Duggarville: Population 20 and Counting

The Jim Bob Duggar Clan Now on TV

By Jessica Reidmueller

“There was an old woman who lived in a shoe; she had so many children she didn’t know what to do…”

Turn on the television and you’ll see that big families are fast becoming a part of pop culture. It seems that large families are exploding everywhere. Marathons of “Jon and Kate Plus 8” and “Kids by the Dozen” can be seen almost every night of the week. But no family is bigger than The Duggars, though some come close. And as the biggest family, they are also the biggest blog target. People fall on every side of the Duggar debate. But what is so wrong, or right, about the Duggars, anyway?

The ever-growing family from Tontitown, currently numbers at 20 with the announcement of baby number 18. They have had a number of TV specials across the Discovery Channel universe, and the latest is a weekly series.

“17 Kids and Counting” welcomes America to join the Duggars as they go through normal life pursuits. Well, maybe not entirely normal. The first two episodes documented a trip to New York to appear on “The Today Show.” But it seems that the Duggar show in general wants to say, ‘Here. See what our family is like. We are just like you, only slightly bigger and maybe a little better.’

The show is fascinating if for no other reason than to watch the dynamics of a family this large. There are so many people doing so many different things, and the parents, Jim Bob and Michelle, seem able to keep track of all this activity.

Perhaps it is that meticulous schedule they keep on a forest of sticky notes. But it isn’t that surprising that Michelle can keep up with everything. A good third of the children being teenagers are able to keep up with themselves. And they are assigned a younger “buddy” to watch out for.

While on paper it sounds like Duggar children are raising Duggar children, the show presents it more as a chance for sibling bonding. It is natural for the siblings to want to take care of each other.

Their natural camaraderie is strengthened by the Duggar house rules. The house is governed by 22 guidelines requesting near perfection. Fourteen of them use the words “always” and “never.” The children are never shown throwing fits or misbehaving in any way. When they go on outings everyone is well mannered and generally cheerful, and things do not change much when they are at home. Playtime is a rather excitable event, but mostly they walk around with that Duggar perma-grin on their faces.

While this sort of eerily perfect children are a big topic for bloggers, a bigger argument surrounding this big family is overpopulation. This earth is in crisis. People, crops and livestock are running out of land. Forests are disappearing. Glaciers are melting, plant and animal species are dying and potable water is running out. Some places on the earth are already in severe, prolonged drought. How many Duggars will each of the Duggars have? If each child has the same number as their parents there will be 324 grandchildren. Grow that exponentially, and the Duggar family will be prepared to take over the entire state of Arkansas within five generations.

And what if they move? They would be like the pandemic maps on those contagion outbreak movies. A few reds specks start in Arkansas and expand over the country, continent and world.

Their carbon footprint likely does cover about half the state. With four washers and dryers–200 loads of laundry a month–and a small appliance store’s worth of refrigerators, freezers, ovens and microwaves, their electric bill must be phenomenal, not to mention their water usage.

But whether out of concern for the planet or necessity, the Duggars have gone a little green. The washer and dryers are energy efficient. They make their own laundry soap; though, that contribution may be outweighed by their use of Fels-Naptha, certainly not a natural choice. They buy in bulk, which ultimately reduces the raw materials used in packaging. And they’ve even started their own vegetable garden. Environmentalists they may not be, but they are not wholly irresponsible in regard to the planet.

Over population aside, the biggest subject of Duggar blogs centers on religion. The Duggars do not hide their ultra-conservative beliefs. God is at the center of everything they do, from studies to relationships to money. Even the reason for their fame is due to God. Jim Bob’s and Michelle’s openness to such a large family stems from their belief that each child is not only a gift from God, but ordained by God, and it is selfish to dictate when children should come into your life.

Jim Bob and Michelle have certainly held fast this belief. Michelle has been pregnant for 135 months of her life, an estimated 48 percent of her marriage. And she still looks young!

One factor to her youthful looks, could be attributed to the fact that she doesn’t have to worry about whom her children are dating. The Duggars believe in “courtship,” a form of dating focusing on the couple’s responsibility to Christian service rather than selfish pleasures. They explained this belief in episodes three and four of the TV show as Josh, the oldest child, becomes engaged.

Courtship principles are unique to every couple’s situations, but in general, an individual must be deemed suitable by the other’s family. It seems that this involves the suitor asking his intended’s father for her hand in marriage. The couple then gets to know one another after they are committed– in a completely innocent way, of course. Dates are chaperoned to prevent any temptations, and, in this particular case, the only physical contact is hand-holding, which is seen as rather liberal by some courtship supporters. Their first kiss is saved for the sanctity of their wedding day. Courtship is not an arranged marriage. Josh and his wife Anna met at a Home-Schoolers’ Conference.

It sounds a rather harsh and loveless way to find a spouse, but the Duggars humanize it quite well. Josh and Anna hold hands throughout both episodes and make it clear that they are truly happy to be in one another’s presence. The rather odd idea of not even a kiss prior to the wedding is explained in the light of preserving one’s entire self and soul for the commitment of marriage. Though the pair might lack the emotional experience of prior relationships, they also lack the emotional baggage that can come with experience. The center of the marriage is really the couple’s commitment to God.

To prepare for this commitment, the Duggar children are home-schooled mostly by Michelle, though the older children help, using a Scripture-centered home education curriculum based mainly on “The Sermon on the Mount.” Each lesson applies linguistics, history, science and mathematics to the study of a portion of the Scripture. State requirements are taken into account. The notable exception, of course, is Evolution.

The Duggars are Creation Scientists. In one episode of “17 Kids and Counting” they visit The Creation Museum near Cincinnati, Ohio. The museum features fantastic animatronics displays of The Garden of Eden depicting the co-existence of dinosaurs and people before the Fall of Man. Creation Science holds that, true to Genesis, the earth and all of its inhabitants, both flora and fauna, was created in six, 24 hour days. Man and animal lived together in harmony until Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge.

Evolution is seen as a dangerous, un-Christian and unscientific theory. Evolution is a theory commonly accepted as an immutable truth throughout the world. Many scientists, even those considering themselves Christian, would feel that to deny Evolution is to deny the beautiful, arduous journey that has lead from a single cell to modern man.

Due in good part to these conservative beliefs, opinions on the Duggars vary from praise to outrage. They are part of the TV celebrity culture that people feel they have a right to critique or applaud.

By inviting the cameras in, the Duggars have given us an excuse to extol them or disparage them in living rooms across the country. Weekly blogs go up calling the parents crazy or irresponsible. People stop them on the street to ask questions about family dynamics and religious beliefs or to try and name the children. And the Duggars couldn’t be more happy to answer.

Despite the best efforts to discredit them, the Duggars are good people raising good children. In the nursery rhyme, the old woman, overwhelmed by the number of her children, feeds them broth with no bread, whips them and sends them to bed.

Aside from the implied quantity of children, the Duggars could not be further from the old woman in the shoe. They live in a very nice, 7,000 sq.ft. house. The children are fed much more than broth, and they make their own bread. A hand is never raised in anger, and if you really want to know what to do with all those children, check out the multitude of resources on their website or watch for their forthcoming book.

Categories: Features