The Duggar Delusion

There is, hidden or flaunted, a sword between the sexes till an entire marriage reconciles them."
- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

"The safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."
- C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters



Have you ever watched the reality show 18 Kids and Counting?  I saw it for the first time this week.  There were back-to-back episodes on The Learning Channel.  In the first show the Duggar family travels to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (Dollywood) at the invitation of the mayor, and in the second episode, the family has a birthday party at a skating rink for one of the ten sons.  There are also eight daughters.  Isn't it ironic that this family doesn’t allow their children to watch much TV; yet that’s how they have garnered national attention.

Frankly, I had no idea what I was missing on The Learning Channel with a line-up like Toddlers and Tiaras, The Little Couple (actually they are cute!), and I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant!  Yep, you can definitely “learn” a lot from The Learning Channel!

I first heard of the Duggars last fall from my former deacon, a brilliant man and a wonderful Christian.  We were talking after a church service, and he explained that he had been away quite a bit because he was a member of the production crew for 18 Kids and Counting.  At that point I had never heard of this reality show.  When I watched the credits roll last Tuesday, there was his name.  When he described this novel show to me, it sounded like a cute idea.  I continue to respect my former deacon, but I am skeptical about the Quiverfull Movement.       

In God's sovereignty, this conversation with my deacon took place not long after the infamous meeting with some pastors regarding young marriages.  It was during this time that I first began to learn about the Quiverfull movement.  When my deacon told me about a couple with 18 children, I immediately understood what the Duggars were practicing with regard to their spiritual beliefs due to my extensive internet research.  One of the resources that was helpful was the Wikipedia article on the Duggars.  Here's the link if you want to learn more about them. 


Now that I have finally watched the Duggars in action, there are several issues I'd like to address.

First of all, just how “real” is this reality show?  During my investigation, I came across two YouTube videos that helped answer that question.  I encourage you to watch them for yourself and decide just how "real" 18 Kids and Counting "really" is.  Can you imagine how much time must go into the production of each episode to get it "just right"? 

In the "Bloopers and Poopers" video 


one of the little ones has an "accident".  Why stop the camera from rolling?  After all, isn't that "reality" in a family of 18?

The second blooper video "Duggar Discipline Outtakes" 



shows Michelle Duggar trying to manage two of her little ones while she answers questions.  It really leaves one wondering how she manages her large brood 24/7…  In case you're interested, here's the "edited" version that probably aired on television.


The second issue I must raise is — just how realistic is this reality show given all the FREEBIES the Duggars have received?  What's so "real" about that?  For example, when the Duggar family traveled to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee at the invitation of the mayor, how much did they pay out of pocket for the trip?  In other words, who paid for their fabulous lodging and delicious meals featured on the show, not to mention the Dollywood entry passes?  I realize the Duggars were bringing attention to a vacation destination, but was anything about that episode "realistic"? 

How about their beautiful 7,000 square foot home?  It's no secret that they didn't pay for this new house by themselves.  The Discovery and Learning Channels have greatly contributed to their lifestyle while cashing in on their popularity.  Corporate sponsors have also gotten in on the "act".   Let's see . . . this family used to live in a 3,000 square foot home.  Just how "realistic" is the Duggar lifestyle if they aren't a self-sustaining family?  In other words, their standard of living goes way beyond what they could maintain without all the bonuses that stardom has brought them.  What will their lifestyle be like when the spotlight dims and the media attention shifts somewhere else?  The Duggars still have a lot of children to raise, and I have learned from personal experience that as children grow the costs attributable to them skyrocket!

That brings me to a third issue.  What will happen to the Duggar children when their fifteen minutes of fame, so to speak, come to an end?  To some extent, they have become "child stars" simply because they are members of an extremely large family.  Often, those put on a pedestal at an early age have trouble adjusting when they are no longer in the limelight.  It will be interesting to follow the Duggar kids and see what happens to them when their "charmed life" dissipates.  We leave you with a parting glimpse of the Duggar family..

Now it's time for a personal history lesson… 

Those who support the quiverfull movement want everyone to believe that couples have always been "fruitful" and that quiverfull families have always lived happily ever after…  I fear that nostalgia has blinded many to the PAINFUL reality associated with childbearing in centuries past. 

According to a Wikipedia article about maternal deaths,

"mortality rates reached horrible proportions in maternity institutions in the 1800s, sometimes climbing to 40 percent of birth-giving women.  At the beginning of the 1900s, maternal death rates were around 1 in 100 for live births.  The number today in the United States is 11 in 100,000, a decline by two orders of magnitude."

Women died so frequently during childbirth that it was probably the leading cause of death in centuries past.  Here's some pertinent information we found at the following link:



Childbirth in colonial America was a difficult and sometimes dangerous experience for women. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, between 1 percent and 1.5 percent of all births ended in the mother's death as a result of exhaustion, dehydration, infection, hemorrhage, or convulsions. Since the typical mother gave birth to between five and eight children, her lifetime chances of dying in childbirth ran as high as 1 in 8. This meant that if a woman had eight female friends, it was likely that one might die in childbirth.

Death in childbirth was sufficiently common that many colonial women regarded pregnancy with dread. In their letters, women often referred to childbirth as "the Dreaded apperation," "the greatest of earthly miserys," or "that evel hour I loock forward to with dread." Many, like New England poet Anne Bradstreet, approached childbirth with a fear of impending death. In a poem entitled "Before the Birth of One of Her Children," Bradstreet wrote,

“How soon, my Dear, death may my steps attend,
How soon't may be thy lot to lose thy friend”.

In addition to her anxieties about pregnancy, an expectant mother was filled with apprehensions about the death of her newborn child. The death of a child in infancy was far more common than it is today. In the healthiest seventeenth century communities, one infant in ten died before the age of five. In less healthy environments, three children in ten died before their fifth birthday. Puritan minister Cotton Mather saw eight of his fifteen children die before reaching the age of two." 

I'd now like to pose a question.  What do you know about your own family's genealogy?  Just how full were the quivers of your ancestors?

A number of years ago my husband and I restored his ancestral home, which is located on the family farm.  We believe the structure dates back to the early 1830s.  We hired someone to gut it (strip it to the studs) and start over, so now it's basically a fairly new house in the original structure.  The peg construction and hand hewn timber are incredible!  All of the original wood, including the studs, paneling, and floors are heart pine.  The house rests on timber that measures 12 inches by 12 inches and spans the length of the structure.  Ceiling joists in the master bedroom are 4 inches by 10 inches by 27 feet!  Imagine the strength it took to put them in place. 

Although it's not our primary residence, we do spend a lot of time there.  The house sits a half mile off the road and is very private.  Whenever I go there, it's like stepping back in time because so little has changed in almost 200 years!  I have often thought about the many happy (births) and sad (deaths) occasions that took place in this wonderful home.  The two front doors are original and were designed to open wide so that coffins could be placed in the "parlor" for viewing.  It was the reality back then.  

My husband's maternal great grandparents reared 12 children in this two-story Greek Revival home, and we believe his great great grandfather, who owned a lumber mill among other businesses, was instrumental in its construction.  This patriarch, who fought in the Revolutionary War and died at the age of 99, had separate living quarters beside the main house where he likely lived out his final years.

There's a family cemetery not far from the house where my husband's great grandparents, grandfather, and other relatives are buried.  Because of our interest in my husband's ancestors who lived there, we have learned quite a bit about them through genealogical research.  Not only that, one of our prized possessions is the family Bible of my husband's great grandparents who lived in this wonderful home.  His great grandmother recorded all of the important dates of her family inside (births, marriages, and deaths), and one of her daughters (who is also buried in the family cemetery) updated it after her mother died. 

For example, we know that my husband's maternal grandfather was one of 12 children (7 boys and 5 girls).  Two of the boys died in their teens.  One was 13 and died of "congestive chill", and the other was 17 and died of pneumonia while serving in the Civil War.  One girl died of diptheria at the age of 6.  Only nine children survived to adulthood, with one of the girls dying of typhoid fever at the age of 28.  She never married.  We believe these four children are buried in the family cemetery, although the wooden markers have long since deteriorated.  We hope to one day place four new markers for them beside their family members.

We also know that the first wife of my husband's grandfather died during childbirth, while the baby daughter lived.  This daughter was reared by her paternal grandmother in the home we restored.  She grew up, married, became pregnant, and died during childbirth!  She's buried beside her father in the family cemetery.  To make matters worse, the baby died as well.  It must have been a terrible ordeal for the husband and father-to-be, as well as her other family members.

The saddest sight in the family cemetery are three tiny grave markers, side-by-side, representing three sisters who died very young.  Here are the first names, dates of birth, and dates of death that are inscribed on the markers. 
        Mary                   Born:  August 30, 1873                      Died:  August 4, 1874
        Judith                  Born:  May 21, 1874                        Died:  August 10, 1875
        Sarah                  Born:  September 30, 1875            Died:  August 22, 1877

Can you possibly comprehend the pain these parents must have felt as they buried their three precious daughters in such a short span of time?  Try to imagine it…  The mother delivered Judith just 2-1/2 months before she laid baby Mary to rest.  Mary didn't survive to celebrate her first birthday.  Then during the next pregnancy, Judith died, not having reached the age of one.  Finally, Sarah died just shy of two years old.  What anguish this poor mother and father must have felt! 

I plan to visit their graves tomorrow while I'm at our farm and imagine what life must have been like during the "good 'ole days".  High mortality rates were a reality of a bygone era.  Having a quiverfull of children was critical to the long-term survival of mankind.  We'll likely not experience the anguish our ancestors felt because vaccines, advanced medical care, better nutrition, etc. have greatly reduced mortality rates.

Here's the simple reason why the Quiverfull Movement will be a short-lived phenomenon — the vast majority of women are NOT going to spend YEARS and YEARS barefoot and pregnant!  Sorry, patriarchs!   And they're NOT going to endure the pains of labor a quiverfull of times.  Michelle Duggar is definitely an anomaly; however, she's got a long way to go before she can make it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

We leave you with this question and its astounding answer:

What is the record for most births by one woman?

"The greatest recorded number of children born to one mother is 69, to the first wife of Feodor Vassilyev (Russia). In 27 pregnancies between 1725 and 1765 she gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, 7 sets of triplets, and 4 sets of quadruplets.  Only two of the children failed to survive their infancy.  The mother also holds the records for giving birth to the most sets of twins and the most sets of quadruplets."

Absolutely incredible!  Had this Russian woman lived during our day, we could be watching a reality show called:
"69 Kids and Counting!" 

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