I recently stumbled across a blog post that expressed concern not just with the Duggars, but with all those who would defend the Duggar’s parenting practices. Now, I’m not a huge fan of the Duggars (we’ve only watched the show a few times), nor do I agree with all of their parenting practices, but what really struck me about this article was the incredibly one-sided view of many of the issues at hand, the assumption that the Duggars run their family a certain way based on their association with certain people, and the persecution of a “subculture” that the Duggars are (supposedly) a part of, often for no other reason than the authors own experiences and the fact that it’s different from the mainstream.
Before I go on, let me say that I have spent a great deal of time reading Libby Anne’s blog, and find myself agreeing with quite a lot that she has to say. I encourage anyone who reads this article of mine to also read this article by Libby Anne, which I think presents a much more balanced view of the message shes trying to get across.
Additionally, I agree with much of what Anne has to say in the particular article I’m responding to, but it’s the one-sided view of several of her points and the assumptions made about the Duggar family that really prompted me to write an article in response. Anne starts out by saying that the only reason most people could possibly have for defending the practices of the Duggers is that we simply can’t understand their “subculture”:
“The problem real here is that you very likely do not understand the Duggar’s subculture. You assume that they are a typical American family with an extra 16 children. You assume that your culture is their culture. It is not”…
“The Duggars are part of a very specific subculture of the Christian homeschooling world, one dominated by leaders like Doug Phillips of Vision Forum and Bill Gothard of ATI, whose incredibly restrictive teachings and controlling practices have earned them the adjective ‘cult-like.’
[The Duggar’s] subculture has different rules and different norms. I know those rules and norms, because I lived them.”
First of all, simply being a part of a group or organization does not mean that the Duggars adopt every aspect of what they believe and teach. As I said before, I’m not a huge Duggar fan and I’m not at all familiar with Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips or their respective organizations, but Anne makes a lot of assumptions about the Duggar family (everything from why the Duggar girls curl their hair to “proof” that they aren’t really happy) based on the ministries of these two (and a few other) individuals (and I won’t go into all of them here, because that would make this post too incredibly long and boring.) Suffice it to say that I find it abhorrent that people would make assumptions about a family based on nothing more than their associations with ministers and/or ministries and I find it contemptible that someone would assume that the Duggars (or anyone else) is raising their children a certain way based on their own experiences, and no other evidence.
In any case, for this article, I’ll only be dealing with specific accusations Anne brings up against the Duggars that are readily verifiable by the Duggar’s themselves, and not the myriads of others that Anne has assumed based solely on their associations. So what are some of these specific Duggar practices that Anne holds up as inferior and/or disturbing? Let’s examine them:
“The Duggar children (including the older girls) are not allowed to use the internet without having another sibling looking over their shoulder.”
Censoring what children have access to is actually a pretty widespread cultural norm. We even have a national TV and movie rating system to help parents do just that, and many people purchase TV and internet blockers for this very reason. Why is it wrong to ask a sibling to help with accountability, in this regard?
“The older Duggar girls can’t go shopping without an “accountability partner,” and when one of the older Duggar boys started volunteering at their local fire department he had to take one of his sisters along as an “accountability partner.” Learning responsibility means having the freedom to exercise it, and that means not having people constantly looking over your shoulder or breathing down your throat.”
Giving children unlimited freedom is not how they learn responsibility. Giving children responsibility is how children learn responsibility. Kids don’t learn how to be responsible for their own cleanliness by having the freedom to be dirty whenever they want (just ask the parents of any 5 year old little boy.) They learn to be responsible for their personal hygiene by the (supervised) practice of tooth brushing and bath taking, changing of clothes, etc. At some point, will they be able to be responsible for these things without supervision? Almost certainly. But at what age children are ready to be handed the reigns of personal accountability is subjective.
“I’m often told by Duggar Defenders that it’s a good thing that the older Duggar kids have all those chores, and take on all that care of their younger siblings—they’re learning responsibility. I sometimes wonder if we’re operating on different definitions of “responsibility.” First of all, there’s a big difference between asking kids to help out around the house and asking them to raise their younger siblings. Yes, having some chores and being required to contribute to the household upkeep is important. But there’s such a thing as too much…”
The difference between asking kids to help out around the house and “raise” their younger siblings is also pretty subjective. What may look like “helping” to one family may look like “raising” to another. What may be considered “helping” for one child who really enjoys taking care of little ones may feel oppressive to another, who would rather be riding his bike. Furthermore, and more importantly, how do we define “too much?” How do you determine whether a child is healthy or unhealthy, overworked or well rested, oppressed or mentally stable? Remember that question, because we’ll come back to it.
“In the Duggar home what someone wants is not all that relevant. What God wants for them is what’s important.”
Hmmm… teaching children to follow God’s will for their lives, even when what He asks us to do seems to run counter to our own selfish desires. Sounds despicable to me.
“I’ve heard Duggar Defenders argue that the Duggar parents aren’t limiting their children’s choices”… (she then goes on to list several incredibly arbitrary ways in which the Duggar parents are supposedly limiting their children’s choices…)
First of all… OF COURSE the Duggar parents are limiting their children’s choices… ALL parents limit their children’s choices! I don’t know any parents who allow their children to choose not to do their homework, or study, or take a bath, or eat ice cream for dinner every night, or… or… or… Yes, we limit our children’s choices. It’s called parenting.
Anne goes on to write:
“Yes, the Duggar parents are giving their adult children some opportunities, but these opportunities are carefully circumscribed by what they consider acceptable.”
Um… hello? Once again, of course we limit our children’s opportunities based on what we consider acceptable! I’ve never yet known a parent to dump a bunch of drugs on the kitchen table and say “here, kids, I think this is totally and completely wrong and immoral, but since other kids are doing it I figured we should give selling this a try!” Obviously this example is extreme, but every child is guided in one way or another, according to his parent’s worldview. In fact, our entire public school system is geared toward churning out kids who adopt a particular worldview. As one small example, consider how many schools take their students on field trips to the local sewer plant to show them the exciting career opportunities there. How many parents apprentice their kids to the local strip club for the summer? But it seems that only when Christian parents seek to limit or guide their children’s choices do the words “oppressive” and “cult” start getting thrown around.
“This isn’t to say that they can’t succeed, but simply that some doors are closed to them from the start….”
As they should be. The assumption here on Anne’s part is that the doors closed by the Duggars are the wrong doors. But who gets to make that decision?
“Not only are the girls not permitted to go to college, they also aren’t permitted to think in terms of finding a way to financial independence.”
Taking a glance through history will more than confirm that our current cultural norm of allowing girls to pursue college and careers is unprecedented. Never before have females had more options and opportunities available to them. Women in the workforce is a brand new cultural phenomenon and one that still isn’t supported in all places, or in all cultures.
Having said that, I personally agree with Anne that children (both girls and boys) should feel free to go to college and find financial independence if that is what they feel they should do (yes, I said “should” because I firmly believe that we ought to seek God’s will in these matters.) However, just because my worldview supports higher education and career opportunities for females doesn’t mean that those who don’t believe the same are wrong for directing their children away from a path they feel is unwise, especially a relatively new path that has been rejected through the majority of history, and is still rejected in many parts of the world.
According to Anne, from information she gleaned through a vague statement about a ministry that has “helped [the Duggars in] raising [their] children” (whatever that means):
the Duggars participate in “shunning” adult children who “rebel” (whatever that means.)
Anne gives us a pretty good idea of what “shunning” meant in her family, but no idea whatsoever as to what this might mean in the Duggar family (and that’s assuming they would participate in this practice at all.) She says that because of this practice, children in this “subculture” often have a difficult time going against their parents wishes as adults.
Assuming this is the case, I’ll agree that it’s surely a sad situation, but certainly isn’t limited to Christian families or the so-called Bill Gotherd “subculture.” At some point every person has to take responsibility for themselves and stop allowing others – even their parents – to make their decisions for them. In some cases this may mean breaking ties from family members, as many members of the LGTB community, Jews who have chosen to follow Jesus, and Muslims who have decided to leave their faith – among hundreds and thousands of others – know well. Is it heartbreaking? Yes. Is it tragic? Yes. Will it cripple you for the rest of your life? Only if you let it.
Furthermore, Anne is once again holding up her own standard against someone else’s standard:
“I want to reiterate: We’re not talking about getting kicked out or cut off for dealing drugs out of the garage… For adult daughters in these circles, “rebellion” can mean something as simple as not submitting to your father, who is considered your godly authority. And this is something that actually happens.”
So Anne agrees that in some situations and circumstances, protecting younger members of the house warrants keeping older children away from their younger siblings, but has very decided opinions on which circumstances and situations those should be. Obviously what is tolerable for one family may not be tolerable for another family, and too many of us make the mistake of believing that only our way is the only good way.
“Of course, some of you may be hopeless cases. If you think it would be great to spend day after day of your early twenties changing diapers and playing cook for your siblings, saying “yes mom” and “yes dad” and getting permission to go out, sharing one big room with your kid sisters and going without privacy, all the while eschewing preparation for a career of your own, I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
Again, Anne is talking about cultural norms here and making the fallacious argument that our cultural norm is the best cultural norm. Is it “fun” for 4-H kids to take care of animals, or for football players, pianists and gymnasts to practice? Is it “fun” to cook or read a book or paint a picture? At any point, any number of my children would have answered differently to those questions, depending on their age and interests at the time. How do you define “fun?” What looks like fun for one child may not be at all fun to another. Going back to my earlier question, how do you determine whether a child is healthy or unhealthy, overworked or well rested, oppressed or mentally stable? Well, one obvious way to discern this would be to look to the children for signs of happiness and contentment, but Anne has has ruled out that possibility where the Duggars are concerned, claiming that the Duggar kids aren’t “allowed” to be unhappy and that any image of happiness the Duggar children seem to show the world is forced and artificial. This may be true, but considering the fact that up to 25% of all teens have considered committing suicide at some point and 1 in 12 teens have actually tried to end their lives, it seems the same could be said of most teens in today’s mainstream culture, where all this unadulterated, unsupervised, undisciplined “fun” is supposed to be taking place.
Am I saying that older siblings should be in charge of “parenting” younger siblings or cooking every meal? No, I’m not. But should older siblings be expected to help with younger siblings, or be given chores? If so, how much… and how many… and which ones??? There is no “one size fits all” answer to that question. Come and visit my house some time, and if you spend enough time there you’ll eventually see my (almost) 10 year old carting her little sister around in the carrier, my 11 and 12 year olds milking the cow and goats, and my 7 year old son making breakfast because they like to. I know that kids enjoying domestic things will be hard for most people to believe, but it really shouldn’t be! Ever seen a little girl (or boy) play with dolls? Ever taken your kid to a petting zoo? Ever made cookies with your kids? Kids are naturally inclined to enjoy domestic life and helping out their parents, and I’ll let you in on a little secret…. it’s not difficult to foster and direct that sense of enjoyment as they get older. And why shouldn’t we? Our kids are going to have to grow up and work somewhere, doing something. Maybe they’ll never have kids of their own, but I can guarantee that the majority of them wont find jobs sitting on front of TV screens and video games all day, or shopping with friends at the local mall. Should we not foster in them a love of helping others and hard work that comes with its own reward of self accomplishment, achievement and pride?
This generational experiment with unlimited, unsupervised “free” time, TV watching and game playing is relatively new, and I cant say the results have been all that impressive. We forget that the widespread use of birth control is in its infancy and that the mass movement from the farm to the suburbs happened incredibly recently in history. Large farming families – and children who help within those families – are much more historically normal. It seems to me that the kids from my grandparents generation were growing up a lot more mentally adjusted and happy with their lives than the kids I’m seeing coming out of our current self-indulgent system. For every “I was raised in a large christian homeschooling family” sob story, there is an equally heartbreaking: “I was pregnant at 15 and on drugs at 16” story.
But somehow, hanging out with friends, going to the movies, gossiping on the phone and necking with pre-pubescent peers has come to be seen as having more redeeming value than cooking, cleaning and spending time with family members. Somehow, the all-important “me time” (after your 35 hours of weekly mandatory schoolhouse imprisonment, that is) has become viewed as more worthwhile than helping and caring for those around you. Somehow we’ve equated “fun” in this culture with sitting in front of a little picture box with our hands in a potato chip bag, and shopping.
According tomuch of society, this is what my kids should enjoy doing, not -heaven forbid – spending time with their siblings or cooking a meal for their family.
To all the hopeless cases who believe that, well, I’m afraid I can’t help you.
.shouldn’t be ignored.