A chat with Valdora Roachford, MONDAY, Nov. 24, 10:30 a.m. at www.covnews.com
Covington resident Valdora Roachford had no idea what she would be up against when producers from the television series "Wife Swap" drove her to a home in the suburbs of Chicago last summer.
As part of the popular ABC reality show, Valdora would be spending two weeks in another woman's household. The other woman, whom she had never met, would switch lives with her. They would care for each other's children, communicate with each other's husbands and attempt to identify ways in which each other's families could run more smoothly.
Valdora was accustomed to running a tight ship back home in Newton County. As the mother of nine children (Briana, Ariel, Gregory Jr., Joshua, Matthew, Anna, Ruby, Melita, and David) she maintained a very structured household, where children worked as a team, obeyed the rules and respected their parents' authority.
Yet when she arrived at what turned out to be the home of Pete and Denise Berwick and their only child Faith, Valdora was mortified. According to Valdora, the mother whose shoes she would be stepping into was a woman who was accustomed to putting her own emotional needs aside in order to care for her 10-year-old daughter and to cater to the whims of her husband and his aspirations to become a rock-n-roller. Valdora soon discovered that husband Pete Berwick rarely helped his wife with household chores and child rearing. His constant sarcastic jokes about women were sexist in nature and he was often not at home. And apparently, their normally sweet daughter Faith had grown accustomed to occasionally speaking to her mother and father with disrespect. With what the producers of the show referred to as an "iron fist," Valdora set out to demand respect from both Pete and Faith and to implement rules and shared chores into the Berwick household.
Meanwhile, back in Covington, Denise Berwick arrived at the Roachford Family's home and was completely surprised she would be taking over a home full of nine children. After meeting the children and Valdora's husband Gregory Roachford Sr., she saw the dynamics of the Roachford Family unfold. She, too, was shocked. In her opinion, the Roachford's structure and family teamwork left little time for the children to explore their own individuality and to pursue their own dreams. The household was perhaps run too strictly and the group did everything together as a family. Berwick noticed that often, the oldest daughter Briana, age 19, took on a parental role with her younger siblings. Immediately, Denise searched for ways to free the family of what she considered to be a very binding and consuming structured way of life.
"The theory behind the television show is that families operate in ways that work for them but that we can all learn from other families," Gregory Roachford, Valdora's husband and a technical broadcast associate with CNN, told the News. "For the moms, it was also a chance to see how well they'd do walking in someone else's shoes, a chance to see how well they'd do taking on someone else's challenges."
Despite meeting resistance from Pete and his daughter Faith, Valdora was indeed able to implement a little bit of structure into the Berwick home. She demanded that he help with household chores and asked that he allow his wife to pursue some of her own dreams, as well.
Denise was thrilled to help the Roachford children discover some of their individuality. She asked the quiet family of nine to make noise at home and she even had them dress in chicken suits and perform a singing telegram for residents of a local nursing home.
"That part was embarrassing," David Roachford, 7, told the News. "I didn't like wearing the chicken suit."
The other Roachford children said parts of their time with Denise Berwick were exciting but other portions of the visit did not fit well into their family's routine. According to Gregory Sr., Denise's carefree ways did not fit well into the shared environment of a large family.
"It was just chaotic when she was here," 12-year-old Matthew agreed. "She just couldn't keep up with everything."
Briana, 19, spent the most one-on-one time with Denise and said she enjoyed the opportunity to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress. (Denise had Briana attend acting lessons as a way of exploring her individuality.)
"Certain things were fun but I also think she felt intimidated coming into a large family," Briana said. "Also, we are African-American and she is not. She may have felt culturally out of place as well."
Jokingly, all of the extremely well-behaved Roachford children agreed Denise did not make enough food for a family of 11. Trying to give the children more time to themselves, Denise did most of the cooking for the Roachfords the second week she was at their home. The Roachfords laughed that they "stayed hungry."
According to the Roachfords, the two week filming duration took place late July and into early August. Each household welcomed a production crew of eleven. Microphones were placed around the homes and nothing filmed for the reality show was scripted. At times, things became heated as the families struggled to take on the authority of a new mother. The cameras did not roll 24 hours a day, giving the families a chance to recoup from what was often a stressful day. As part of the contract, the mothers slept in children's rooms.
And at the end of the episode, which aired this past Friday night at 8 p.m., both families agreed to continue implementing some of what the other mother suggested. Both families agreed that some of their original ways worked well for their individual households but that they could each learn new ways.
"It was great because it forced us all to question why we do things the way we do," Valdora said. "At the end of everything, even the kids were able to completely understand why we do some things the way we do. In a way, the experience helped to validate our household routines."
Valdora said it was her idea to go on "Wife Swap." She had been searching the Internet for movie extra jobs for her children when she came across a posting from producers searching for families to appear on the reality show. She heard back from the production company within 24 hours of submitting her online application. Within a couple of months, the Roachfords were in daily contact with the producers, often speaking on the phone more than once a day.
Before the Roachford family could be officially chosen to appear on the popular reality television show, everyone (including the Berwicks) had to undergo lab work and tuberculosis testing. They also had to take psychological tests.
"They wanted to make sure nobody was sick," Valdora explained. "Since we were going to be in each others' homes, they needed to make sure everyone was well...and that everyone was of sound mind."
After the filming was finished in August and the footage had been edited, producers from New York visited the Roachfords with a tape of the episode. The family was able to watch themselves on television before anyone else and also had they also had the opportunity to give their final "okay" on the material to be aired. The Roachfords were compensated with an undisclosed amount of money called an honorarium, the purpose of which was to compensate for any loss wages during the filming or for any damages incurred to property during the production process.
The Roachfords celebrated their television appearance with over 50 friends, family, and acquaintances at a party held at a friend's home in Lithonia Friday night. Guests were asked to don shiny Hollywood style apparel and to bring a dish. Everyone shared a dinner before watching the long-anticipated episode on a big-screen television.
When asked if they would ever do something like take part of "Wife Swap" again, the Roachford family shrugged breezily.
"It was exciting," Valdora said. "We will stay in touch with the Berwicks and though we run our households differently, we liked them. If they were our neighbors I'm sure we would be friends."