On Wednesdays, I'm writing letters...
Dear Jim Bob and Michelle,
I’ve only seen about 30 highly produced and edited documentaries about your lives and the lives of your 19 children, but from the looks of it, you seem like real nice folks. I heard about y’all way back when little Josie was born and in the hospital but I had no desire to go acquaint myself with “that 19 Kids family.” Can I be embarrassingly honest? I judged you before I met you. Any couple that willingly has that many kids is just crazy/uber-religious/non-relatable/extremist/judgmental/you-name-it, right? Well, forgive me, my brother and my sister.
I watched your show (five years after I first heard of you), and you surprised me because you’re different than what I expected. Michelle, where did you get that voice? The one that drips maple syrup and sunshine while your sticky children are climbing all over your wedding vow renewal dress? The voice you use to describe sharing one bathroom with 50 other people at your friends’ (the Bates) home? The voice you use to read to public school children while wearing baby Jordyn Grace on a nursing pillow, locked and loaded under a blanket?
And Jim Bob, while I just don’t process life in terms as simply as you seem to (and boy, do I sometimes wish I did), the truth is you’re just nice to people who aren’t like you, to women who wear pants and to the men who love them, for example. And that shows goodness, Jim Bob, it really does, because you're a man with great convictions who also doesn't push others to share them.
The clincher for me, JB and Michelle, is that when producers ask why you do this or that, your answers aren’t always the ones I’d expect about, for example, how covered up your daughters and sons should be. I don’t hear a trace of women’s-bodies-are-evil rhetoric despite the “Wholesome Swimwear” and the skirts-below-the-knee. No. What I hear is Michelle saying how much they like to keep attention on the “whole person” and not just body parts. Come again? That sounds exactly like something I’d say to my daughters (although I do let them wear pants). And what a positive message for pretty much every woman and girl (under the age of--I don’t know—100??) that's inundated with images of TV and internet booty shakers.
But let me still be honest: not everything you and your kids say resonates with me. I know you say you want them to "make their own decisions" and "set their own guidelines," but the next sound bite is your daughter parroting you while describing her values for courtship, marriage and hand-holding. Once in a while, I’d like to see a Duggar kid question authority—not because they’re rebellious, but just because they’re thinking for themselves.
Yet, watching your show makes me wonder for a moment if thinking for oneself is overrated. The thing is: these kids seem so genuine, and so content with the influence of all that "authority" in their lives. (Ignorance is bliss?) And for that, I have to admit, JB and M, that I am just the teensiest bit jealous of you and the fam. Your lives contain that much chaos, that many groceries and doctor appointments and diapers to change, and yet you seem so chill and so happy. Is it the nursing hormones, Michelle? Jim—is it the gallons of aerosol hairspray inhaled every day? Or something more? I dunno.
Some days, I just want to have what you're having and call it good. But then I remember you don't dance or wear pants or give "full" hugs or listen to/sing anything other than pre-1950s church hymns, and I think, I'll stick with what I've got, even though my kids question about 95% of what I say and my 9-year-old isn't convinced there's a thing wrong with holding hands with a boy at her age, God help me. But I'm sticking with this, my own, experiment for now. I'll keep you posted on how they all turn out.