by Libby Anne
I can’t say how often I’ve heard ordinary Americans defend Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their popular TLC television show, 19 Kids and Counting. “I wouldn’t choose to have nineteen kids,” they say, “but if they can manage it, who am I to question their choice?” “The kids look happy and healthy,” they say, “look how polite and well mannered they are.” I hear these comments and I just have to sigh.
First of all, I want to pout out that I would have concerns about the Duggars even if they were your ordinary family plus seventeen extra children. For one thing, there is no way any two parents can give nineteen children the individual attention and time they need. It’s just not feasibly possible. The Duggars like to say that “love multiplies,” but the thing is, time doesn’t. And then, of course, there is the population issue.
But it’s not these things I’m going to discuss here. The fact is, the Duggars aren’t just your ordinary family plus seventeen extra children. There is a great deal of editing that goes into making TV, and one thing that gets edited out are the Duggars’ religious beliefs and their beliefs about child rearing. There is much, much more going on here than you see on TV.
I know this because I grew up in a family very much like the Duggars. We had a third fewer kids and we didn’t have a TV show, but otherwise it was about the same. Our beliefs were nearly identical to theirs, as was our way of living. When I look at the older Duggar girls, I see myself. I was them. With that in mind, I’m going to take a moment to outline nine specific concerns I have about the Duggars.
1. Isolation and Indoctrination
The Duggar childern are homeschooled in part in order to shelter them from bad influences, i.e. from other kids and teachers who hold different beliefs or live different sorts of lives. The Duggar kids don’t have friends who aren’t pre-approved by their parents. In fact, the Duggar kids aren’t even involved in church activities – their family participates in a “home church” where they and several other like-minded families get together on Sunday mornings and worship together.
Furthermore, even the older Duggar children are not allowed to go anywhere without having an “accountability partner,” i.e. another sibling, to keep tabs on them. When one of the older boys volunteered at the local fire department, one of his sisters always went with him to keep an eye on him and make sure he didn’t get in trouble.
Another reason the Duggar children are homeschooled is in order to teach them “God’s truth.” This means that they use religious textbooks, creationist science curriculum, etc. I understand that we have this thing called “freedom of religion” in our country, but I also believe that children have a right to an education, and teaching children one side of everything becomes indoctrination rather than education.
Not surprisingly, the Duggars’ computers have internet access limited to about seventy “approved” websites. To get unlimited internet access, the children – even the older ones – have to get a password from their mother and then have another sibling sitting by them watching the screen as they surf the web to make sure they stay out of trouble. The main reason for this is likely to keep the children from viewing internet pornography, but it also helps ensure that they don’t get subversive information or other viewpoints.
2. Children raising children
If you think Michelle is the one raising all of those kids, think again. Those older daughters, some of them already adults, are the ones who are actually doing the majority of the cooking, cleaning, and childcare. They are, in effect, raising their younger siblings.
Now I’m not saying Michelle sits back and watches soap operas while the kids work, but rather that with that many children there is simply too much for her to do on her own. She doesn’t have the time or energy to raise her children without her older daughters’ help. And fortunately, because the Duggars homeschool, those older daughters are available to help 24/7.
The Duggars have this thing called the “buddy system.” When each new child is born, that child is assigned to one of the older children. In this way, the older children are responsible for dressing, feeding, and even educating the younger children. Michelle hadthis to say about the buddy system:
This house would not work if we didn’t have the buddy system. The older children mentor the younger ones. They help them with their little phonics lessons and games during the day, help them practice their music lessons. They will play with them or help them pick out the color of their outfit that they want to wear that day, and just all of those types of things.
I’m all for siblings helping each other and playing together, but this goes way further than this. This is siblings raising each other. And as we’ll see, this means a lot of sacrifice for the older siblings doing the raising.