Mass Produced Children?

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar assure the world that they have enough love in their hearts for all nineteen of their children. Well okay, who am I to doubt a parent’s love for his or her children! But I have to ask, how much time do they have for each child? What the Duggars appear to be doing is mass producing children.

Let’s try a thought experiment. In today’s society, most cups are mass produced. Factories can make tens of thousands of them per day with very little labor. These factories use a cookie cutter mold so that all the cups it produces look identical. Any cup with a dent or a wobble is thrown out. There is very little time spent on each cup: the machines pour plastic into a mold, tamp it down, and then spit out the finished cups. The factory counts its success in sheer number of identical cups produced.

There is another way to make cups, though. Some cups are shaped individually on a potter’s wheel. The potter uses attention and care as he shapes the clay, listening to to the clay with his fingers and responding in turn. Every potter has an ideal cup in mind, but a good potter also allows the clay to speak. Different clay has different lumps and a different feel, and every cup turns out differently, beautiful in its own way. Sure, the potter cannot make as many cups in a day as a factory can, but his cups are masterpieces.


When I look at the difference between the Quiverfull family with a dozen or more children and the average (functional, for sake of example) American family with only two children, I see the difference between the mass production of children and the creation of individual masterpieces. Now obviously, this analogy only goes so far, but there is a definite difference in approach here. And so I have to ask, just how should children be raised? Is the goal to mass produce a dozen or more arrows for God, or to raise individual children with their own personalities, wants, and desires? Is the goal to create identical plastic copies, or individual ceramic masterpieces? Is the goal quantity, or quality?

There is another striking difference going on here as well. Mass production emphasizes conformity while the hand made emphasizes individuality. Yet technically the Quiverfull ideal is to turn out strong individuals who can serve God dynamically and influence the culture around them. It seems to me that putting out such individuals would necessitate a lot of individual time, attention, and nourishment. Yet at the same time the Quiverfull ideal calls on families to have eight, ten, a dozen or more children, and essentially mass produce them through carefully laid out rules and routines. Everyone has their place and their role to play if an industrialized size family is to operate correctly, and mom and dad have to spread their attention among a large number of children. This system doesn’t turn out individual masterpieces; it turns out identical conformers who know their place and stay in it.

One last point to my analogy needs attention. What happens to the cups that have individual quirks? In the factory system, cups that are different are tossed out as imperfect without so much as a second thought. A potter, though, looks at his cup’s quirks and sees them not as problems but as part of the cup’s unique appeal. This difference hits especially close for me and my experiences.

Now it’s not that I’m against large families. I do think, though, that if parents don’t have time to give their children individual attention, and find themselves outsourcing the parenting to the older children, there is a problem. Children should not be mass produced. They deserve better than that. Each child holds within him or her the seed of a masterpiece, and that seed needs to be fostered, nourished, and invested in.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Incongruous Circumspection


  • Erika Martin – Stampin’ Mama

    Great analogy! And fantastic post!I have a child with special needs and before we found out about his autism, we had already had another child (my kids are 13 1/2 months apart). I have no regrets for having my second child so close to my first, but we knew it would be incredibly selfish to have more children when the two that we had would need a lot of attention. My son needs a lot of attention because he's autistic and my daughter needs a lot of attention because she's mentally the older child and she also takes a back seat at times to her brother.

  • Hillary

    "What happens to the cups that have individual quirks? In the factory system, cups that are different are tossed out as imperfect without so much as a second thought. A potter, though, looks at his cup’s quirks and sees them not as problems but as part of the cup’s unique appeal."Wow…poignant, sad, and familiar reflection. Sharing on facebook.

  • Eric

    "Yet, O LORD, you are our Father.We are the clay, you are the potter;we are all the work of your hand." –Isaiah 64:8

  • Anonymous

    Speaking of imperfections, how is disability treated in the Quiverfull context?

  • Lois Brown Loar

    I am a mom of 12. I am not part of the patriarchal end of the QF movement. I dropped away from when it got hijacked but such people. And, despite their public exposure, the Duggars do not represent the majority of large(6+ children families) that I know in REAL life. For most of us, it IS time consuming to raise and educate all these kids. I did not work outside the home, which put a lot of burden on my husband to provide, but which he did and does without complaint. My life was somewhat consumed by child-rearing, volunteering at their schools, serving on curriculum committees, service projects, concession stands at sporting events, costumes for high school musicals, sewing prom dresses….altering wedding gowns. ANd THEN I started homeschooling the younger ones. Not for religious reasons, but for educational reasons.Early on, my husband and I developed a system for each of us to spend concentrated "time alone" with each child in which the child chooses the activity and we go off alone.That said, it wasn't/isn't the only time we focus on the individuals. Many a night I've stayed up late at night with an adolescent talking about a broken friendship or a broken heart. Many a time I've sat down and helped wtih an English paper or figure out extracting a square root. OR, talked about how much God loves him or her and that HE has a wonderful plan for his or her life. And that HE has gifted him or her with special talents and that's why he takes karate and she takes tennis. Or why he takes art classes and she plays piano.My QF(butnot patriarchal) friends all spend countless hours with our children. Most of us have messy houses(but clean bathrooms and kitchens ;-) ) because PEOPLE come first….my house will be clean when the last one moves out…and it will be quiet….and lonely. I may have to let the cats in for company…. :-)I have a QF type friend who has a child with disabilities. She homeschooled her for 16 years, attempting to prepare her for life without mom and dad someday, assuming that they outlive her. She enrolled her in public high school last fall at the freshman level. THe spec ed teachers there were amazed at "J's" abilities, level of education, and confidence.So, as we don't like to see children raised in a cookie cutter fashion, please, do not represent all QF families in a cookie cutter fashion! WE too are all different and not all are producing automatons.Frankly, the Duggar's and the like are making a false representation…and they annoy me….thanks for reading!!A happy mom of 12(and gramma of 12), who sees light at the end of the homeschool tunnel(my last two will enter public high school in the next two years!) and wondering what God has for me next!!

  • Naomi

    I was just thinking about this dynamic this morning when I saw a picture on a qf blog where the kids were literally sleeping on Costco shelves stacked four high. These people criticize any kind of public "institution," as enforcing a one-size-fits-all model of education, but turn around and have so many kids they can only manage them by raising them as so many cogs in a machine. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

  • College At Thirty

    I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to tell the quiverfull family that my mom is acquainted with that we're going for quality over quantity. And yet, I can't shake the feeling that as sad and isolated as I find their life, I think they find my life shallow and unfulfilled. I guess it's one thing to pray to a single person over the age of 30, it's another to actually be a single person over the age of 30.

  • Hopewell

    Good post. Too bad those who need it most will ignore it . I think the Duggar kids of today have gained so much from the tv show–the travel etc that the younger ones of today will be far different from the 6 oldest.

  • Katy-Anne

    Lois Brown Loar,I understand your frustration, as we want a lot of children but are not really either QF or patriarchial in belief. However, in my experience and in Libby's experience, MOST of the families with a lot of kids are how she describes them. Instead of getting upset that she labels all of us in there with the others, we need to live in such a way as to show the world that we are not all like that. Our actions will speak far louder than our words. Libby has experienced hurt and has a right to vent her beliefs and frustrations and hurts on here. We need to respect that instead of just coming on here saying "stop labeling us". Even if we have been given that label, we should live our lives in such a way that the label doesn't stick.

  • Katy-Anne

    Anonymous, from my experience of being around QF families and having a disabled child, they don't really "believe" in disabilities unless it's a physical disability. They told me my son was disabled because I "didn't spank him enough and it's not disability, he's just naughty and you're just making excuses for him". I know several QF children I suspect are autistic or otherwise disabled and their parents won't get them evaluated because they don't really believe in that.

  • Anonymous

    @Katy-Anne: Ick! I sort of figured that about neural disabilities, (and certainly psychiatric) just from being around less extreme evangelicals (depression means you don't trust Jesus!) How do they deal with physical disabilities and chronic illness?

  • Ami

    My upbringing was much different than yours, but I can find similarities in some of the religious aspects, which is more than enough for me. :)You have great insight into what life is like for the people who believe in the QF lifestyle and perhaps what makes religious people 'tick'.And your voice is important, whether or not everyone likes what you're writing. I have learned from reading here.

  • Jenny

    Now that's a unique take on quivering! Whenever I hear that one kid take up 24-hours per day, so another can't take any more, I wonder why the speaker doesn't realize that means the first kid feels ignored with only 12 hours.

  • Anonymous

    I just can support feminimst:I a man…=)

  • Aemi

    Hey, how do you know the Duggar kids do not get enough one-on-one attention? That is something you can know only by being a Duggar kid, not from counting children, or from watching their show. I don't think you should use a family as an example unless you know that family really, really well.

  • Incongruous Circumspection

    Aemi. They flaunt their life all over the damn show. It's not hard to see the truth.

  • Libby Anne

    Aemi – Just so you know, I don't reply to every comment made on my blog (not enough time!), but I do want to reply to this one, albeit briefly. First, I don't believe that any two parents can possibly give nineteen children enough one-on-one attention. There just isn't enough time in the day. I'm not basing this on the TV show (which I don't actually watch), but rather the simple mathematics of it. Second, I grew up with twelve younger siblings, and my parents worked as hard as they could to give us all one-on-one time, and it was almost enough, though not quite. If even with their best efforts the parents of thirteen could never quite find enough time for adequate one-on-one time, I don't think it's possible to add half again as many children and get a better result. I hope that answers your question. :-)

  • Anonymous

    I am always amused by the rate some families spit out kids. It is like hello! We are in the 31st century and three out of every four of your children are not going to die at birth.

  • Lauren Borrero

    21st century but yes I know exactly how you feel!

    • Niemand

      Well, maybe anonymous is from the 31st century. If so, I’m glad to hear that the childhood mortality rate continues to be low, but am sorry that this fight is still going on. One would think it would be worked out in a thousand years.