Friday, December 16, 2011

Dear Duggars: Love the ones you're with.

I've blogged about the Duggars -- the Arkansas family with 19 kids -- a few times, so when the announcement came that mom Michelle had miscarried baby No. 20, some people asked how I felt about the news. I decided not to write about my opinions on this latest turn of events, figuring that commenting would be in pretty bad form.

I still think it's pretty bad form, but I'm going to comment anyway, as I don't seem to be disciplined enough to hold my tongue when it comes to the Duggars.

First, let me say this: I send the Duggars my most heartfelt condolences on their loss. Michelle miscarried in the second trimester; she had heard a heartbeat, she had felt movement, and she had no doubt bonded with the child. I would feel for anyone who had delivered a stillborn baby, and, as a mother, I sympathize with what must have been a horrible, wrenching experience.

That said, though -- what were they thinking?

On their television show on the cable channel TLC, the Duggars often have explained that they made a commitment long ago to leave the size of their family up to God. The result: They have 19 kids who range in age from 2 to 23, plus two grandchildren.

Here are some positives about the Duggars: They're debt-free, they support themselves, and they seem like nice, pleasant people. Here, also, are some negatives, in my opinion: They proselytize, they really seem to enjoy the fame that goes along with TV, and the parents don't do their own work.

Anyone who's read my feelings on this topic knows my basic gripe, and that's that Jim-Bob and Michelle Duggar push the raising of the children onto the family's older girls -- "buddies," they're called -- as soon as each baby is 6 months old. The girls don't have many options; they're not allowed to leave home to attend college or to work. The older boys don't attend college, either, but they're set up with businesses that will allow them to make a living, and they sure don't have to take care of any babies. Stereotypical gender roles are alive and well in the Duggar house.

Another gripe is that Michelle seems entirely checked out when it comes to interacting with her kids. While the "sister-moms" do the heavy lifting, Michelle seems to attend a lot of conferences and take a lot of naps. The girls, then, are charged with cooking and cleaning for and chauffeuring enough children to make up more than two baseball teams. And when Michelle does interact with her small children, those interactions seem less than maternal. When something is wrong with one of the toddlers, for example, he or she runs not to Mom or Dad, but to one of the sisters.

My point is this: I don't care if you have 19 kids or 20 kids or 40 kids. But please, please -- if you're going to enjoy all the notoriety gleaned from having a super-size family, don't count on your older kids to raise your younger ones. It's simply not fair.

Also, don't turn the whole thing into a numbers game. Again, I don't know the Duggars and don't intend to judge them, but when you invite TV cameras into your room every week, you open yourselves up to criticism. And what I've seen in the last few episodes tells me that hitting magic No. 20 was a big deal indeed to the Duggars.

Why? Because I daresay that to most people, 20 kids sounds like a bigger deal than 19. Another potential reason: The Gil and Kelly Bates family -- another super-size bunch and frequent guests on the Duggars' show -- are expecting baby No. 19, and I wonder if the Duggars aren't maybe just a tad bit nervous about sharing the limelight.

This is all idle speculation on my part, obviously. But this is not: The Duggars clearly want poor little Jubilee, the deceased baby, to "count" as No. 20. They held a memorial service for her this week during which they passed out photos of the miscarried baby's appendages, and I'm not kidding; I won't link to them, but if you have a sense of the macabre and want to take a look, google them. There's a photo of the 4-ounce baby's discolored feet with a verse about the impact even the smallest baby can have on the world, and there's another shot of the poor little baby's hand, less than fully formed, being held by the hand of her mother. Sad, sad stuff.

I'm sorry, but ... wow. Just wow. I don't see a thing wrong with taking and keeping such photos to view privately, but in my opinion, publicizing them landed way, way outside the bounds of good taste. And to me, it speaks to the fact that something is perhaps a little bit more wrong than I thought it was in Duggarland.

I'm not qualified to offer advice, but that's never stopped me in the past: Please, Michelle and Jim-Bob, pay attention to the children you have. You're over 45, and the odds are pretty darned slim that any baby you have from this point on is going to be born healthy. How about this: Be real parents to the kids you already have. Take your little ones to the park. Shop with your teenagers. Let your kids participate in team sports, and attend their games. Talk -- really talk -- to your children, one on one. In short, do what many, many other parents do; be parents.

You have 19 kids, 18 of whom are healthy as can be and one of whom still needs a great deal of attention from you. Give thanks, Duggars. Accept that the baby-making phase of your life is over, and love the ones you're with.


  1. I know a gal with 14 kids. you are right: it is very unfair to the older kids. seeing a 14yo boy walking with a baby in a back pack during a park day while other kids are creek stomping.... shudder. My issue with this one gal is that she truly believes that her kids will never move out and leave her while she continues to have babies. pray for them all!

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  3. Thanks for the feedback, Julia. The Duggars are a touchy subject, and I appreciate that you get what I am trying to say!