In its five seasons, the HBO series Big Love gave America a window (albeit a fictional one) into a lifestyle that was, for most of us, alien, laughable, and/or scary. I’m not sure how many minds Big Love changed about the validity of this lifestyle choice. But it made a decent case. Largely by imagining (and possibly exaggerating) the experience of sharing your role as a wife and mother with other women.
Polygamy may be a fundamentally phallocentric practice, but HBO’s version was all about the ladies. Bill Hendrickson was the center of the Big Love universe. But the show didn’t really seem to happen from his point of view. Instead, it seemed to revolve around the women: wives, and mothers, as if trying to tell us what was in it for them.
From the easy hand-offs of mutual mothering, to the seamless collaboration in the kitchen, to the shoulders to lean on in the face of tragedy, the Big Love finale reinforced the possibility that a gaggle of sister wives could actually be a benefit to a woman and a mother, and a reasonable alternative to the nuclear family as we know it.
I wrote something recently about how Big Love made me wonder whether polygamy might be bad for women, but good for mothers. A friend responded with first hand experience in how polygamy definitely ISN’T great for moms- it fosters competition, for one thing. The sister wife fantasy is really just about having more co-parents- help with enough inside knowledge that you don’t even have to make the effort to explain or delegate. The fact that I can have this fantasy about a family with multiple wives is a testament to the power of HBO’s positive spin, which obviously has little to do with reality: polygamist, mine, or anybody’s. I’m sure I’m not the only mother who wishes she had more hands to get the kids ready in the morning.What’s good for mothers, really, is having a support system.