Monday, March 1, 2010

Methinks Some Folks Doth Protest Too Much. . .

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. . .)


  1. Ok, I'll admit it.....they bug me. It's an attitude or vibe that they put off (we're better Christians because we have more kids, homeschool them, shop at Goodwill, etc.) I will occasionally watch the show and I really should stop because I get annoyed each time. It bothers me that the girls look like they are in an LDS cult with their hair and long skirts, but then I'll see some of the boys wearing American Eagle brand shirts. Huh?

    I also think there is NO POSSIBLE way those kids are learning anything. It's mass chaos with kids running around, jumping on furniture. Who can be learning chemistry in that sort of atmosphere?

    The kicker for me was when the father-in-law said at the wedding that Jesus never drank wine (and that's why they weren't serving alcohol at the reception). Again, HUH? That's fine if you don't drink, but let's not change the Bible around to suit your own philosophy.

    For me, it's not so much how many kids they have, but how they are being raised. To each his own, I guess.

  2. Sigh. . .

    I'm in between you, Craig and you, Cocotte.

    I understand how you, Craig, could feel defensive over people poking their noses into others' choices when it comes to number of offspring. I am a proponent of choice (and yes, you can read into that exactly what you think it means), and certainly one choice a couple can make is to have a plethora of children. As long as the couple has adequate means to care for them then God bless them, and everybody else butt out.

    On the other hand you, Cocotte, echo many of my sentiments about the Duggars in particular. There are so many things that make me say "Huh?" that I choose to ignore all coverage of them. There's just something about them. . . (and, no Craig, it isn't the accent or name that does it for me, in spite of my Southern hillbilly roots and first hand knowledge of all the ignorance that can be found there (though no more than what can be found in other parts of the country and world))

    As to tabloids, I hate 'em. As to the question "How many is too many?", I think it is a valid question and worthy of thoughtful and intelligent debate (not that you will find that in a tabloid, mind you).

  3. Well, if people think the Duggars have too many children, which ones should they get rid of? (said with tongue firmly in cheek).

  4. Cocotte - Thanks for your candor. As I said, I've never seen any of the shows; you've helped me understand a little bit better. . .

    Jan - And thanks for your candor, too.

    Of course, not all choices are created equal, are they?

    Tina - Thanks for stopping by; come again whenever you like. . .

    And yes, I've been known to give the same 'which one should we send back?' response, myself. . .

  5. Oh, and Jan, just for the sake of saying so, I don't think I'm really defensive about it (altho, I freely acknowledge that perhaps I 'protest too much'. . .) Speaking purely on my own behalf, I really don't care who thinks what about how many kids I have; we understand where the raised eyebrows come from. It's the borderline-outraged 'What's Wrong With Those People?' that perplexes me. . .

  6. hhmm, i have to admit i have some conflicted feelings about all this. true enough they provide for their own kids so they aren't a drain on society. i'd have a problem if they were on all kinds of assistance and kept cranking out kids. on the other hand, a chunk of their income is from being on the tv show, so it's from putting all those kids in a fishbowl. certainly the family seems about a zillion times healthier in the way it functions than jon and kate gosselin's family was so it's maybe not as big a deal for the duggars. but still, i worry about the effect of growing up on tv for those kids.

    i think you may have touched on part of the issue when you wonder if it is partly due to the arkansas/evangelical christian thing that people have negative reactions. that could be a factor for some folks to become so heated in their disgust.

    personally, i think family size and how when that will occur is something each couple has to consider between themselves and god. i tend to get uncomfortable when anyone starts telling me their view is the only correct one regarding that issue.

    i am close friends with one couple who struggled years and years of trying to conceive only to learn the husband was completely sterile and the wife had to undergo a hysterectomy. they have told me i am wrong to use any form of birth control other than natural family planning. i'm sorry but even abraham and sarah had more to work with than my friends did.

    i had hoped for 4 children. my doctor told me that was the absolute limit for my body because of medical issues. my husband said 3 was his limits for various other issues. i have 3. and might i add....i gave a name to each and every time i did NOT use birth control.

    on the other hand i am acquainted with a lesbian couple who have gotten in my face about having 3 children since that is too many and the earth can't sustain a growing population, blah blah blah. i'm a "breeder" and on and on.

    basically it boils down to this in my mind. whatever does not come from faith is sin. the duggars have a faith that allows them to comfortably live the life they do. your family is likewise. and i have the faith for what i've got. that said, if for some reason god saw fit for me to conceive in spite of the precautions we take (though there are certain forms of birth control i cannot use in good faith because of the manner in which they work) i'd take that in faith that it was REALLY meant to be.

    i've worked out my situation according to the fiath my husband and i have and according to our convictions such that my conscience is clear. i am willing to share it with folks who ask but i would not say a family who has a difference in their own convictions is wrong.

  7. Wow; thanks for weighing in on this, Lime. Lots of chewy good stuff in your comment. . .

    I've actually had some of the same thoughts as you about the whole 'Let's put our family on TV' thing. At least so far, I don't know of any family besides the Duggars that hasn't blown up when they got put on TV. . .

    As 'breeders' go, you're pretty darned efficient, aren't you? I mean, 3-for-3 beats the heck out of our 'success rate'. . . ;)

    If you were Catholic, I might raise an admonitory finger re NFP, but you're not, so I won't. It is absolutely between you and your husband and God. (but, just between you and me and the lamp post, and because I trust our friendship, I might tell you that NFP is better, and better for you, on multiple levels; the choice will always be yours, tho, and I would never say that you were wrong (in a moral sense) for arriving at a different conclusion) (I mean, even if you were Catholic, it is ultimately your own decision whether to obey Church teaching or not; I might encourage you to be a 'good' Catholic rather than a 'bad' one, but in the end, all our moral choices are our own. . .)

    I've come across the whole 'breeder' line of thought before (thankfully, not from anyone I know personally), and aside from making my blood boil just the least bit, I find it utterly flabbergasting. I mean, your lesbian friends owe their own existence to the fact that their parents were 'breeders'. To say nothing of the rock-bottom misanthropy it betrays - essentially, that people are scum, and the best thing for the Universe is to remove people from it (of course, if anyone really, truly believes that, the only thing they could do in good conscience would be to commit suicide) (um, not that I'm advocating that anybody do that, y'unnerstand). But hey, feel free to tell your friends about us, if it will get them off your backs. . . ;)

    We have (non-Catholic) friends who had a 'surprise' baby (their 6th), and joked about naming him 'Jesus', since, as far as they could tell, he was conceived without intercourse. . . ;)

    And your comments about faith are right on. Thanks. . .

  8. glad you found lots to chew on there.

    catholic or not i would take the instruction regarding NFP more seriously coming from you and your wife than coming from folks who have zero ability to conceive. that was kind of my point more than arguing against it. as you pointed out, my "success rate" is kind of eerie. due to that and knowing my the idea of relying on nfp myself is just the least bit scary and beyond my personal measure of faith.

    personally, if a method prevents sperm from meeting egg, i'm basically ok with it. if it merely prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall, or termination, i'm not ok with it.

    i have appreciated some of the posts where you shared some of the rationale and benefits of nfp though. you gave me things to consider i hadn't really thought of before regarding the emotional and interpersonal aspects of it.

  9. Lime - Listen, I know all about those 'drives' and what they mean vis-a-vis NFP. I've always said that my eight kids correlate strongly to my own shortcomings in self-control. . .

    It wouldn't surprise me at all to get to Heaven and find out that it was all part of the plan for how people with poor self-control get more disciplined. . . ;)

    And Catholic theology would agree with you that conception is a bright line in the Moral Universe. . .

  10. I think for me the main off-putting thing about the Duggars is their insistence on pushing their bountiful fertility on the world with their television show. As if these kids don't have a lot to deal with being in such a large family (how in the world do you find time for one-on-one with each child on a regular basis??), now they have their family life broadcast worldwide. And, as was mentioned above, their dressing their girls like they are on the set of Little House on the Prairie and their seeming preference for the boys in many cases.

  11. Bunny - Long time no see! Hope you didn't have much trouble finding the new place. . .

    Again, I've never seen any of the shows, so it's hard for me to comment on perceptions from what's on the show. Although I do understand how the 'Look at us!' aspect of even being on TV in the first place can be annoying.

    As to one-on-one with each child, it's obviously a very different dynamic in a large family, and tends to get 'piggy-backed' on other stuff - doing projects, running errands, etc. And of course, kids from large families just don't get as much one-on-one time with Mom & Dad, as their peers from smaller families do. I can recall, in my teens, wishing that my dad, especially, could've spared a little more 'dedicated face-time' for me, but he had six other kids, plus a job, and the normal chaos of daily life. So I more-or-less figured out how to get by with what I could get from him. And with my own kids, I have to be diligent to make sure that none of my kids are 'falling thru the cracks'; and sometimes they do, anyway. But we try to minimize it. . .