Ever since Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar decided to do their first TV special on TLC about their larger-than-average-family, people have asked, “How many kids is too many?” Their reality show, now called 19 Kids and Counting (up from 17 Kids and Counting when they first started the series), showcases the Duggars as they manage day-to-day life with 19 children. As anyone who watches the show knows, they are not on government assistance, but financially support their family and live completely debt-free (even their house was paid for in cash). Michelle, the mom, homeschools the kids, and the Duggars also conduct church services in their home. They are conservative Christians, and believe that instead of relying on birth control of any kind, God will dictate the size of their family and give them as many children as He sees fit.
And it’s this last point that has people polarized; visit any comments section following an article about this family, and comments fall in one of two camps in the Duggar controversy: the Duggars are wonderful people who deserve to have as many children as they wish, or they don’t like the Duggars’ too many kids, the Duggars are crazy and no one should be allowed to have that many children. To complicate the debate, Duggar baby #19, Josie Brooklyn Duggar, was born at only 25 weeks at a weight of 1 pound, 6 ounces. Eight days into life, she suffered a perforated bowel which was corrected through an abdominal drain and antibiotics. Her birth was a result of Michelle developing preeclampsia, which can be life-threatening for both mother and baby. Michelle is 43, an age at which many women stop having children due to the risks. Couple that with the fact that she’d already borne eighteen, and the risks were much higher. And yet, Josie Duggar seems to be doing well and is due to be released on March 18, and Michelle has also recovered well and is speculating about baby #20, telling People Magazine, “our hearts haven’t changed . . . we would love more children.”
Many who watch this family, including experts in child birth and development, are worried that Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are even considering more children. But the Duggars believe that only God has the right to make that decision, and their hearts are open to as many as He chooses to bless them with. Many feel that this is irresponsible, not from a financial perspective, but from a health perspective. Why risk Michelle’s health and the potential health of another Duggar baby? Why gamble with complications that could render 19 children without a mother? Vyckie Garrison sheds some light on their decision at her blog, No Longer Quivering. As a former adherent to the Quiverfull movement the Duggars are a part of, she explains the compulsion families feel to continue to have children, even when it may not be healthy. Harrison states, “The Quiverfull philosophy is an alluring and powerful spell-and the woman so enchanted feels the euphoria of the ‘Big Happy Family,’ she is seduced . . . , tempted by the promise of God’s protection and provision.” Harrison herself has seven children, giving birth to the last three under stressful and life-threatening situations, yet she was determined to keep having children, as long as God allowed. She now describes herself as no longer quivering, happy with the seven children she has and thankful that she’s still around to raise them and watch them grow. She doesn’t fault the Duggars for their worldview or for having too many kids, but expresses concern in the Duggar controversy that the view they’re embracing may be destructive in the long run.
And this is what many people seem to be expressing-a concern that the present Duggar children need more time and attention (we know they are financially cared for), and that they need a healthy mother. It’s almost as if there’s a whole group of people out there reaching out a permission slip to the Duggars to stop having children. It’s as if they’re saying, “We’ll still watch 19 Kids and Counting and we won’t think any less of you if you stop at Duggar baby 19. Stay healthy, focus on what you have, enough is enough!” And while I’m inclined to agree with these people, mostly out of compassion as a fellow Christian who believes that God does take care of us and directs our lives, yet gives us wisdom and discernment to make healthy decisions, I recognize that no one has the right to tell the Duggars to stop having children or to say the Duggars have too many kids. It’s no one’s decision but theirs as to how many children they choose to bring into their family. So when People Magazine splashes the Duggar controversy across their cover for sales, slamming the Duggars for too many kids, I feel sad for them. “Choice” seems to be a safe and acceptable word when discussing single-child families, or even abortion, but jump to the other end of the spectrum and people are incensed. The bottom line is that family size is a personal choice, so if you don’t agree with them, don’t watch their show, write to TLC about it, and don’t buy their book. Being on reality television opens them up to scrutiny, but it doesn’t justify putting limits on personal freedoms. Having a large family is a personal choice, and one the Duggars seem to be handling gracefully, despite the present challenges.