Defending the Duggars? February 8, 2010

Defending the Duggars?

Over the weekend, I stumbled across the cover of the new issue of People on a library table:

19 kids…? My eyes wanted to bulge at the sight of that number, but they stopped doing that when the number hit double digits.

It’s just not a surprise anymore.

The question on the cover is “How Many Kids Are Too Many?” (Really, People magazine, it took you 19 kids to ask this question???)

It’s really easy to bash the Duggars for their reproductive fortitude. I know I’ve done it in the past — just because you can have so many children doesn’t mean you should have so many children — but I’m starting to change my mind.

I’ve heard people go after the Duggars for a number of reasons:

  • They have too many kids.
  • It’s unhealthy for the mom.
  • It’s bad for the individual children.
  • The media glare (from their TV show) is bad for the little kids.
  • The overpopulation aspect — If other families did what they did, this world would go haywire in a matter of generations. It’s irresponsible of them to have so many children!
  • They instill (brainwash) fundamentalist Christian values into the children.
  • The children are forced to give up their own youth to care for their younger siblings. (Though none seem to mind.)
  • They’re ruining the letter J for the rest of us.
  • If my math is correct, in a few generations, all of us will have a Duggar in our family.

But the Duggars are not like the Octomom, who is trying to raise 14 children as a single mom while unemployed and on public assistance. They’re not desperately trying to hog the spotlight. (Really. I mean that. Despite their level of publicity, the Duggars don’t strike me as media-whores in the same way that Jon and Kate do.) The family’s health also seems to be pretty good overall (the most recent child was born premature, but I don’t think the age of the mother or the number of previous births has anything to do with that.)

There are some arguments to silence the critics:

  • They’re not in debt. (No doubt their TV show helps with that.)
  • As far as I can tell, they’re supporting themselves. (Jim Bob Duggar was a state representative in Arkansas for a couple years, and I’ve heard this entitles his family to free health care for life, but I can’t find a credible citation for this. Their house is paid for, too, partly because it was previously incorporated as a tax-exempt “church” — again, I can’t find a credible citation for this.)
  • The kids seem to be good citizens, not getting into any trouble with the law.
  • The parents seem to care for the children as much as you would want any parent to — it would be easy to find examples of one-child parents who don’t have the connection to their kid as much as the Duggars do to each of theirs.
  • The Duggars are in a committed relationship (unlike this dude with 19 kids).
  • While some Quiverfull women have left the movement, Michelle Duggar appears willing and able to be giving birth to so many kids.

So what’s the problem?

I doubt anyone would ever want our government instituting some law about how many kids a family should be allowed to have.

We argue that women should have the right to do as she wishes with their bodies… and this is a woman doing just that.

The best argument I’ve heard has to do with the older children having to give up their lives to take care of the younger children, but this doesn’t strike me as too awful. The kids are happy to be helping out their family in this way.

You can argue they’re giving up their individuality, or giving up a social life, but even with a couple kids, this isn’t too far off from what “regular” Christian homeschooling families do. Don’t like it? That’s an argument against Christian homeschooling, not this particular family.

Don’t like that they’re raising the kids with their particular brand of religion? That’s an argument against fundamentalist Christianity, not this particular family.

Is Michelle just brainwashed into doing all this? Again, it’s an argument against faith, not specific to just this family.

Maybe we should just salute the Duggars for (ironically) winning the game of evolution…

Incidentally, my interview with Kathryn Joyce, author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, can be found here. It describes the type of lifestyle the Duggars have chosen to follow.

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  • Michelle


    This is the kind of non-judgemental “live and let live” articles I like to read in the atheist world. Seriously, good job.

  • Karen

    I totally agree with you. I watched the show a few times out of curiosity and looked at their website. I think they’re a nice family.
    Once I saw the mother disciplining one of the younger children, and she did it in such a loving and non-shaming way that it was so dear to witness their interaction. And the kid got it, he understood. I think she’s a gifted mother.

    We live in a very cynical time, I think. I think people are drawn to them because they don’t seem cynical at all.

  • LG

    The environmental impact is astounding. Have you not ever seen the amount of pre-packaged crap they feed that family? The disposable packaging alone negates any “positives” you could possibly think up. That’s not even touching upon the disposable diapers!

  • ErinM

    To me, having 19 kids is kind of like buying an SUV — yeah, you can afford it, and it’s your choice to do what’s right for you, but is it really the responsible thing to do in the grander scheme of things?

  • I just recently moved to the area that the Duggars live in. I haven’t met any of them yet, but maybe someday I will. What would I say? I don’t know.

  • My great-grandmother had 12 siblings that lived to adulthood. She was part French Acadian and part Mikmaq, so basically a token Catholic family. Due to her family size, they grew up with considerably less material wealth, which meant all the kids didn’t move that far from home, and just sort of settled in the surrounding town to raise a family.

    Fast forward 3 generations, and you have me, growing up in a 2,700 population town and being related to nearly 4/7 of the population. It had lots of upsides like a real, true feeling a kinship. And honestly there’s weren’t many downsides, except that dating someone from around town was a bit of a gamble (so I pick boyfriends from other provinces).

  • Shawn

    Good, well-reasoned post!

  • While I agree that bashing the Duggars isn’t helpful, I also have to agree with ErinM above.

    But I’m going to have to disagree here:

    I doubt anyone would ever want our government instituting some law about how many kids a family should be allowed to have.

    Not ever? When overpopulation really becomes a problem, I think limiting the number of offspring will be seen as a much more preferable way of population control than famine or war.

  • Carlie

    Very nice post. I completely disagree with their decision to have so many children, but I entirely defend their right to do so. I don’t think the state has any business telling women when they have to give birth (coughantiabortionbillscough), so the flip side is that the state can’t tell them when to stop giving birth, either. There was a case recently of a woman who was sterilized against her will during a c-section because the doctor thought she had enough children already, and I hope to the FSM she wins her case.

  • Narvi

    This planet is overpopulated already. People all over the world are starving to death. These people aren’t helping.

  • Alz

    Until there is a law, it is irresponsible for responsible people to limit the number of children they have.

  • @Alz: you’re going to have to explain that assertion.

  • georgie

    Mrs. Duggar is getting up there in age and the older she gets the more at risk she puts any child she may have, which #19 has proven. That’s a medical fact and I for one think they are being very selfish to take that risk at the expense of any future child’s health. And although you make some good points that I could agree with for a woman of 25 or 35, I will not be changing my mind about the Duggars.

  • Bob Carlson

    I agree with Erin, but would add that if people don’t recognize limiting family size as an important personal decision, then they threaten everyone with facing the likelihood that governments will ultimately be forced to impose limits on family size.

  • Priscilla

    I have to agree with you Hemant. There are many irresponsible people with fewer kids that are sucking off welfare and raising future welfare recipients who take no responsibility for themselves. This family is self-sufficient and the kids appear to all care for each other. They are very responsible and hard working, and will make fine citizens. The Duggars have done a nice job raising this family.

    When I first started watching the show, I had every intention of finding fault with them. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at what hard working people they all are!

  • I still think they’re crazy, and I wonder about growing up without the amount of attention I feel each child deserves from their mother, but I realize this is MY issue and stems from what I believe constitutes a healthy mother-child relationship. I also concede I have no idea what number of offspring is too many under my theory, 4? 5? 6? I don’t know.
    Anyway, I do worry for her health and what could potentially happen if she gets preggo again.
    She had complications that led to this last baby being premature…I’d really hate to see something awful happen.

    I will be interested to see how these kids evolve into adults. I wonder if any of them are gay or doubters of their religion and I think about what it might be like for them to grow up in such an environment.

  • British Cat

    Well, if they can afford and manage that many children, good luck to them. I still feel for the older kids, though. It can’t be easy for them, dealing with babies all the time.

    Also, I somehow doubt the saccharine image of the “perfect quiverfull family” is exactly the same as their home life. I really am not “for” Christian homeschooling or the quiverfull movement, either. So….it’s not the Duggars that I object to, it’s what they represent that I strongly disagree with.

    As for a restriction on how many kids people should have, I think an upper limit of 5, unless twins or triplets are born, would not be a bad thing. I’m not a communist, or some other sort of authoritarian nutcase, by the way.

  • tamarind

    Let’s be realistic. You CANNOT give that many kids the sort of 1-on-1 emotional attention that a child deserves. It doesn’t matter how hard the parents try to be loving and devoted — there are still only 24 hours in a day.

    Forget the “Quality, not quantity” motto; kids require BOTH. These kids are being raised in an orphanage. Sure, it’s a stable, loving orphanage, but it’s one where every kid will nonetheless be emotionally neglected. They have caretakers, not parents.

    Take it from one of seven children. My parents did the best they could, but keeping us clothed and fed took most of their time. When you have 19 kids, there’s no way in h*** that the children are all getting personal attention.

  • Tony

    I agree with the Hemant’s sentiment in this post.

    But this picture:

    is hilarious.

  • Claudia

    There are two issues here:

    1. Should having that many children be allowed: Absolutely. I’m pro-choice and that has to include the choice to reproduce like crazed rabbits. Numbers should not be the issue. The issue is how well taken care of those children are. If a child is being neglected or abused, they need to be taken away, be they an only child or 24th out of 32. Otherwise, leave’em be.

    2. Is it a good idea to have that many children: Personally, I don’t think so, but that doesn’t mean I’m right. In Jerusalem Orthodox Jewish families looked exactly like the Duggars in terms of numbers (though they were poorer) and though I found it astonishing, the fact is I’ve rarely seen kids so well-behaved, so mature and so loving with younger siblings.

    My issue with the Duggars and all fundamentalists is that they are instilling their children (particularly their girls) with a brand of religion that makes females into subservient baby factories. I find such values repugnant (they probably find mine repugnant too). But again, the actual numbers aren’t the issue.

  • Ron in Houston

    19 is a bit much, but you guys need to remember that the 2-3 kid per family average is a fairly recent phenomena.

    Go back 50 to 60 years and large families weren’t that uncommon. My 77 year old mother came from a family of 10 kids.

    It’s probably much better to have 19 kids in an intact family unit than what I often see – someone having multiple kids with a multiple spouses (or baby-daddies or mommies as the case may be.)

  • Aj

    Those arguments aren’t going to silence anyone. It’s still unhealhy for the mother, it’s wrong to force children to care for their siblings, and we do have an overpopulation problem. It’s naive to think that laws regarding family size would never be warranted, because of dumbshit fundamentalists like these. Usually societies will reduce the number of children per family voluntarily, but with religion you can have whole societies going against their interests.

  • Flah

    I insist that my choice to be a working mom be respected, so in turn I have to respect stay-at-home moms and even moms that “trust god with their birth control”, even if I personally think the whole Quiverfull movement (which the Duggars deny being in) is horrid. Likewise, I would support a friend that chose to have plastic surgery to correct some issue or other. It’s legal, not immoral, and your choice.

    But now that Ms. Duggar has entered the realm of high risk pregnancy, were I her friend, doctor, or whomever, I would approach her in the same way I would a friend who appeared addicted to plastic surgery, and suggest that it’s now a matter of respect for her own body, and in Ms. Duggar’s case respect for her existing family, that she stop. The risks are now known for her, and if I had to speak in her language, maybe god’s trying to tell ya to stop, lady.

    Just personally, I don’t like the glorification of overpopulating.

  • littlejohn

    It might be a good idea to keep this in historical perspective. After all, we take safe, reliable birth control for granted. Just a few generations ago, this many pregnancies was not unusual for any sexually active couple. The difference is that about half the babies died before they were old enough to walk. My own grandmother (born 1890) had at least 10 children that I’m aware of, but only five made it to adulthood.

  • Greg

    Just because I agree that is is their right to have 19 kids, doesn’t mean I don’t also think it is stupid of them to have 19 kids.

  • Revyloution

    I’ve never held or used any of those arguments against the Drugars. Mine is the simple ‘we don’t have enough resources to maintain that kind of population growth’.

    We need to slow down growth, not speed it up.

  • A very thoughtful post and I agree overall though I do believe that people with more than 2 children should pay more, not less in taxes. Taxes are a means of paying for the resources you use like wear and tear on the roads, schools (yes I know they are home schooled) parks, libraries, police enforcement, etc. Larger families, by their nature, will use more resources and should pay more for for it.

  • treebarksoup

    The fact that they are christian or financially independent should not matter at all. They have 19 kids, unless you have no idea the state of the world right now then I have already made my case. On the other hand, if you are a clueless human, just doing your own thing no matter what (like the Duggars) then it’s time to pick up a book that’s worth something and maybe use a condom until you’ve versed yourself in large-scale problems at hand. Winning the game of evolution? Evolution is based more on the species level rather than the individual, people like this are putting an end to our species. They are making it so that another species wins the game of evolution, and I’m not Okay with that at all.

  • sideshow billybob

    Running the family farm was the reasoning behind knocking out such a large family in the past. To put it mildly, as soon as the young ‘uns popped out you put them out feeding the livestock or helping in the fields. As populations started gravitating to the cities and a more urban life, then the reasoning changed. Granted the farm life isn’t reasoning behind the Quiverfull movement (the philosophy of which they are a part whether they admit to such or not. Heck, it’s in the header of their
    in the form of Psalm 127:3. (Check out 127:4 and 127:5 for kicks.))

    Disclaimer: My dad is one of ten siblings. Family reunions can get interesting. =)

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    Some of those kids are going to reject their parent’s values with a vengeance. So we’ll probably get 5 or 6 atheists/agnostics out of the deal.

  • Ruru

    Great post, Hemant! Really wonderfully non-judgmental!

    I still think 19 kids is just gross,though.

  • Millie

    In approximately 5 years 9 of those nineteen children will be 20 and over and probably responsible working adults in our society. I doubt that in that same time they will replace the nine with nine more babies. Thus the family will be reduced to a much more manageable size.

    That said, I have a son-in-law who was one of seventeen children. I met his mother last year and she is attractive and healthy in her 80’s. I picture Michelle Duggar as being the same way at that age.

    As far as the high risk, most pre-eclampsia cases happen in younger, not older mothers. This one was probably set off by a case of gallstones with inflammation, nothing to do with the pregnancy. Michelle’s OB doctor a year ago stated that Michelle was very healthy with no damage to her reproductive organs and appeared to be admirably suited to multiple pregnancies. Recent news has told us that women use/lose 90% of their eggs by the time they are 30 and by the time they are 40 they have something like 5% left. If that is true, Michelle will probably not have many if any more pregnancies.

    This is a rare family for our day and age, they not only have a humongous number of kids, they support them, keep them clean and healthy, educate them and bring them up to be responsible citizens. Good for them and let them live their lives without condemnation!

  • pyvsi

    Another nod of agreement. Looks like they’re doing great job of parenting and launching some decent people into the world. Sure, it’s weird to most of us, but I don’t see anthing wrong with it.
    I think the “what if every woman had 19 kids like her -yikes- overpopulation!” argument isn’t really warranted, because, seriously, how many women want 19 children? How many are going to have them?

    People are different; they want different things. If we let the have-as-many-kids-as-possible-and-take-good-care-of-them families do what they want to do, and the I-reserve-my-right-to-use-birth-control-and-abortion people do what they want to do, things shouldn’t get too far out of hand.

  • Dan

    The mom has had 4 C-Sections? Is that…. alright?

    More than half the kids are still under the age where they can go off and get into trouble on their own, so I’ll reserve judgement on that. Those I’ve never seen or heard of the show, so I really know nothing about ANY of the kids.

    Has there been any research into what this number of siblings could do to one of the individual children?

    Yeah, they have the RIGHT to do it, I suppose. But don’t we have laws against things like wearing seat belts, no texting/calling while driving, no drinking or smoking until a certain age, no adult material until a certain age, no drugs of certain kinds… We have many laws in this country that prevent people from doing whatever they want, and there’s reason for that. It helps the greater good, and it also stops individuals who are just…. dumb, from doing dumb things.

    As I see it, what this family is doing is dumb. My biggest criticism wasn’t listed, but maybe someone has said it. It’s that there are plenty of kids without homes already on this planet. Why aren’t they adopting?

    I also disagree with your statement, ” They’re not desperately trying to hog the spotlight. (Really. I mean that. Despite their level of publicity, the Duggars don’t strike me as media-whores in the same way that Jon and Kate do.)” Uh, okay. But, they DO have a reality TV show. It’s been on for four years. Additionally, they had Discovery Health there to record the C-section of child #15.

    Also, what’s with naming all your kids with “J” names? That seems… questionable to me.

    Why do they want to have so many kids? (Maybe this is answered in the TV show or in the article, but until I read that, I have to assume a bad reason).

    I just don’t like this. Again, I can’t stress enough, I haven’t seen the show. But I made sure to do a LITTLE research before commenting, and what I’ve gathered was negative enough that I thought I’d record my comments this early in my learning.

  • Miko

    Well, you’ve basically covered everything I was thinking while I was reading the first half in the second half. I think there may be a libertarian lurking inside you, Hemant.

    Note that the “if other families did this too, there would be chaos” argument doesn’t really hold up. First off, other families don’t want to, so it’s not relevant. And even if they did, eventually the food supply and health concerns would limit their ability to do so.

    Also, it’s a bit early to talk about “winning the evolution game.” Many species have tons of offspring because they expect most of them to die. What happens on such a short scale is evolutionarily meaningless, even if evolution did have a goal.

    @Narvi: This planet is overpopulated already. People all over the world are starving to death. These people aren’t helping.

    They aren’t hurting either. As Jefferson wrote, “Wherever in any country there are idle lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right.” Starvation is partly a problem of corrupt land titles and partly a problem of insufficient infrastructure. Right now, we have a problem of food distribution, not a problem of food-growing capacity.


    I doubt anyone would ever want our government instituting some law about how many kids a family should be allowed to have.

    Not ever? When overpopulation really becomes a problem, I think limiting the number of offspring will be seen as a much more preferable way of population control than famine or war.

    When the government says something, it doesn’t just happen automatically by the magic power of their decree. When you say you want the government to control the number of offspring, what are you *really* saying? That you want them to murder any children above that number? That you want them to sterilize people against their will when they reach that number? A baby tax isn’t going to do it, you know.

    Consider the real-world effects in China. We’ve seen a flood of orphaned girls, a serious gender imbalance, and no evidence that the policy has done anything to slow population growth (growth has slowed, but due to other factors it’s hard to establish exactly why). Plus, having children beyond the limit has become a way of flouting one’s status, encouraging some to have more children than they otherwise would.

    The best thing we’ve found to limit population growth is knowledge of and access to contraceptives. And as poverty decreases, so too does average family size.

  • My arguments against the Duggars include not any of the above listed, but the following:
    1) They have limited the options for the girls, particularly.
    2) That kind of childbearing is unhealthy, and it’s okay if it’s Michelle’s choice to do that to herself, but what about the kids? Once you have pre-eclampsia, you have a greater chance of having it again, and the Duggars have said that they WILL go ahead and shoot for #20. So if Michelle wants to wreck her body, okay, but what about baby 20? And baby Josie? Is that okay with them?
    3) Don’t kid yourself into thinking they are fully supporting themselves. People who use their insurance company will pay the price for the cost of preemie care. Just because you have insurance doesn’t mean your paying everything on your own. If you were, you wouldn’t need insurance.
    4) It’s too much work for the older kids. If you really watch the show, Michelle doesn’t do much actual parenting. She walks around with the baby until it’s no longer breastfeeding, and then she hands it off to one of her other kids. When the older kids are gone, Michelle and Jim Bob get a little crazy.
    5) TLC glosses over the horrors of Bill Gothard and closely associated Vision Forum. What is shown on tv is hardly reality.
    6) There is no way Michelle is going to be able to look after so many kids PLUS Josie once Josie gets home. Micropreemie care doesn’t end at the end of the hospital stay. Josie is going to require a TON of attention and she will need quiet. And what about those other tiny kids who need their mother, who IS, like it or not, getting older and will not have as much energy to chase after toddlers.

    If you want to have a bunch of kids, that’s your right.

    Read some Free Jinger forums before commenting on the Duggars. 🙂

  • Stephanie

    I don’t think you would be writing this post if EVERY Christian family procreated until the mom’s ovaries ran out. Catholics, Mormons, Amish, and CFundies are commanded to have as many children as possible by the church. This ensures future generations of $$$ for the church. There are many more families like them. This is ridiculous and really SHOULD be criticized. Here is the question you should be asking: “If they weren’t’ Christians, would they have 19 kids?” No. They would be rational and have a few. Their kids are a direct result from their religious beliefs.

  • oh, yeah, and the “desperately trying to hog the spotlight” line. Um, really? So then, I guess their filming of a preemie’s birth and crowding everyone into her hospital room was not hogging the spotlight? (So many visitors, especially children, is not normally allowed in the NICU, btw.)

    I think we are simply used to seeing them, and therefore take their spotlight loving for granted. Watch JB. He loves to be the center of attention.

  • Casimir

    I’m just scratching my head wondering what the hell people are thinking, going from “should people have that many kids” to “government instituting some law about how many kids a family should be allowed to have”.

  • MeagD

    You’re absolutely right, Hemant. They are good citizens and obviously trying to teach their children those values as well. They have every right to choose to have as many children as they can reasonably care for. They should also be allowed to practice whatever religion and religious traditions they choose.

    My only concern is with the statement that the older children “don’t seem to mind” not having any individuality or independence and that it is a requirement to spend their childhood rearing their siblings instead of discovering who they want to be and what they want to do. They are forced into doing what their parents do without any alternatives, particularly since young women and girls are not given much opportunity for educational advancement. When this sort of lifestyle is all you know, because you are mostly cut off from the outside world, and indoctrinated into believing that this is the will of God, of course you “don’t mind”. What other choice do you have?

    There is a reason Quiverful families (as well as Mormons and other Christian fundamentalists) choose to isolate their families and communities using homeschooling and the mantra of self-sufficiency. I imagine that curious, intelligent young girls having the freedom to interact with and learn from women that have had other opportunities could be rather disruptive to their project of indoctrination.

    Ultimately I don’t think atheists, skeptics or humanists should support any movement (even through implied consent or “live and let live”) that intentionally closes off freedom of inquiry and investigation in this way as a means of perpetuating their own religious dogma. Nor do I think we should be supporting a religious sect that came about as a response to feminism within the church, but that’s another argument entirely.

  • J. Allen

    Overpopulation is a serious environmental problem, and while I don’t support legal action, we should not fear shaming these people for their irresponsibility and greed.

  • Laura,
    Thanks for pointing out so many issues that didn’t even occur to me. Very educational, and insightful

  • Shannon

    Whoof! So many interesting topics spiraling out of this one family’s situation. Kewl 😉

    I agree with the post. I don’t agree with having 19 kids, but I think it should be their right. And I do admire that even before the television show got involved, they were not living in debt (that’s what I’ve heard and I may be wrong on that – I don’t actually watch their show or follow them in the news – shocking, I know!). I also don’t like some of their parenting but again, it’s your choice how to raise your kids and *that* I do like. (barring actual abuse of course – and no, raising kids to be fundamentalist Christians is not abuse and to say so trivializes *real* abuse)

    As for the government deciding how many kids people can have – hell no. I don’t want to live in the kind of country that could pass a law like that. I also think it’s a bit of a straw man. Sure, the Duggars and the mom with the octuplets are fun to point at and make it in the news a lot, but how many women in the US are *really* giving birth to huge families like that? Not enough to really affect things.

    Some interesting stuff to read on Wikipedia


    Finally, I just have to say I wish there was a way to say it other than “Christian Homeschooling”. Maybe just Christian Fundamentalist Homeschoolers? I know plenty of Christian homeschoolers who are *not* fundamentalists and are frankly embarrassed by the fundies. I bumped into one church going Christian homeschooling mom in Trenton, rallying *for* gay marriage. Just had to throw that out there.

  • While I am personally appalled at this, as Hemant said, those of us that support the choice of the woman with her own reproductive decisions need to let this be. The positive arguments show that the Duggars are trying to make this work without too much of a drain on any public system or service.

    My only concern is how much quality time is each child getting? The pure logic of individual time spent is something that each child needs with their parents. If they are doing this, then Richard Duggar needs to write a book on how to manage time, because he’s a frickin’ genius. But as a father, I don’t think this is the case.

  • I wonder what the world record is for the number of children surviving until adulthood by a woman?

    This story also reminds me a bit of this old comedy skit (about Catholics) by Monty Python

  • Alise

    The quiverful movement is certainly a small portion of the Christian community and has its share of critics there. I think the biggest problem that I see with the Duggars is that the young women seem to be left with few skills that translate to anything outside of what they already know. Yes, people do leave the quiverful movement (I have a dear friend who had 8 children before determining that she no longer wanted to continue that path — it was a tough one for her to leave), but it generally requires being outside of that circle of influence, and as things are now, it would be difficult for any of them to leave that mindset.

    That said, I hesitate to make judgments on how many children a person “should” have. My own family is a bit larger than acceptable (we have 4 children), and I know how cutting it is to see your choices disparaged by people who simply don’t know you or your circumstances.

  • Jennifer

    19 kids + 2 parents = one massive tax deduction: They probably can afford to have the family because they pay no taxes, and allow the rest of us to foot the bill for the resources and infrastructure they use. While I don’t support limiting the number of children one can have, I do support limiting the tax deductions to the first 2. After that, you pay your way!

  • Aj

    Jeff P,

    This story also reminds me a bit of this old comedy skit (about Catholics) by Monty Python

    I quote “every sperm is sacred” when my mother mentions she was one of thirteen children in a Catholic family. It’s a good job the vast majority of Catholics don’t pay attention to the Pope, or in many countries there would be plenty of large families.

  • I agree that I don’t want the government to ever say what we can and can’t do with our bodies, but I think there comes a time when something needs to be done. I’m not saying that the government should step in and tell someone like the Duggars that they can’t have children. But I think that their friends or other people should say, “Y’know – maybe you should stop.”

    Being open-minded is great. Being so open-minded that your brain falls out isn’t.

    My whole problem with the Duggars is that the parents make the older children look after the younger ones. Just because they seem to enjoy it doesn’t make it so.

    The Duggars are the type of family who believes that Jesus is first, others are second, and yourself comes last (otherwise known as J-O-Y). These children are told, from the moment they’re born, that they are to be unquestioning, and that the needs of others are always more important than their own needs. Sure, maybe the older kids seem happy looking after their younger siblings, but how much of that is because “God says so” and because there’s a camera in their face?

  • I don’t know what is more of a concern, the fact that they have 19 children or that all the children play string instruments.

    I can picture it now, Jim Bob saying to Michelle: “Ok we’ve got 20, it’s time to start on the woodwinds.” [rimshot \]

  • I agree that a woman has the right to choose how many children she has. Having said that, we are living at the edge of a population crisis. Almost 7 billion people on the planet. I agree with other’s suggesting that people with more than 2 kids should shoulder a heavier tax burden. I will wholeheartedly 100% support that. I don’t think the government should control how many children people have, perhaps incentives for smaller families?

    A woman’s right to have as many kids as she wants ends when her kids are using all of my resources (to grossly paraphrase and misquote the old adage “your right to make a fist ends at my face”).

    This one is a bit of a sticky wicket, do the rights of the few trump the rights and needs of the many? Do we WANT to live in a society where our breeding patterns are controlled?

    I’m a bit biased against the Duggars because Jim Bob is an idiot. He made a comment once about fossils and rock dating and I’m still agitated about his willful, gleeful ignorance despite people explaining to him (in small words) HOW fossils and rocks ARE dated.

    And Hemant, not media whores? Are you kidding me? They’ve done more photo spreads than Britney Spears!

  • Paul Zimmerle

    I know this won’t leave me too popular, but I think couple child limits may become necessary at some point. Our populations are already ballooning, even without the Quiverfulls.
    I don’t LIKE the idea, not one bit, but it may be a necessary sacrifice.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think actual limits on family size would ever become a factor in the US. But there is nothing wrong with societal attitudes frowning on this sort of thing.

    Perhaps it’s time to revisit Bill McKibben.

  • They have every right to have as many chldren as they choose. My dad’s parents had 15 children though a little more spaced out than the Duggars are (30 year age difference between the oldest and youngest). However that doesn’t mean I think they SHOULD have that many children. I absolutely don’t think they should and this comes from being so close to a very large family. In particular I think it’s crazy for her to consider having another child! Once you’ve had preeclampsia once (as my sister in law did but her son was born only 2 weeks early) you are at high risk of it happening again.

  • Dianna

    It’s everyone’s choice to parent as they wish, but I stopped being impressed with the Duggars when I learned about “blanket training” and the Ezzos.

  • Staceyjw

    My biggest issue with the Duggars is that they make the Quiverfull lifestyle look so nice and normal, when its anything but a prison for women.

    For a look into the life of Quiverfull women, check out:
    http://nolongerquivering.come whole blog is facinating, read Vyckies Story, and any of the series.

    Also interesting:

    It also bugs me that they are raising 19 (and counting) kids IGNORANT of science- they all think evolution is a lie, even the little ones! There was a whole episode on their trip to the creation “museum”.
    And of course, raising ANYONE to think that women are baby machines and men are ultimate rulers is just sick and outdated, but they have every right to do it.

  • Jerad

    While you mention that the older kids don’t seem to mind caring for the younger rather than having social lives I still think it is a problem. The younger kids won’t have to do as much heavy lifting, giving them a normal adolescence.

    If you can’t care for a child for the next 18 years, you’re depriving the person you’re depending on to care for the child.

    How many of the Duggar children don’t have their own car by the age of 18 because they don’t have the time to get a job and sae up to buy one?

  • the anti_supernaturalist

    ** The rich want no limits to population growth and you must ignore the consequences

    By 2000 US population had grown in 50 years from 152 million people to 282 million. By 2050 it will grow to an estimated 420 million.

    The odd paternalist pregnancy inducing xian monster and compliant wifey are an atypical anecdote and therefore unimportant. (In fact diverting attention to “outrageous” outliers focuses anger in the wrong place.) What matters is overall population growth which Americans don’t understand or welcome in the name of some false and perverse idea of an infinitely open “frontier.”

    Why the growth? First, there is uncontrolled immigration. Most of it illegal. Second, new immigrants keep pro-natalist habits derived from societies which have high infant mortality rates, unopposed RC propaganda, and laws against birth control and abortion.

    Unfortunately, the US will not control population growth — agribusiness wants more ignorant and poor people to do our chicken plucking on the midnight shift. Corporate real estate wants more home building . . . and the elites want more consumption . . . otherwise the hyper-rich will see their wealth stop growing.

    But, of course, the dying middle class will disappear as wages continue constant, prices rise, productivity rises, and “surplus” wealth will concentrate even more. (And the masses will scream against their own interests by opposing increased taxation of the wealthy. Pwnd fools.)

    Unchecked population growth leads to scarcities and increased prices. It will continue to erode democratic freedoms.

    Life in the Empire is already disgusting — USA, USA, Numb-ba one! Dumber One! And you’re gonna love the military xian theocracy we’ll become as the US fulfills its destiny as a land of mostly the have-mores and the have-nothings.

    Don’t think so? Try reading Marvin Harris, Cannibals and Kings.

    If you are young and smart . . . get out of the US now. Australia and New Zealand, even Canada beckon.

    the anti_supernaturalist

  • Emma

    I have to say, I think it’s irresponsible. There are so many orphaned babies (look at Haiti, guys) in the world, if the Duggars want 19 babies- fine! Let them have a few biologically and adopt the rest. Take care of the amazing babies we already have before we start making more. Give homes to those who don’t have them, help reduce overpopulation- I don’t care how new birth control is, it’s available to nearly everyone these days, use it. It’s practically unheard of these days to have so many babies- why else would they make a TV show about it?
    To each their own, yes, insofar as it doesn’t harm others. At this point, with this many babies, I think they’re harming each of the children. Naturally I don’t want the government meddling with my uterus, but at a certain point procreating does need to stop, at least until we can colonize Mars.

  • Bryan

    Quiverfulls don’t bother me at all – especially in that, with 19 kids, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to rein in all of their information input.

  • Demonhype


    If you want to see something depressing, folow the related article about her taking her story to “The Doctors” show and read the comments. I’ve never read such vile, ignorant sewage being presented as human thought. They’re calling her a “democrat poster child” and “an obama supporter” and celebrating the doctor for his heroic action of enforced sterilization. It’s one big Republican smug-off with vicious Red vomit coating every available surface.

    It’s obscene that anyone would think there is a situation where it’s okay to forcibly sterilize a person against his/her will, but there you will find comment after comment in support of such human rights violations. I guess it’s easier to hate the poor guy than it is to hate the guy in the $10,000 suit, though the latter has done exponentially more to destroy the average “working class hero”.

    I feel soiled now and I’ve lost what little faith I might have still had for humanity. I feel like if I was approached by some aliens and asked to give a good reason not to wipe all humans off the face of this earth, I’d just shrug and say “go for it, Klaatu”.

  • Polly

    Worried about overpopulation?

    Have you considered suicide?

    -Call Dr. Jack Kevorkian

  • CatBallou

    The overpopulation argument is almost entirely without merit. There is no difference in resource use between 19 children from one family and 19 children from 19 different families. I’m sure we could find 19 couples who have chosen not to have children. It’s total population growth we need to be concerned about, and there’s no reason to think that the Duggars are going to start a significant trend.

    However, I do feel a little bit of resentment about the tax issue!

  • chris

    Seriously, Polly? Offing yourself (or murdering anyone, for that matter) is vastly different from using birth control.

    Otherwise, some very insightful posts from all sides of the issue.

    I personally am a “live-and-let-live” type who is, also, peeved about the tax thing. Thanks for the discussion, Hemant.

  • Oops, I had an ADD moment in my comment. I was going to finish by saying: “It’s your right to have a bunch of kids, and it’s everybody else’s right to criticize you for those irresponsible choices and lifestyle. The truth is, this isn’t just a normal family that happens to be 10x larger than the average sized family. This is a family that buys into the Bill Gothard dominionist cult that quite literally wants to take over the government so there will be no more separation of church and state. If that’s not dangerous or worth criticizing, I don’t know what is.”


  • absent sway

    I find the thought of someone expecting me to have few or no children to fulfill my environmental/intellectual/fill-in-the-blank duty no more appealing than the thought of someone expecting me to pump out as many babies as possible to fulfill my religious/traditional family duty. 19 children is an extreme example that few are striving to emulate, though plenty of the criticisms aimed at large families are legitimate and thought-provoking. What bothers me is the frequent generalization that mothers of many children are stupid. Also, the availability of birth control, which is in so many ways an opportunity for the independence of women (which I personally take advantage of), should nevertheless not be an obligation.

  • we have four children, if i could have more, i would. the babies are the greatest…

    I don’t know the Duggars for doing something they want to do. They are obviously not dysfunctional or economically deprived

    dope post.

  • Jen

    I read Kathryn Joyce’s Quiverfull book, and I find the entire strange and uncomfortable. However, if I do not want someone telling me how many kids to have, then I can’t tell everyone else how many they can have. Meanwhile, while I am finding many interesting comments here, I have a few issues.

    There are so many orphaned babies (look at Haiti, guys) in the world, if the Duggars want 19 babies- fine! Let them have a few biologically and adopt the rest. Take care of the amazing babies we already have before we start making more. Give homes to those who don’t have them, help reduce overpopulation- I don’t care how new birth control is, it’s available to nearly everyone these days, use it. It’s practically unheard of these days to have so many babies- why else would they make a TV show about it?

    First off, transinternational adoption is fraught with race and class issues, and adoption in general, while often times a great thing, is not an easy choice to be lightly entered into. For one thing, there are not very many babies for adoption- and most people want babies- and telling someone who wants a baby they can have a foster teen- and most of the adoptable kids kids out there are older, and in foster care- is not going to appreciate that. People want flesh-and-blood babies, and that’s not something that can be overcome easily.

    Don’t kid yourself into thinking they are fully supporting themselves. People who use their insurance company will pay the price for the cost of preemie care. Just because you have insurance doesn’t mean your paying everything on your own. If you were, you wouldn’t need insurance.

    Laura, I like your post, and your blog too, but what? I am a healthy young person (for now) and would have much cheaper insurance if my insurance company got rid of the smokers, the parents, the cancer-havers, and if we just shot the people over 35- but she is just as entitled to use her insurance as I am. And premies can be born to Quiverfull mothers as well as first time mothers. We can’t let the insurance companies pit us against each other- they are the evil, not people who dare to get sick.

  • These people have a reality TV show which puts them and their family into the spotlight complete with the criticism that it brings. And yes that was their choice. Also their “breeding for God” program. Apart from that it is their life, their choice.

  • Great comment Hemant, I agree it isn’t
    the best of family situations, and even sadder that it is promoted by a religious view, but you are correct in pointing that this is a personal choice and a person cannot fight against the Duggars choices without jepordizing their own.

  • Elise

    Load of crap. It is irresponsible and selfish in the state of the world at the moment with over-population, pollution, and global warming. Frankly, I find it disgusting; they pretty much believe in procreating like rabbits and having subservient women. The only reason the kids don’t think anything is wrong or “don’t mind” is because they are brainwashed and don’t know any better – that they are deprived of childhood opportunities.

  • Bacopa

    Haven’t the Duggars followed a six month breatfeeding limit in order to make her become pregnant more often? Breastfeeding for at least a wear would have reduced Mrs Duggars fertility to a extent. Nursing longer and tandem nursing an older child would have reduced fertility even more.

    Evolution is smarter than we are. A tandem nursing nursing mother in a hunter gatherer society will have reduced fertility. That’s selection’s way of saying she should invest her efforts in her healthy offspring. Hormones interpret a nursing cutoff at six months as a dead baby. Better have another one if you’re well-fed.

  • Isa

    “Overpopulation is a serious environmental problem, and while I don’t support legal action, we should not fear shaming these people for their irresponsibility and greed.”

    I agree with this completely.

  • Anon

    Overpopulation much? In just a few generations, the family will have hundreds of descendants. How is that not irresponsible? Every single problem in the world can be traced to overpopulation, including lack of resources and environmental problems.

  • Richard Wade

    A very thoughtful, fair-minded and open-hearted post. Thank you for this, Hemant.

    I hope they don’t all say “Goodnight” to each other one after another like the Waltons. That’s 21 people each saying “Goodnight” to 20 others, or 420 “Goodnights.” at an average of 5 seconds each, that’s 35 interminable minutes of “Goodnight Mom, Goodnight, Dad, Goodnight Cindy, Goodnight Mary, Goodnight Tom, Goodnight Gary,………”

    Somebody’s going to eventually go nuts and scream “SHUT THE FUCK UP!!”

  • john

    the only issue is #19 was born with serious birth weight issues, and it’s VERY likely #20 will either have birth weight issues or Down’s. I’d almost say that it was God’s way of telling them to stop, had I not been agnostic… While they DO have the right to do whatever, the potential children also have a right to the quality of a birth-defect-free life if possible

  • aghhh its 1 of my pet hates people who use the term ‘overpopulation’ incorrectly, overpopulation is where there are not enough resources for each and every person regardless of population size or densety (curse my spelling hehe) example its possible for an island of 1 person to be over-populated, fact of the matter is there isnt a overpopulation problem globably becuase there are enough resources for each person to live, its just its not exactly distributed to them all which is another thing all together. that aside nice post, the parents sound loving and caring so good on em ^_^ nice source of cheap labour that we call family in the future haha

  • Despite what you say, this is totally arrogant and self-centered. “We’ll do what we want and the hell with the environment, the planet, and the better life we could have provided with fewer children.”

    If they had adopted 16 or 17 if these children that would be a different, praiseworthy thing. But they didn’t.

  • vivian

    The kids may be well behaved but are they happy? This should be about the kids and not the parents. If someone leaves thier child alone it is considered neglect, so isn’t it child abuse that the older kids are raising the younger (as anyone can clearly see on the show). The parents are only there in body because they’re too busy taking care of the new member of the family.

    My grandmother had 12 siblings and my grandfather 10. They only had 2 cars, didn’t have electricity most of the time and had their own water supply (a well). They grew their own food, and never wasted any part of the animals they slaughtered (that part I could do without). These families who truly sustiained themselves shouldn’t be compared to the Duggars who live in today’s idea of what is essential.

    BTW haven’t atheist always complained pushing the bible down a child’s throat is a form of abuse? Apparently some of you missed the episode of the family going to the Discovery Musuem where they taught the kids that evolution was a farce.

  • Edmond

    You can say a lot of good things about this family, they’re raising their kids in a stable, committed relationship, they discipline them in loving fashion, they’re all well provided for, yada yada yada, but personally I think the question of overpopulation is the most pressing.

    These kids are all being raised in a home where it is taught that having 19 kids is just fine and dandy. What happens when each of THEM has 19 more kids? And each of THOSE kids does the same? Obviously, it’s unlikely that every child will have 19 kids just like their parents, but they are being groomed to believe that an excessive number of children is not just ok, but encouraged by their god. It IS likely that at least SOME of them will also have a large family, and that mindset will be passed along to future generations.

    Coupled with the inordinate amount of waste (diapers, food packaging, etc etc) that these huge numbers of people are going to create, what they’re doing IS irresponsible. Maybe not against the law, maybe not immoral, but they aren’t doing our planet any favors.

  • Bob Carlson

    Well, I’ll be Duggared. Some of us didn’t realize that population growth, not family planning, is the solution to poverty:

  • I don’t think I’ve heard anyone advocating that laws should be passed against the Duggars. We can respect their legal right to have an unlimited number of children, but I see no reason on earth why we should defend it or act like the choices the Duggars make are fine and dandy.

    I believe it is perfectly acceptable to criticize the Duggars, and criticize them strongly. Their reproductive choices are irresponsible and could very well lead to the the death of Michelle and/or any future offspring, but they will not stop having children as long as they are physically able. Their homeschooling is limited and factually incorrect. Their parenting is harsh, misogynistic, and isolating. Their political beliefs are extreme and the movement they are part of is essentially breeding an army of God’s warriors with the ultimate goal of taking over the United States government.

    Should we not speak up and criticize that? What is seen on television is a watered-down version of their lives and their beliefs. It’s all very “family-friendly” and “wholesome,” but viewers do not see any of what’s lurking under the surface.

    Why aren’t they adopting?

    Let them have a few biologically and adopt the rest.

    The Duggars are followers of Bill Gothard, who discourages adoption:

    “Adopted children are affected by the sins of their natural parents, and these sins are usually very severe.”

    Once I saw the mother disciplining one of the younger children, and she did it in such a loving and non-shaming way that it was so dear to witness their interaction. And the kid got it, he understood. I think she’s a gifted mother.

    Appearances can be very deceiving! You should know that people in this lifestyle do not discipline their children in a loving, non-shaming way. The discipline that you will not see on television takes place behind closed doors and involves ritualized corporal punishment administered with implements. And that’s just once they reach a certain age. They use “blanet training” for babies in order to instill obedience in infancy. The Duggars will not talk about such matters on camera. They refer vaguely to “training” and “correction,” but please be aware that there is a quite a bit that viewers do not see.

  • A Mile of Bad Road

    “I think there may be a libertarian lurking inside you, Hemant.”

    Oh, that would explain why this post is so mind-bogglingly stupid.

    The Duggars are, to put it simply, child abusers. Anyone defending them is guilty by assocation. Full stop. Don’t yammer about their “freedom” – they live off their community and their supporters all know it, all the while trying to shift the focus off this fact by sneering about how “well, at least they’re not on welfare”, with all the dogwhistle racism that entails.

    You should be better than this, Hemant. That you aren’t makes me honestly wonder how smart you really are.

  • Charon

    The overpopulation argument is almost entirely without merit. There is no difference in resource use between 19 children from one family and 19 children from 19 different families. I’m sure we could find 19 couples who have chosen not to have children.

    I’m glad to see CatBallou supports cap-and-trade for children.

  • >>> “Also, what’s with naming all your kids with “J” names? That seems… questionable to me.”

    Seems sensible to me: I assume hand-me-downs are the norm, so labeling everything ‘J. Duggar’ saves a bunch.

    As someone committed to *not* having children, I find the very idea of 19 kids repulsive. I’m fine with other people squirting them out like hypersexual ferrets if they so wish, assuming they can care for them financially and emotionally.

    That said, I personally have never understood any of the arguments for having your own rather than adoption, aside from the financial one. Want to do something good in the world? How about adopting a special-needs kid? Yes, it’s hard, but remember: you’re “blessed by the Lord”, right? I’m sure he’ll pitch in…

    Also: If we have no problem telling someone that they can’t adopt five kids, why can’t we tell them they can’t have five kids biologically? Either the rules for adoption are too strict, or the ‘rules’ for biological reproduction aren’t strict enough.

    As for the forced sterilization thing; say a woman who had been convicted – hell, let’s say she confessed, unrepentant – of sexually abusing her children, and that woman announced her intention to have as many kids as she could upon release…how far would it have to go for you to support her forced sterilization? How about a woman who doesn’t “believe in” contraception, and prefers abortion when her own system -based on, say, the font used in the first ad in that day’s National Enquirer- fails? How about a mentally retarded woman who just wants to have ‘billions of babies cuz babies are cute’?

  • Jeff

    Utter garbage! Reproduction shouldn’t be a right; it should be a privilege. Most of the world’s current problems are the result of serious overpopulation, in other words, of people having too many goddamn kids! On top of that, it is usually largely uneducated, unintelligent and very religious (therefore close minded and ignorant) people who have the most children in this day and age. It’s like inverse evolution. I am surprised that a group of atheists would buy into this ridiculous and religiously based notion that we have a right to breed like rabbits.

  • «bønez_brigade»

    Shit, I let this one slip right by me…

  • PaulH

    I am alarmed and disturbed by the many assertions that the Duggars have a right to reproduce as they want. No such right exists, nor should any such right be conferred on anyone. The Duggars pose a direct threat to the human race by promoting their defiant excesses as an exercise in both social and religious freedom.

    In reality, the Duggars are criminals. They tax our collective resources, which are desperately limited, and they are reducing the genetic diversity of our species, which limits our adaptability and our chances for survival.

    Like any other criminals, the Duggars need to be punished. Forced sterilization of the Duggar parents, as well as all of their children, is both fair and just. Such punishment mitigates the damage they have caused and preserves the rights (and lives) of others.

  • Laura, I like your post, and your blog too, but what? I am a healthy young person (for now) and would have much cheaper insurance if my insurance company got rid of the smokers, the parents, the cancer-havers, and if we just shot the people over 35- but she is just as entitled to use her insurance as I am. And premies can be born to Quiverfull mothers as well as first time mothers. We can’t let the insurance companies pit us against each other- they are the evil, not people who dare to get sick.

    That wasn’t my point. My point was that their recklessness affects other people. Smokers and other people who lead unhealthy lifestyles get criticized all the time for how much they cost the system. So why lay off the Duggars? I don’t think there should be laws passed, but like Anna, I firmly believe that criticism is perfectly valid, even for the reasons Hemant mentioned in the op (though like I said before, those are not my main concerns). What these people do with their kids–filming them doing their normal kid stuff in the privacy of their own homes for money, most would call exploitation. The kids don’t have a choice. Are the Duggars saving some of the money they are making for them? Who knows! Those are the kinds of questions we should be asking. So I guess my question here is “Why should we be tolerant of it?” We aren’t tolerant of other things that are wrong, and while what these people do to their kids may not be illegal, it still cripples them. They aren’t prepared for life outside the Duggar compound, and that coupled with a belief system that isn’t exactly shown on TLC is what is so dangerous. The Duggars choose to be on television, and as such, they open up their lives and their belief systems up to be criticized. If they were private people, I think there would be more of a point to be made to lay off and be tolerant. But they aren’t; they are public figures.

    They do cost people money living recklessly, and what they do to their kids is wrong, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. TLC romanticizes this, and that is also wrong. Gothard is not so happy and rosy once you’re inside it, and while I think people have the right to live the way they choose, that right does not include living without criticism if what you do is unhealthy for others.

  • bluecrayola242

    My only issue is that the Duggars also romanticize women as subservient, and I am not okay with that in any form. Have as many kids as you want, but please let them know they are all equal. This not only shows the nation that women as subservient can work, but it also creates more people who think this is necessary and right.

    It just grates on me a bit to think that she is doing just as well as I am, even though I feel like I am making the better choice. I will fully admit this is cognitive dissonance, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easer. That’s probably the #1 reason I say some crappy things about them sometimes. Which is very sad.

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