The other day I saw a television program examining a deeply religious Christian family with 15 children born over 20 years of marriage.
There were so many children in the family the parents had to acquiesce their direct rights over morality and education and “Buddy Up” the children so an older child had responsibility for a younger one throughout the day. That struck me as morally wrong and educationally irresponsible.

The parents, especially the mother, were both terribly proud of their excessive progeny and they pronounced every action they made as a family was done in the name of God.
How does having 15 children from one mother honor God?
Are there better ways to serve God than to populate the world with an abundance of children that the parents cannot even manage or control?


  1. In the days when larger families were common, indeed when mothers regularly had 10 more children, infant mortality was such that more than 8 or 9 children surviving beyond the age of 5 was rare. In countries where contraception is used less, as a general rule infant mortality remains high. Thus having 15 children is still rare wherever you are.
    I expect that most of us have grandparents that grew up in similar conditions with older siblings obliged to take on part of the parental role. Even with just 4 or 5 children this becomes a natural way to manage things. What I worry about in these circumstances is not really the morality of parental supervision – but rather the burden on the health system and the state. It’s morally irresponsible to have so many children because you’re so very likely to be getting way more than your share of healthcare and benefits.
    Yes, I know it’s every couple’s right to have children. It’s reprehensible to say how many children people should have. But frankly fifteen children is a very strange choice to make, and it’s not a particularly philanthropic one.

  2. Sometimes, betts, I think those conversations with God need the light community examination beyond the home culture so a fresh perspective can make sure the right message is being understood in the same context in which it was sent.

  3. Simon!
    You make a quite fine historical point and I thank you! Big families were important as our country was growing to farm the land. Children were vital and important cheap labor and when their turn came to till and manage the land they were well-prepared for that challenge.
    The morality of parental supervision I was mentioning needed more clarification. In the family I was mentioning the older children dress, bathe, and feed and “parent” the younger child all day long. They lock hands and have a parent-child relationship and that cheats the older and younger children as well as the parent and that lack of direct involvement and oversight is, to me anyway, morally corrupt.
    I agree the extra burden on resources in healthcare and infrastructure are also selfishly grabbed by a family with 15 children so that personal choice becomes one of community concern with far-reaching consequences.

  4. It’s too bad you have to call in all your friends to protect you from me.
    No one here respects the word of God. He is what makes us whole and to question his messages is to seed doubt in the minds of believers. You are all elements of the Devil.

  5. betts —
    I am fond of Simon and I consider him a good friend, but I didn’t call him in here for protection.
    I thank you for sharing your more specific view of your experience in this blog and while we may not agree at least we know where the other stands.

  6. Hi Betts,
    This blog is a place where everybody’s point of view is listened to and respected. That’s why we come here – to enjoy the debate from all sides. I expressed my own point of view and even disagreed with David on some things, although his clarification changes my perspective. It would seem we have a situation where children are being robbed of their childhood and given responsability for their siblings at a very early age.
    I hear your points, and indeed I have not directly disagreed with you nor been disrespectful of God fearing Christians, in my opinion.

  7. I work with a man whose wife, after her third child gave this response when someone asked how many children they planned to have: “As many as God will let us.” After their fifth, my male coworker “got snipped.”
    Apparently, God spoke or the wife did.

  8. Having a family of 15 would be tough.
    My family of 4, plus my wife’s parents is tough to manage. I can’t imaging having so many kids.
    I’m Catholic and even though the Church is against contraception, they do allow people to make decisions to not have a ton of kids. There are Catholic doctors that teach “Natural Family Planning.” Some priests will advise “use your conscience” when using birth control but won’t necessary say you’ll burn in hell for doing so.
    I’d never call anyone an element of the Devil for choices they might make, even if I didn’t support the choice. I’d follow the path of Jesus and approach them with love, as he did with the woman at the well and the many other people who were considered bad by society during his time on Earth. Remember that Jesus didn’t come to Earth to kill Caesar, overthrow the Roman Empire, and take over. Love wins more hearts than fighting.
    My wife came from a large family. The older kids ended up raising their younger brothers and sisters out of necessity. Her dad worked a lot and ended up working on a shipping vessel to earn more money. He ended up being away from home for long stretches of time. It would have been impossible for her mom to do all of the work needed to raise all of the kids.
    Funds were few, so while her family wasn’t poor, she wasn’t accustomed to getting a lot of things. When she went to college, it was with the understanding that she’d support her younger siblings’ education when she finished.
    Now, we’re taking care of her parents since they’ve moved to the U.S. They have no retirement funds.
    The kids have all grown up and are making much smaller families of their own.
    And, my wife is sending money home so that her sisters can go to school.

  9. I saw the documentary as well! It seems many people have and it’s been the topic of discussion among my friends. Without creating additional controversy, I found that the way it was produced highlighted the “outrageousness” of having 15 children (although they have since had #16). It was almost presented as the Duggars were freakshow material; every commercial break had a tagline of “15 and counting!” I half expected the voice to say: “Come, ladies and gentlemen, come see the lady who had 15 children….”
    What’s even more interesting to me is the “buzz” also because the Duggars have since been on various talk shows and wouldn’t you know it, JimBob tried to run for US Senate. What I’m saying is, isn’t it a great opportunity for the media to use the Duggars (as well as the Duggars using the media) as a “model” of family values? Aren’t the media quietly allowing us to make inferences of….this is what a real family is? Home schooling, making clothing, using finances on a needs basis only?

  10. freuy/Simon/Let’s Have It/The Mysterious Mr. White — I appreciate your time and the sharing of your mind with us and if everyone here agreed it would get pretty boring fast. Learning from each other is a terrific gift if we can tolerate enough silence within ourselves to listen to others in the moment.
    Carla! — Your new Avatar has shaved 10 years off your life and I am frightened! 😀 I have a conservative religious friend who had five children and after the youngest reached the age of 10, his wife decided she wanted to go out in the world and work a little bit as an classroom assistant in school and she did for about two weeks before her husband rather quickly had a “Dream of God” that told him to reverse his vasectomy and “have another child” and within a year he had his wife pregnant again and, in many ways, she was given another 10 year sentence of staying at home and tending the diapers and dishes. I felt for her. She’s smart and deserved her chance to take a bite out of life outside the home.
    Chris — Thanks for the beautiful story about your family and your analysis of today’s post! It’s hard when you cannot live your own life but must instead serve a financial tether to others both behind you and ahead of you. I admire that dedication to true family values.
    musings — Ugh! Yah! That’s THEM! What channel was that on: A&E or Discovery or something else? It was hard to watch. The mother’s voice still sears through me like a knife with her sanctimonious preaching about her “chosen” family. I think, like the tattooed lady and the bed-of-nails-man if you have 15 children today you are creating your own freak show and for the media to expose it to a wider audience helps bring the light of day to a depressing and rather dark definition of familial responsibility. I don’t think anyone can exploit you as a freak unless you allow them into your home and provide them electricity for their lights and cameras. I find the Dilly sextuplets more purchasable in the frame of your wondering: They are more a freak of science than religion and the way they chose to overcome a sudden influx of children is much more interesting and valuable in human terms than the Duggars self-anointments. Thanks for that fantastic link! Oh, and here’s my take on Homeschooling:

  11. I think I saw that one on HBO once and I think I even blogged about it a while ago. They were from Arkansas right? I immediately thought about my religious cousins who have 4 kids but the mother finally got her tubes tied because she realized how much work it is. They went by the rhythm method. While they all seemed nice and relatively happy I found it pretty disturbing.

  12. Dave — I take issue with the attitude of the Duggars in that they place themselves above others based merely on the fact they believe “God instructed them” to have that many children. I find that kind of status building via religious zealotry against the best intentions of us as a whole — those of us who may not be able to have children, or those of us who adopt children because their God-given womb is rocky or worn-out, or those who have 2.5 children — completely heinous in every capacity.
    Robin — Maybe it was HBO! I can’t remember. I’ll have to more closely read musings link. Maybe the info is in there somewhere.

  13. Now, while I applaud the Japanese for actually having a population decrease, my cousin (yes the one who sold me the blackberry :mrgreen: ) is one of 14 children. They are all gorgeous, well adjusted, doing fine in their lives and quite happy. The oldest ones have moved out now so the parents can now raise the youngest ones. Yes, they are Mormon. And yes I am quite sure that they wanted to have all of those children to replenish the earth or however the saying goes. But really, when you see them, you can’t fault them for having so many… at least I can’t! I love them all!

  14. Hello Dave!
    I take your point that if parents think they can raise 20 children, more power to them — but I find it hard to believe they would be able to give the same necessary attention to 20 that they could give, say, five.
    I think the moral issue is greater than just being able to afford your children. I believe you must also be able to directly invest in them wisely with your time and energy and that has nothing to do with a poverty line or a pocketbook — it all has to do with the limited human psychic ability to see trouble before it happens for each child and you cannot do that if you are directing the older children to tend to the younger children as the Duggars do and that concerns me when children are expected to play parental roles in the family as part of a religious doctrine.

  15. suzanne!
    Yes, Mormons have a specific and detailed reason for populating the earth with offspring — much like the Catholic Church did years ago: There is strength and money in numbers!
    I am still unconvinced that having that many children sets a realistic and appropriate expectation for the world in which we all live.
    The world cannot afford for every family to have 20 children — so is it proper for certain religions to press that familial envelope in the name of spreading the word of God as they know it when the affects of that many children on a society reaches far beyond familial bonds and religious satisfaction?
    That said in general, I am happy in the specific to hear your cousin’s family is happy and well-adjusted and the image you provided is simply beautiful.

  16. All of my rabbis have taught me that ‘be fruitful and multiply’ means that you should ultimately have at least a grandson and a granddaughter – if possible – and that you should have at least one son and one daughter. Beyond that, more are always a delight but you need not do so.
    Incidentally, I submitted to you my Favorites of 2005. Sad that I didn’t make it in time to get on the Go Inside monthly e-mail. 😛 Guess that’s what I get for waiting until the last minute.

  17. Dave —
    You are making a most interesting point and one that I touched on earlier but didn’t expand on until you reminded me of it now.
    I can understand needing 20 children to tend a 500 acre ranch and to blaze a trail West — that need is communal and economic and it presses everyone forward in the community, and the schools way back then didn’t meet during the harvest because the children were needed in the fields — even today a family farm that raises lots of animals and kids has value beyond the family that can benefit anyone no matter their belief system. We all need to eat!
    I am more troubled and concerned with 20 children families that are mandated by a religious philosophy alone to grow narrow-use power and blaze money and exchange influence and not raise crops. Raising 20 children for religious reasons alone is selfish to me in the world view whereas 20 children to help out on a farm is more reasonable on a sustainable economic scale (with my already expressed concerns about giving proper attention to 20 children) in the needier universe of the entire human experience.
    Happy New Year to you, too, my good friend!

  18. Gordon —
    Thanks for sharing your experience with the growing of children! It’s interesting how many hard rules there are in so many religions concerning how many children a family should have to be considered proper in the niche view.
    Yes, Gordon, you need to read my “Time and Tide” post again! Your deadline is, and has always been, the 15th of each month!
    We had several new pieces this month and I didn’t want the new people to wait for publication or their well-won praise.
    I thought you were disconnected on Fridays and Saturdays or I would have emailed you a poke in the ribs… errr eye… errr keyboard…
    I’m in the middle of changing machines so it may be a day or two before the new box is set up and running to get your new piece pubbed.

  19. what concerns me, and has for many years, is that many things are done in the name of religion. The US is one of the richest countries in the world, it has (and thank God for that) freedom of religion and expression and etc. but, BUT, it has exploited its riches in a not good way. Yes let’s leave the current political situation alone for a moment, why do christian families need to have 15 children in order to fufill a promise? why not take all that energy and devotion to the poor and needy? I think if the Duggars really want to be “pleasing in the eyes of God,” they should take that truckload of kiddies and go help rebulid New Orleans instead of saying how great it is that they live debt free. And in any case, it’s not all roses and joys if they’re accepting trips to Disneyland and gift certificates from Procter and Gamble…
    sorry, getting a little pissy with the rhetoric.

  20. I’m actually only disconnected from sundown friday to an hour after sundown saturday.
    I wanted to wait until late december to submit because i thought more stuff… might happen in the meanwhile. I should have submitted it on the 14th like I did in 2003 and not on the 30th like I did last year. Sorry…
    *hangs head in shame*

  21. You ask important questions, musings, and I think the reason for the high percolation of religion in America is precisely because we provide protection for it as part of our democracy.
    I also think it is easier to be faithful to something established that asks you only believe than reason and always question and seek answers that may remain unknowable.
    I agree the Duggars could be an excellent example of their philosophy of living but, as you so pertinently point out, they are not exactly living what they preach and that hypocrisy makes for great print stories and even greater television!

  22. Gordon!
    Is it sundown Friday where your body is or is it some other sundown somewhere else you are respecting? Are you allowed to use any electricity at all during that time?
    Well if you had let me know about your article plans I would have waited a few hours!
    We love the head-hanging-shame thing! I wish we had a Smilie for it!

  23. Basically how it works is that it is based entirely on where you are. Where you are it is Shabbos already – but here it is not yet Shabbos.
    Electricity – tricky. Turning things on and off is a no-no but one can leave the lights on, or unscrew the refrigerator bulb so that the light doesn’t turn on and off. We use things like the crockpot and the urn to have hot food and hot water, and then we have this lovely thing called the BLECH.
    Perhaps this calls for an article about Shabbos.
    Like my new gravatar? It’s of Elizabeth, Goobie Bear, Vampire Bear and I on the NBC tour.

  24. Love the new Avatar, Gordon! So much fun!
    So can you leave your TV and computer on all day Friday night and Saturday and still use them or not?
    I don’t understand the difference between your refrigerator bulb and the refrigerator itself — don’t they both use electricity?
    What is a BLECH?
    Yes, Shabbos. Article. Write. For the 15th.

  25. ”Are there better ways to serve God than to populate the world with an abundance of children that the parents cannot even manage or control?”
    Extremely well said, David!
    If I decide to bring a new life in this world then it should be my responsibility too to provide him/ her the best possible opportunity (material, educational, recreational, spiritual…etc.) to grow. I can not burden him/ her to take care of any other sibling just because I am busy with 14 other – thats sheer cruelty. I don’t think ”God” will be very happy with this proposition.

  26. Basically breaks down to this: the thing that is not permitted is not electricity per se but the opening and closing of circuits. For example, turning on a light completes a circuit. Turning it off opens the circuit. However, leaving it running does neither. Therefore if the light is on before shabbos begins it is okay.
    The refrigerator is always on – however the light bulb is not. So using it is okay because it’s on anyhow. In ye olden days people would wait to hear the motor starting on the refrigerator to open the door because they were clunkier then and would turn themselves on to adjust the temperature and weren’t constantly running efficiently like ours do.
    I can’t use the computer for two reasons. One I could not explain in less than a book. The other one is that it is beyond the spirit of shabbos, which is to rest from any form of creative work. You know that if you write on a piece of paper you have something that wasn’t there before. However typing in this comment is creating something that wasn’t there before in an entirely different way.
    A blech is a sheet of metal which is left on a stovetop with the flames on at a set low temperature, which allows for things to be warmed up but not cooked per se.
    As for the TV – well let’s just say that some people who have friends that are not jewish have been known to have those friends over and… well again it’s not at all in the spirit of shabbos but it has been done.

  27. Gordon!
    Thank you, once again, for the fascinating cultural education! So cars are out because they have circuits but you could ride a bike? Or are you supposed to not really do any sort of non-religious activity?

  28. Only if I find the right ”dad” for my children with ”god’s” help! Not someone who believes in having 15 kids!!! :-/

  29. Hey trench!
    Thanks for the kind words about K2. I’m using the first K2 beta version over WordPress 1.5.2 just because I don’t want to upgrade everything until K2 is released and final. I hope that will happen in a week or so.
    Yes, I am fortunate to have a lot of smart and kind people commenting here and I hope you’ll hang around here a bit more in 2006! We miss you!
    Love your Avatar.
    Have a great New Year, my friend.

  30. Actually bicycles are out but not for the reason that you’d think. They are forbidden by the rabbis because a person who is riding one might have a lose sprocket or something and therefore come to fix it – which is forbidden.
    It’s not that only ‘religious’ things are permitted – making yourself a cup of coffee can hardly be considered a ‘religious’ activity, right? But more along the lines of anything that falls under 39 categories of creative labor.
    Believe me it’s a lot more liberating than restrictive. Not having to think about answering e-mails or the phone for 25 hours is awesome.
    Check out the link – it’s COMPREHENSIVE – yet only an introduction!

  31. I’ve seen a show on TLC call 15 and counting or somthing to that effect. ITs about the duggers and how they are building a massive steel frame house for their growing family.
    It does seem a little rediculous to have that many children. It never really says how they are able to afford the new massive house, or 16 children for that matter.
    Also of some concern to me was that all their names begin with J. Thats just odd.

  32. David, I am the oldest of 15 children.
    My mother chose this, due to her strict beliefs. I never had a childhood. I have always had a baby. My mother would have one almost every year. Every year I had a new one-year-old child to take care of. I started doing the dishes when I was 5, changing the babies when I was 10. My day was filled with laundry, taking care of little ones, cooking, and cleaning. I was not allowed to have any activities after school, because I had to go home and take care of children.
    After the 15th, my father had a vasectomy. My mother told him he was going to hell because of it.
    We never had new clothes; we got ours from the charity in town. We often had little food. We rarely had shoes that fit. There is no individuality. There can be none in a group that large. Every decision is pre-made – which is all the same for everyone.

  33. Hi Antoinette!
    Wow! What a story! You had no childhood of your own. Are you soured on having children of your own since you already raised someone else’s children?
    What is your relationship with your mother like today?
    How do your brothers and sisters relate to you today – as a mother figure or as a sister?
    How did you escape the grind?
    Why was the childcare placed at your feet?

  34. That’s a lot of questions!
    Escape. That was my fondest dream. I made it my singular goal. When I was 10, I decided the only way out was for me to go to college (I am not really sure where I got this idea). Since we were so poor, I knew I would have to get a scholarship. So I decided that I would have to do everything in my power to learn as much as I could, to study as hard as I could, to get the best grades I could. From then on, I spent almost all the time I wasn’t taking care of the children or the house on homework and reading. In the end, I did get a significant partial scholarship to an excellent private college. I had to choose between the children I was raising and my goal of going to college. My parents told me if I went, to not come back. I chose to follow my dream. The reason I am telling you this is because it is significant to my relationship with my siblings. They do remember me taking care of them, quite fondly. However, since we had almost no contact from the time I was 18 until the time each of them turned 18, we do not know each other very well. They tell me now that they think of me as an aunt.

  35. What an incredible story, Antoinette! I thank you for sharing the details with us.
    It’s so refreshing to see a success story like yours where education can be a path out of poverty and upward into something better even if it means the loss of some of your family.
    Do you hope to have children of your own or do you already or are you not interested in raising another family?
    Did your parents cut you off for leaving?

  36. I decided not to have children of my own. In one of those little ironies of life, however, my boyfriend ended up with custody of his children, so I am back to doing some of that.
    You understand that I have no idea about “normal” childhoods or teenage years, such as hanging out with friends, going for ice cream or to the mall, playing sports, etc.
    As to why childcare was laid at my feet, it was because I was the oldest and a girl. It was just expected, and not only by my parents but also my grandparents. It was also considered good training for my adult life. Other than that, I have not asked my mother why.
    Yes, my parents did cut me off.

  37. By the time you were 18 you had lived several lifetimes, Antoinette, and that is so awful and so crazy!
    I hope you are not filled with rage and disappointment.
    It’s too bad you didn’t have someone looking out for you when you were growing up. You had to look out for yourself… plus 14 other kids.
    Sometimes good things come from cutting.

  38. Hi David,
    Here’s an update about the Dugger family.
    The Discovery Channel ran an episode about this family and I recognized them from reading your post, so I didn’t flip the channel.
    The family was building a huge new house and Mrs. Dugger was getting ready to have another new kid. Evidently, the Duggers have been able to figure out a way to multiply their money along with their children.
    During that show, there was a preview for another episode where the family goes on vacation with their 16 kids in a huge RV.

  39. A big new house is nice. We slept 4-5 to a room. And had ONE bathroom! My mom, brother (oldest boy), and I put up insulation and wall board in the attic just to have the extra bedrooms. It was a 3 bedroom house. After we insulated the attic, the boys slept there in the 2 created rooms. The girls had the two on the second floor because they were connected (you had to walk through one to get to the other, so not appropriate for mixing genders. The baby slept with us girls. Of course, my parents had the third (also second floor). There was NO privacy whatsoever for us kids.

  40. Chris!
    Gah! It disgusts me when mainstream television celebrates behavior that should be condemned as selfish and anti-social. Discovery is my favorite channel but they do the best when they stick to meaningful education.

  41. Antoinette —
    Were there no social services to help out the kids in your family? Aren’t there housing laws against that kind of sardine-packing of children?
    Did your school system know the situation in your home?
    Did your parents ever try to find a more appropriate house?

  42. From what I know, housing laws generally cover the number of unrelated people in housing, not two married adults with their progeny.
    That was the largest house we ever had. I think we were lucky to have that. Housing costs money. Where would you find a house with enough bedrooms? At 2 per room, that’s more than 8 bedrooms (one for parents)! I can’t even imagine what that big a house would cost. Or how it would be paid for when we could barely afford to eat.
    We lived in a very rural area. We moved from a small town to this area when I was 10. The nearest neighbors were almost a mile away. We were not allowed to have friends over, and we didn’t talk about our situation to outsiders. People I meet have a tendency to think my parents are good parents merely by virtue of the number of children they have had. Adults were always saying, “Your mother must be a saint!”
    I am not going to get started on the schools.
    Speaking to some of the points made above, we were not on welfare. My parents were quite proud of this. However, we certainly did use up public school funds. We had reduced-cost milk and at times free hot lunch in school.

  43. That’s a tough life, Antoinette, and real Saint would not have let so many children suffer so far away from any sort of help.
    I’m glad you made it out alive.

  44. I have 4 children and i would have more if I could.The bible says to go out and populate the world if these people want a large family it is there business not ours.

  45. It might just be positive for siblings to learn to take care of their younger siblings, I know my older sister never cared for me growing up… I have heard and read about families with 20-21 children that come one after another and their families seemed to work fine although they had to buy ALOT of food and compromize alot. I can understand that idéa doesn’t appeal to you as it is not something even close to the “norm” and I also find that it is more risky but some people love alot of children i guess xD there are theese types of families in sweden too!! 😛 From my view I think that families in sweden generally have alot more social safety so this might be an option if you love children.. I understand there is alot of opinions when it comes to this

  46. I appreciate your caring answer, Johannes. As the world changes and becomes smaller and more compact, so too, must the idea of family and of bearing children into a world that cannot successfully sustain them.

  47. I understand that alot of you americans are deeply religious (I respect that). But I think alot of the questioning and reasoning may vanish if you become fanatic and interpret the bible as it is written (I think it is modified), instead of questioning the true motive.
    (Just as an example) If the church is the “house of god”(which alot of people claim) what would jesus have called it(said of it)? Would he say that he wanted you to go there?. I am not saying that it isn’t so. I can say that I don’t like going to church I am not even allowed to speak or debate there, somewhat like school *shrugs that off*.
    After reading your posts I can say that I can see alot of the points when it comes to the issue. I would not condemn someone for thinking and feeling something about it.

  48. I understand that alot of you americans are deeply religious (I respect that). But I think alot of the questioning and reasoning may vanish if you become fanatic and interpret the bible as it is written (I think it is modified), instead of questioning the true motive.
    (Just as an example) If the church is the “house of god”(which alot of people claim) what would jesus have called it(said of it)? Would he say that he wanted you to go there?. I am not saying that it isn’t so. I can say that I don’t like going to church I am not even allowed to speak or debate there, somewhat like school *shrugs that off*.
    After reading your posts I can say that I can see alot of the points when it comes to the issue. I would not condemn someone for thinking and feeling something about it. I like the 2 post thing 😛 easier to be inpartial then, right? xD

  49. oops my computer did something wierd i thought it didnt post X.X
    oh btw you dont have to like answer every post if you don’t want too… I can be irretable, right? haha anyways g2g byes ty for feedback

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