A while ago, I was in the checkout line at the supermarket, when a headline from the cover of one of the tabloid magazines on display there caught my eye. (I hasten to interject here that I am absolutely a commited member of the 'Who-gives-a-rat's-ass?' school of attending to tabloid headlines, but you know, sometimes you just notice stuff, in spite of yourself.)
"HOW MANY IS TOO MANY?" blared the headline. "The Duggars Under Fire" was the sub-heading. Now, Jen and I have had occasion to make a degree of common cause with the Duggars from time to time, so, in spite of my better judgement, I read on. It seems that our good friends Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have recently welcomed their 19th child into this world, four months prematurely, and the health 'issues' of little Josie were the occasion for such soul-searching on the part of the tabloid writers. (Have you noticed how much easier it is to search other people's souls than your own?) (Also, Michelle was 43 years old at the time of Josie's birth; which, just for the sake of saying so, is two-and-a-half years younger than Jen was when 8M was born).
Now, my first reaction whenever I see something in the media pertaining to the Duggars is always, "Well, God Bless 'Em!" It takes an admirable measure of courage and self-sacrifice to raise such a large family in today's world. And my second reaction is usually, especially when the commentator in question adopts a tone of "Those people have got to be stopped!" (which is a distressingly large proportion of them), "What do YOU care how many kids some couple in Arkansas has?" I mean, here we have people, in print, in a nationally-distributed journal, sanctimoniously debating the Morality of Family Size, and at least theoretically prepared to consider invoking some manner of coercive authority, because a couple in Arkansas has Too Many Kids.
And I am thoroughly at a loss to account for the visceral vehemence of that reaction. I mean, really - why do the Duggars seem to bother so many people so much? By all accounts, their kids are well provided for, properly educated, well-behaved, and no burden to the society-at-large, so why all the angst? 'Better Them Than Me', I could understand, and even, to a degree, sympathize with. I mean, if someone feels like nineteen kids is more than they could handle, I can definitely understand that (heck, depending on the day, two kids can be more than I think I can handle); and nobody is forcing anyone, or even proposing to them, to have one child more than what they want to have (and just as an aside, many of the same folks who are so eager to tell the Duggars that they've got 'Too Many Kids' would pitch a monumental bitch if anyone so much as arched an eyebrow at someone else's choice to remain childless; "It's Nobody's Business But Mine!" Unless you're the Duggars, and choose to have 19). It's just out-of-proportion. Exactly what skin is it, off the nose of anyone not named Duggar, if they have as many kids as they want - or, more to the point, as many kids as they believe God is inviting them to have?
Is it because of the southern-accented evangelical Christianity espoused by the Duggars? I know that, in the part of the country where I live, southern accents can evoke a stereotype of 'ignorant and uneducated' with some folks (even so admirable a young man as Tim Tebow, the Heisman-Trophy-winning quarterback from the University of Florida, can evoke a similar visceral reaction, so maybe that does account for some of it). But Jim Bob Duggar (and yeah, that name 'Jim Bob' also evokes stereotypical images of 'hayseed' among many northerners) is hardly uneducated; heck, he's served in the same state legislature over which Bill Clinton, much beloved of the northern elites, once presided as governor. . .
We have eight children, so we've gotten a few comments on the order of 'How could you?', in the course of our parental lives, but nothing like what the Duggars seem to inspire. We are good friends of two families who each have eleven children, and one with thirteen (I will admit that Jen and I do appreciate any opportunities we have, rare as they are, to use the words, 'Only Eight'). Heck, Jen is one of ten kids herself, and I'm one of seven; which has mostly served to greatly increase the esteem in which we hold our parents. Another couple we know has seven children; the mother is one of 14 children, and the father is one of 16 (so maybe they've practiced an admirable restraint, eh?); their kids have 50-some aunts and uncles, including spouses. One can only imagine what their family reunions must be like. . .
But really - why do the Duggars, by their very existence, seem to provoke such extreme agitation in so many people? I understand that they have, to at least some degree, embraced the public spotlight, and a measure of 'celebrity', by agreeing to appear in various TLC and Discovery Health shows (which, I admit, I've never seen; like the Duggars, we don't have cable). And maybe they do mean to promote a certain vision of family life - the Quiverfull Movement, and all that. But again - who is being harmed by their message? A simple 'No Thanks; I'll Pass' ought to suffice (it did for us, when some of our friends embraced Mary Pride's message many years ago), but it seems not to. And why is that?
Just wondering. . .
(Sorry if this is more of a rant than it needs to be. I guess it just struck a nerve. . .)