Atlantic Wire:’19 Kids and Counting’ Gets Stranger, Sadder

Atlantic Wire:’19 Kids and Counting’ Gets Stranger, Sadder February 15, 2012

General public not impressed by Duggar family “witness”
by Vyckie Garrison

During my Quiverfull days, I honestly believed that Michelle Duggar’s TLC show – which began as “14 Children and Pregnant Again!” and is currently titled, “19 Kids & Counting” – was an awesome witness to “the world.” I was in awe of the Duggar family, and it thrilled me that such a wholesome, godly family was given a national stage on which to exemplify for America what a truly biblical family looks like.

I’m sure every detail of the Duggars’ television show, numerous talk show interviews and guest appearances at political rallies is calculated to paint their “traditional family” and their “pro-life values” in the best possible light. However, as a former Quiverfull believer-turned-outsider-looking-in, it now seems plain that non-fundamentalist Americans are not particularly impressed by this mega-family, nor is the general public overwhelmed with the conviction that all families ought to live similarly.

Jim Bob & Michelle Duggar want to tell the world that children are an unmitigated blessing from God and those who embrace the “biblical model” for marriage and children will be the most happy, most satisfied, and most “successful” families both now, and for eternity.

But that is not the message which is coming through.

Under the category of “Entertainment,” the Atlantic Wire published a review and commentary of the program’s most recent episode.

“The fifth season of TLC’s beguiling, baffling, and oftentimes be-rage-ifying (just go with it) Quiverfull family series 19 Kids and Counting premiered last night, and while it was mostly a typical Duggars episode, with eerily wholesome family activities and a dash of stomach-turning religiosity, there was a new grimness to the series that didn’t sit right.”

Along with complaints about the producers’ handling of Michelle’s recent miscarriage, the Atlantic’s writer, Richard Lawson, noted: “And then of course there was the infusion of religion that probably earns the series a fair number of looky-loos (ahem). Michelle Duggar, the broodmare who gave birth to this baseball team, was invited to speak to a ladies group at a nearby church, and though what we saw of the speech was mostly a series of platitudes about family and children and all that, there was a single shot that said much more — the camera panned over a handout that Michelle brought to the event, and the content was pretty unsettling. TLC maybe included this shot for people like us, who of course paused it and advanced the frames to read as much of it as we could, and, whooo boy, was it unpleasant. It was all about how to make your husband happy in a marriage, which is of paramount importance to patriarch-dominated Quiverfull families. There were things about how wives shouldn’t refuse their husbands’ sexual advances, about how self-reliance is what kills marriages, about not stepping out of bounds in terms of what your responsibilities are as a wife (do too much and you emasculate him, you see). It was all reeeeally gross stuff that you never really hear the Duggars talking about on the show, but is absolutely the unspoken (on camera, at least) foundation of their family. (As evidenced by the fact that older boys are encouraged to pursue education and careers while their sisters remain indentured babysitters.) So that’s why the rage-junkies watch this horrorshow, to get that electric adrenalin rush of anger at what a strange and backwards belief system these seemingly cheery and wholesome creatures actually operate under.”

I can easily imagine Michelle dismissing the criticism with the popular evangelical retort, perfectly expressed here:

“Remember we are not responsible for results; we are only responsible for our obedience. So be encouraged and continue in your obedience, keep it up; keep your feet beautiful!”

Of course, Michelle & Co. will continue in obedience to what she believes to be the true calling of God on her life. The Duggars aren’t going away. It doesn’t matter that the multitudes scoff. Public ridicule only strengthens their resolve.

“”No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

Jim Bob & Michelle will never say, “Enough babies!” And if it is physically possible, Michelle will get pregnant again. How can she do otherwise?

Discuss this post on the NLQ forum.  Comments are also open below.

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

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  • “The Duggars aren’t going away. It doesn’t matter that the multitudes scoff. Public ridicule only strengthens their resolve.”

    So true!

  • Lilah

    I don’t have a TV, thankfully, so I don’t usually get the chance to catch the latest episodes of “One Billion Kids (and Counting)”. That being said, though, I’m glad that this particular episode has perhaps opened the eyes of a few who (hopefully) now realize what the Duggars truly believe.

  • Flash Cat

    I cannot watch them, they creep me out! Maybe it’s God’s will that Michelle Duggar take advantage of the gay stylists and hairdressers that TLC will pay for just like Kate Gosselin did, but that would offend Mr. Gothard, so that will never be.

  • Anise

    Watching the video and hearing Michelle talk about her ten boys and ten girls, one of which is in heaven, and it made me feel to sick to realise that she’s not counting the other baby she lost before Quiverful…

  • Jenny Islander

    @Anise: It’s arguable that Caleb (was that his name?) never existed.

  • Rebecca

    Haha, I never even heard of the Duggars before I left home – we didn’t watch TV and we not exactly up to speed on pop culture – but had we known, I’m sure my stepfather would have strongly disapproved of the Duggars. Their using a “wordly” tool such as a reality show would never have justified the good intentions they might have had.

  • I think you’re right, Vicki, that people watch the show for many reasons–most of which have little to do with being inspired or wanting to emulate it. Television makes a living off of eliciting emotions and so the shows are optimized to pull a variety of intense feelings from us. Almost anything other than boredom can be a money maker. That is why sex and violence are so pervasive: we are hard wired to get hyper-focused when either is around. Bizarrely, another emotion that many people are attracted to is revulsion or disgust. That is why crime shows like Bones go to such great lengths to pan in on mutilated bodies.

  • Amber

    I appreciate your opinions, but strongly feel that you are sadly mistaken. It was not that long ago that most every [blessed] family was larger in size. For those that believe in God and His divine design in creation, this is the way He set it up. To those whom He has given fertility, it normally lasts decades before it wanes. This will shock some people’s sensitivities, but a woman’s body BEGS to be pregnant…and a man’s body begs to impregnate it! *Shock tarts!* When a man and woman are both healthy and strong, they can give birth to MANY children [as evidenced by families like these] Before the modern birth control movement, farming families would have baby after baby birthed into their homes, and no one thought otherwise. Just because this particular family – the Duggar family, among many in the world today – choose to allow their bodies to do what they were created to do, does not mean that they are in the wrong and should be harshly judged. Is it not their personal decision to make? And they have NEVER gone around claiming that people should live exactly as they live. In fact, on many occasions, they make it a point to say that these are their personal beliefs – and that everyone has to decide for themselves what they believe in.

    The Duggar Family is doing a fantastic job raising their children, and it is not an easy job – nor one that they take lightly. Anyone can see that. Their children are all well behaved, have good attitudes, are responsible and on the right paths in life. I understand that that can make other moms jealous to see a mother who has it together as much as Michelle does. Most of us struggle with just keeping house and tending to 2 or 3 children, let alone that many more. MOST people choose to watch the Duggar’s TV show because they are inspired by their lives! Here is a family is going above and beyond the call of duty and making it work. Wow!

    BTW, that Atlantic Wire article is a JOKE. If you even read through most all of the reader comments below the article, you will see person after person coming to the Duggar Family’s defense. There is no reason for hate and I am disappointed to see this website you’ve created to showcase that and more. I am not saying that the Quiverfull movement doesn’t have any imperfections to it as I know that there are extreme cases in ANY group of people…but it’s just disheartening to see someone like yourself attempting to be a discouragement to larger families.

  • Tyro

    It was not that long ago that most every [blessed] family was larger in size.

    Not really. It wasn’t that long ago that poor health and nutrition meant that women were less likely to conceive or bring children to term. Birth was extremely risky. Yes, there were some families that were quite large, but for the most part, poor health and infant mortality kept families small. There was only a small window in western human history after the advent of modern medicine but before the wide availability of birth control that large families were possible to anyone who wanted one.

  • Families in the past usually had lost the mother or father by the time they were the Duggars age. It’s only recently people (especially women) started surviving longer. Women today around the world still die more from childbirth than anything else. Girl’s are killed or neglected at a rate that experts guess there are now 160 million missing women from society. Kids also didn’t survive, which is why they had big families. Modern healthcare has changed everything. This lifestyle (huge families) is still the case in many countries around the world today it’s just that the kids and the women usually die. So there are men in countries today who have had 19 children – its just that only 10 of them (or less) survived to adulthood.

  • Amber, people here seem, for the most part,not to criticize the Duggars for how many children they have. They criticize some other things about them – promoting TTUAC, not giving oppurtunities to their daughters to reach their potential, their motive for having many children (many regulars here -those with an opinion on the matter – disagree that the Bible tells women to have many children), etc.

    “And they have NEVER gone around claiming that people should live exactly as they live. In fact, on many occasions, they make it a point to say that these are their personal beliefs – and that everyone has to decide for themselves what they believe in. – Amber”

    Do they tell their children – the 19 people closest to them “Hey, these are mom and dad’s personal beliefs and you do not have to live this way, and we will love you as much if you live differently?”

  • Magenta

    “but a woman’s body BEGS to be pregnant…”

    My body may be fit for a pregnancy, but my mind knows the severe damage my body will suffer if it becomes pregnant.

    “the Duggar family, among many in the world today – choose to allow their bodies to do what they were created to do, ”

    You do relize that Michelle had at least one surgery to be able to keep having these babies, right?

    “The Duggar Family is doing a fantastic job raising their children…”

    If by that you mean popping them out then throwing them into the arms of their teenage daughters to raise, then yes they’re doing a great job!

  • Jackie

    You didn’t read many of the comments on the Atlantic article evidently. MOST people find the treatment of females by these groups, and the absurd numbers of children expected to be bred (for “Christian Warriors”) by these women to be morally and ethically indefensible.

    The reason the Duggars are on TLC is because they are a side-show act. They are there to entertain and cause the emotion of disbelief. It is no surprise the same channel has “Hoarding: Buried Alive” since the Duggars are hoarders of children. Viewers invariably end up thankful that they live in a world where birth control is legal.

    You say “The Duggar Family is doing a fantastic job raising their children, and it is not an easy job”…oh, but it IS when you have your older children, older daughters, raise your younger children for you. “[The children] are responsible and on the right paths in life”. The children are forced to take responsibility for their siblings and the path in life they are being coerced to take is only “right” to a small percentage of people. “Their children are all well behaved” because of the discipline off camera. Even with all the positive editing, the Duggars are not a family most people, most women, want to emulate, thank the powers that be.

    Your apologetic statement for quivering is “This will shock some people’s sensitivities, but a woman’s body BEGS to be pregnant…and a man’s body begs to impregnate it!” No, bodies enjoy orgasm and intimacy. Saying bodies beg for pregnancy is like saying the body begs for drugs because they make us feel great. So being high as much as possible is good too? Yes, *shock tarts* indeed. We should follow our animal nature because God built us that way? Wow.

    I can’t even begin to defend this attitude. I can feel sorry for it and that is all.

  • Jackie

    My comment is directed toward Amber. I posted a reply but it somehow ended up as a separate comment.

  • BTW

    “…a woman’s body BEGS to be pregnant…and a man’s body begs to impregnate it!”

    Doubly disturbing because of the misogyny… and the fact that pregnancy fetishes are a thing.

  • John Shores

    The first time I saw a commercial for this show was immediately after seeing a commercial for “Hoarders” on another station. The similarity between the two stunned me. These folks have some serious issues.

  • Olivia

    But The Duggars don’t even truly let nature take its course. Michelle weans her children early so she will be fertile again. So, she manipulates her body in the opposite direction most women in this country do. If she did the more natural thing and nursed for a couple of years she would have so many children.

  • I used to think this was true- but apparently Michelle gets pregnant first, then her milk dries up. I read of another woman who said she thought she was quiverfull until her seventh baby was born in seven years, with all signs pointing to seven more in the following seven years. Apparently lactational amennorrhea isn’t as prevalent as I thought. (Not a Duggar fan at all, but I gotta be fair about this accusation. I found the info on a Michelle Duggar interview about breastfeeding.) I think a more likely scenario is that they night wean early or do strict feeding schedules which interfere with natural spacing. That would match the Pearl/TTUAC type atmosphere suspected by most here.

  • RN

    You lost me at “Michelle Duggar, the broodmare”. Your writing is absolutly fueled with acidic bile, and shows me that Patheos is a ridiculosu waste of time to bother reading.

  • Such meanness here. These folks are not a side show. They also are not quiver full people either. And I also can’t believe your article is on the Patheos website. I believe the Duggars are living out their God given commandment to be fruitful and multiply and they’re doing better and more happily than most others. Such an ugly and unkind article – whoever “guest contributor” is should be fired.

  • Leigha

    Even back then, 19 kids was not the norm. Most families had 5-10, usually closer to 5 when you consider how many kids died. And there’s a reason for that, even aside from the lack of birth control. In a society where most people make a living by farming, having more kids actually makes your life easier. It enables you to have a larger farm and to plant and harvest more quickly. Or, in a society where child labor is legal, it gives you more people to send out to earn money. In short, in a pre-industrial or early industrial society, more children equals more money. In a later or post-industrial society, however, all children do is cost money. You have to pay the hospital for delivering, you have to pay for diapers, formula (if you don’t breastfeed), baby food, medical care, school supplies, clothes, toys, college, etc. and they make NO money for you whatsoever. That’s why families in modern societies don’t typically have very many–it’s too expensive. For most people, it’s not feasible to have the quality of life they want with a dozen kids. In poorer countries, they still see an economic benefit from larger families, which is why they still have them.

    And I know people who watch the show, and trust me, it’s not because they find it inspirational. They watch it for the same reason people watch the show Little People, Big World or that show about the conjoined twins, or hoarders–morbid curiosity about the lives of people vastly different from themselves, in a way that most people would consider weird or even (and don’t take this as my personal opinion) freaks. It’s a modern day sideshow, the 21st century version of the bearded lady and the elephant man.

    For the record, having a large family is fine, but most people (including myself) think that children deserve to be able to spend time one-on-one with their parents, to have their parents actually take care of them themselves, not be raised by older siblings. And if you have nearly 20 kids, that’s not happening. It’s simply not mathematically possible. If you sleep 8 hours a day, that leaves 16 hours to spend with more than 19 kids. If they spend 6 hours doing school stuff (which, even though they’re homeschooled, doesn’t actually count as quality time with the parents), that’s 10 hours for 19 kids. Even if the parents spent every moment of the rest of the day spending time with each kid individually, they’d get half an hour apiece. Meanwhile, a family with two or three kids, or even four or five, can spend hours with them, or even a whole day with one and the next with another (with nearly as many kids as there are days in a month, that wouldn’t really work). This family is so large that practically none of the things most people associate with family are even possible.

    And it’s ridiculously unfair to force your oldest children to raise your younger ones. Yes, it’s expected for much older children to babysit occasionally, and to help out, but it’s wrong to make them take almost full responsibility of the kid(s). YOU had the kid, YOU raise it. If you find yourself unable to take care of it yourself, DON’T HAVE ANY MORE.

  • Leigha

    “This entire website, written by several different people, is a waste of time because one person, in one sentence, said something insensitive.” Yeah, that seems reasonable. All the other people who write for this site are obviously rendered useless because she wrote that phrase. I should probably also stop using Facebook because somebody posted an offensive status, and I shouldn’t read any more blogs on WordPress or Tumblr because some people post offensive things there. And I shouldn’t watch TV because sometimes some shows say offensive things. And I probably shouldn’t talk to anyone from the school I graduated from because some of them are really awful people, so clearly they all must be. Wait, that would mean I am too. Darn it, why did they do this to me?

    Less sarcastically…if you’re bothered by something one particular blogger said, just don’t read their blogs. Don’t dismiss the entire site it’s hosted on.

  • Alex Olson

    All this religious philosophy aside, I am an atheist and used to watch their show, just out of curiosity of how the ‘other half’ lived. However, I now find the show sorta boring. It’s the same issues…over and over. Anna is pregnant – again ! – or one of the older girls is now in a courtship ! Breeding and raising 19 kids does not leave much time for – well- anything !!

    I would love to see the older kids out in the real world, where their true Christian character will be challenged and sharpened. They are so completely cocooned that I truly feel they are not allowed the everyday experiences we all have.

    And isn’t meeting others and spreading the gospel part of their faith ?? Yet they limit their contact to those exactly like them. I am very tolerant of their beliefs…I just wish the parents would let go a little and be confident In how they raised their children…and let them sprout in the real world.