people during spring break in 2017, a quarterly magazine, an online store, a restaurant, an interior design company, a blog (which Joanna still writes herself), a wallpaper line, a furniture line, a paint line, a line of designer pillows and rugs, and an exclusive line of products for Target.
On top of all of that they also filmed five back-to-back seasons of Fixer Upper. And they announced just last week that they’re organizing and hosting an annual marathon, half-marathon, and 5k for the residents of Waco.
That’s all incredible.
For anyone else I would be shouting my admiration from the rooftops. But I see Chip and Joanna differently, because they don’t want to be seen simply as a couple that can do it all. They want to be seen as a couple that can do it all while at the same time making their family their top priority.
This is just not possible, and it does a disservice to the parents who really are putting their children first.
No matter how rich and famous, we are all limited by the same 24 hours in a day. You cannot do all they’ve done (or even a fraction of it) and still have any real time left over for family. Frankly, I wonder where they even find the time to brush their teeth, let alone spend quality, one-on-one time with each child daily.
Lest anyone think I’m in a glass house throwing stones, I take the responsibility of providing for my family very seriously.
My wife and I have owned our own business for nearly eight years now. We have deliberately kept it small because we have never wanted it to have a monopoly on our time, and we run it from home so we can be present at all times for our three children (soon to be four). Even still, I’m amazed at the number of distractions even one small business churns out every day.
That’s how I know that Chip and Joanna have got to be two of the busiest people on the planet. All providing parents know they have to maintain a dependable source of income, but most of us are content with that and don’t take on unnecessary additional commitments.
I wonder at what point it stopped being about providing for their family and started being about Chip and Joanna?
If they need more family time, why do they keep starting new ventures?
What’s most unfortunate to me is they say they are aware they need to spend more time with their children, but their actions continually contradict that. In their book The Magnolia Story, Joanna talks about the difficult decision to close her first store on Bosque street in 2006.
She said her intent in doing so was to have more time to “cherish” her firstborn, and that “soon I would have two children whose time deserved cherishing.”
Yet the additional time created from closing the shop was quickly filled by even more time-consuming outside endeavors, including a new interior design company, a hit TV show, and, ironically, opening an even larger store at Magnolia Market Silos. Joanna has since reopened that original store as well as an outlet store, by the way. Now that she has four children, with a fifth on the way, I wonder what happened to that pull she felt to “cherish time” with each child?
And by the way, they’re actually not leaving TV
It’s even more revealing that soon after Chip and Joanna announced they were leaving Fixer Upper to “spend more time together as a family,” they opened their new restaurant, Magnolia Table, and announced they were designing and providing more than 300 exclusive home décor products for nearly 2,000 Target stores. True to form, they already have a new spinoff TV show called Behind the Design that premiered exactly one week after Fixer Upper aired its final episode April 3.
Unchecked ambition for any of us is a bottomless pit. We live in a world where every social-media user compares their worst to everyone else’s best, and mommy-bloggers work tirelessly to portray unattainable perfect homes and families. Instead of correcting distorted realities, Chip and Joanna are adding to the problem. Not just in what they say, but also in what they show.
There are a lot of people who wish they could be the next Chip and Joanna Gaines. But they’re kidding themselves if they think they can achieve that kind of success and still give their children the time and attention they deserve. Some truths, even shiplap can’t cover up.
Daryl Austin is a writer and small business owner from Orem, Utah. He and his wife parent three children, with one on the way.