Book Review – “The Duggars: 20 and Counting!”
The Duggar Family is a unique phenomenon in America. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the family’s patriarch and matriarch, are parents to 17 children, and as of today their 18th is due this coming January 2009. They are a staunch conservative Christian family. All of their children are home-schooled. They have housed this family in no less than 2- or 3-bedroom homes until recently, when they built themselves a 7,000 square foot steel home. Yes, you read that correctly – they built the house themselves, with very little outside help. And they did all of these things debt-free.
After appearing in a documentary on the Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel developed a reality series on them that can be viewed Monday nights at 10:00 PM. The resulting interest in their family generated thousands of questions via e-mails and such, which obviously they cannot answer in a timely manner. This motivated the Jim Bob and Michelle to write a book in an attempt to answer some of the frequent questions they receive. I purchased this book on Black Friday at Lifeway and had it read completely by Saturday evening. What follows is my review of this book.
Their story is not typically American, nor is it typically Christian. How many families do you know that have one or both parents at home instead of working? Especially those who have more than two children? Speaking of which, how many families do you know — secular and Christian — that have more than two children? How many Christian families do you know who are advocates of no birth control whatsoever? For that matter, how many believers do you know who advocate some form of birth control? How many families do you know where the adults do not even hold what we would consider a steady job, but instead work basically as entrepreneurs? (For those who need a definition, here’s the dictionary definition as well as the Wikipedia entry for a little deeper explanation.) Once you have grasped your answers to these questions, sit back and be amazed as you read their account.
The Duggars take you on history of their family, from Jim Bob and Michelle’s childhood right down to their excitement (yes, excitement) at the upcoming arrival of baby #18. It is written in a very conversational style, and it is obvious the editors of the book interfered as little as possible. The words of this book are theirs entirely, and anyone who has watched their show will hear the Duggars speaking to them throughout. It is sprinkled liberally with answers to common questions, usually answered by their children. There is also a wealth of mouth-watering recipes and household tips, many of which are money and time savers. There is a brief appendix that gives resources the family uses such as books, helpful websites, DVDs and videos, etc. I found the book very easy to read, hence my devouring it in 2 days. Many of the recipes we will definitely try out for family gatherings or even for ourselves, and many of the tips left me astonished at how diligent this family has become to find easy and frugal ways to get things done.
The first four chapters are largely autobiographical. We get a glimpse into the childhoods of Jim Bob and Michelle, seeing the forces that shaped them and still drive their family today. Jim Bob’s father was also an entrepreneur, though not very successful, which meant his family was always on the brink of financial hardship. However, Jim Bob’s parents made sure he did not lack any need, always trusting that God would provide. They passed on this entrepreneurial spirit and this trust in God to provide to their son. Michelle, in contrast, was much more what we would consider typical. She was a cheerleader and likely very popular. She was used to being able to buy whatever she wanted. She freely admits that learning to be frugal was a tough struggle, but says teasingly that she is now more frugal than her husband!
The Duggars include in their autobiography not just their personal history, but their financial history as well. They believe that “we are who we are today because business decisions we made and amazing experiences we had as we sought to support our family financially by following Bible principles (p. 42).” They live by the maxim of never borrowing money and buying things at a good price. In fact, their motto is “Buy Used, Save the Difference – But Be Careful!” They share some of their financial mistakes, especially highlighting how failure to communicate with one’s spouse and praying over financial decisions can lead to disaster. The Duggars went through Jim Sammons’ Financial Freedom program (linked on their website) and have lived by these principles throughout their marriage. Those of you who, like me, are of the cult of Dave Ramsey will recognize instantly much of what this program teaches. The Duggars say this program taught them that “[i]t wasn’t about getting rich but about giving God control of every area of our lives. Those lessons led us to a strong determination to serve God rather than money, to always choose a good name rather than great riches, and to get out of debt and not borrow again (p. 47-48).” Throughout the book they share experiences and lessons learned as they sought to apply this belief. Though there have been times where there was no option but to pay things off incrementially (i.e. hospital bills), they have been entirely debt-free since the earliest days of their marriage due to this mindset.
What About The Children?
We learn that the couple did not immediately begin having children. Indeed, they were on birth control pills for the first four years of marriage before having their first child. After their son Josh was born, they went back onto the pills, believing they were not ready for more children. Then Michelle unexpectedly got pregnant while on the pills, but sadly miscarried between her second and third month. Their doctor told them it was likely due to the pills, and that devastated the young parents. obviously pro-life, the Duggars repented and began to educate themselves on what the Bible says about children, discovering that God considers children a gift, a blessing, and a reward (Psalm 127:3). They determined that they would stop using any form of birth control and let God decide how many children they would have. Within months of this, they became pregnant with twins! To this day the only “birth control” they practice are the biblically recommended times of sexual abstinence, such as those recommended in the Old Testament. The Duggars are quick to state they believe these teachings are not law for New Testament Christians, but instead (for Christians) are healthy practices that help believers to properly care for their bodies and their relationships. Since then, they have had a child nearly every year. Michelle estimates she has been pregnant a total of 12 years (144 months) out of the 24 that she has been married!
The Duggars address the issue of concerns and comments raised by others at their large family and near-perpetual state of pregnancy. They understand where the concerns of loved ones are from, since they realize they cannot comprehend being able to care for nor afford such a large family, and that many of their family and friends are merely concerned for their personal and financial health. They believe comments from strangers (such as the very vulgar and slanderous poster going around the internet about them) may arise from either curiosity or condemnation. They say it is disheartening to them to hear these comments, but they know what God has put on their hearts. Since they gave this area of their lives to Him, they do not expect anyone else to understand. They are quick to affirm that “[i]t doesn’t make someone more spiritual to have ten children or to have none. God is more concerned about our relationship with Him than how many children we have (p.71).”
Parenting & Home-Schooling
The Duggars share how they came to get involved in what’s now called the “homeschool movement.” They heard a message on the importance of “training up a child in the way he should go” and began researching home-schooling, eventually attending a conference for Advanced Training Institute, where they became convinced home-schooling was the best way to be faithful to their commitment to give every area of their family’s life to God. Two entire chapters are devoted to how home-schooling has become a way of life for them, how it influences their parenting, how it influences their children. In these chapters is also a wealth of things they have learned about parenting and home education, including child discipline. The Duggars discuss several teaching tools they have used and give references for their readers to investigate for themselves.
The Duggars seek to teach their children four principles of obedience (reproduced from pp. 115-116):
- Instant: Obedience needs to occur instantly. If it doesn’t happen instantly, it is not obedience. Sometimes it’s not what you want to do, but it’s what you ought to do to honor Mommy or Daddy — or God.
- Cheerful: God wants us to obey Him joyfully, and parents want the same thing from their children. Even when what we’re asking of them is a little difficult or not what they want to do, we remind them to respond with the right attitude: “Yes ma’am,” or even, “Yes ma’am. I’d be happy to.” We want them to comply without snorting and stomping off in anger and without complaining.
- Thorough: This point of obedience came up because when something was left undone, we so often heard responses such as “I didn’t hear you,” or “I forgot.” Now when we ask the children to do something, we make sure they’re looking us in the eye when we make the request. Then we wait to hear “Yes ma’am” or “Yes sir” in response.
- Unconditional: We teach the kids to do what we ask without arguing. For example, if I ask someone to vacuum, I don’t want to hear “That’s not my job! That’s so-and-so’s job.” Well, I know whose job it is. I’m the one who gave out the jobs (we call them jurisdictions). Instead, I want to hear “Yes ma’am” as that child heads off to retrieve the vacuum cleaner.
It is to my shame that I read these and realize this is what my parents wanted from me, and that often I failed to do each. But it is to my education that I realize my parents did not teach me to do these things so that my obedience was compelled each time, especially as I became a teenager. Grace will definitely be taught these principles, to live by them and to teach her future children to live by them as well.
One tip we gleaned from these chapters was the concept of “blanket time” to teach a small child (typically an older infant or toddler) to sit quietly. Take a small blanket and sit the child on the blanket. The object is to train the child to stay on the blanket for 5 minutes. If the child attempts to leave the blanket, correct the child and return him/her to the blanket. When the five minutes are up, remove the blanket. Do this often until the child can stay on the blanket for 5 minutes, then add one toy. Continue the training until the child can play quietly with the toy for 5 minutes, then allow the child to select his/her own toy from then on. Eventually when the blanket is brought out, the child will be able to sit and play quietly on the blanket for as long as is needed. This would be a godsend for many parents. I encourage you to read this part of the book for yourself, as I can’t do it justice!
Recipes, Tips & Tricks
Probably the most fascinating and interesting part of the whole book for me were the recipes and household tips. Many of their recipes serve up to 20 people, and can be frozen or refrigerated! What a money-saver this must be! The majority of the recipes shared require little to no preparation – you can simply throw the ingredients together and cook your meal. There are also lots of organizational tips they have learned from books and professionals. One tip we are definitely going to try out is making our own laundry soap out of Naphtha soap. One batch lasts this large family, which does at least 40 loads of laundry per day, 2-3 months. Think how long that would last my own family of 3! If the Duggars write another book, I heavily suggest it be entirely devoted to recipes and household tips!
This book was fascinating, challenging, educational, and uplifting. I have been both equipped and edified in the reading of this book, and encouraged to learn more and more about parenting through the story of the Duggar family. I will return to this book time and time again.
I realize this review is inordinately long (I’m at 2100 words), but I cannot get over this book! I recommend that each of you reading go out today and get it. Avail yourselves of the recipes, tips and tricks. Soak in the Duggars’ commitment to a Christ-centered life. Determine today to follow their example! It is well worth the $16 cover price!