Over two years ago, John and Jennifer Atkinson were sitting up late one night in bed. Their youngest daughter had recently been born and the tired parents were up for a late night feeding session and flipping through the channels on their television.
While flipping channels and trying to get their daughter to sleep, they ended up watching a re-run of the popular ABC reality television show Supernanny. The show's basic premise is that British nanny Jo Frost comes to the home of families in need of some parenting guidance. When a number flashed on the screen for families to call in if they wanted to appear on a future episode of the show, John and Jennifer laughed and made the call.
"We did it on a whim," Jennifer said of their decision to call into the show. "We placed the call right then."
The Atkinson family of Glen Ellyn has five daughters, with ages ranging from three to 14 years old. When John and Jennifer married, Jennifer had two daughters already and John had one. Since they've been married, they've added another two daughters to the family, but bringing the two sides together was proving to be a difficult task.
Two years after placing a call into the show, the family's nanny received a call asking if they were still interested in appearing. When Jennifer got home that day and heard the news she was floored.
The Atkinson family will be featured in the seventh season premier of the show on Friday, Nov. 5. The show has been billed in press releases as the Brady Bunch gone bad, as Supernanny Jo Frost deals with her toughest teen yet—Amanda, now 14, the family's oldest daughter.
Jennifer said the family was a little taken aback when they saw the press release for the season premier episode featuring their family.
"When we saw the press release we looked at it and we kind of all went, 'wow, that was harsh," Jennifer said.
But overall Jennifer said she feels that going on the show has helped their family immensely and they are still proud of their decision to go through with it. Still, they know everything on the episode won't be easy for the family to watch. The Atkinson's still haven't seen the episode and will watch it with everyone else who tunes in on Friday.
"The first five minutes of the show isn't going to be our finest moment," Jennifer said with a laugh.
It took the parents more time to get over having a television crew come stay at the house, than it did for the kids.
"It was really rough at first," Jennifer said of having the crews around filming her family.
The crew first came out on a Sunday to shoot the family at dinner and then later came back out for two weeks with the family. Jennifer said the strangest part was feeling like she was being critiqued all the time, but also said that the show's crew was extremely respectful of her and her family.
Jo Frost is the star of Supernanny, because she is the super nanny. The family said they were amazed by how quickly the children responded to her recommended techniques on some of the issues.
"Certain things we were like, 'wow, that was amazing," Jennifer said of the quick transformation.
Some of Frost's recommendations to the parents were to get on the same team when parenting. Jennifer said that Frost told them that they needed to parent and discipline their kids in the same way. John was less likely to be the enforcer, Frost told them.
While much of the show couldn't be revealed before the episode airs on Friday, Jennifer said that the show will touch on other issues including her relationship with her daughter Amanda (the show's most troubled teen), and how they've worked to improve their relationship by communicating with each other better.
"It's all about staying conscious about what's happening in your kids lives," Jennifer said. "It's about taking the pulse of your family."
Since the show was shot, Jennifer says they are still working on some issues, but life has improved dramatically, especially with Amanda and her relationship with her mother.
When asked if she had been worried about showing the world her family and its dysfunctions on national television, or how the girls would feel about having to go back to school on Monday after the episode airs, Jennifer said she didn't really worry about it.
"Yes, they are putting on a TV show, but they're also really invested in making families better," Jennifer said of the experience.
Jennifer also said that her and John did their homework before agreeing to be on the show, which included talking to other families who had been on it. That experience led her to take the next step forward, after hearing of the good it had done to others. Jennifer hopes that when people see her family on the show, it might help them as well if another family is in a similar situation.
"I'm really proud of my family, period," Jennifer said. "That's not going to change. I think we've done something really brave by opening up our doors."
Overall, Jennifer said that she and her family learned a lot from Jo Frost and the whole family is excited to see themselves on TV on Friday. The family is planning to watch the episode together and see how far they've come.
Jennifer said that she also hopes the show will feature some great shots of Glen Ellyn and the downtown to spotlight the community she loves.
"It's all very cool," she said.
The seventh season premier of "Supernanny" featuring the Atkinson family will air at 7 p.m. on ABC on Nov. 5.