On Growing Up Duggar

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on May 24, 2015.

For months, and for years, I have pleaded with the American public to stop glorifying the Duggar family and to get the Duggars off TV. It has pained me, indeed hurt me, to see a family who grew up in the same subculture as I did, make headlines.

I have called 19 kids and Counting, the Duggar’s reality TV show, the Truman Show. Births are filmed and aired on TV. Girls’ virginity are sold to TV advertisers. And the Duggar children never get a taste of the real outside world. In a cult, there is no outside world. Because, in a cult, you are told that everything is more real, more tasteful, and more glorious here, in Christ.

On reality TV, sexism and abuse are glorified, but people are entertained.

The media makes the already-absurd reality show only more absurd and intense, preferring to poke fun at the Duggar kids, without any understanding of what they are going through. Just last week, I wrote an unpublished blog post on Jessa Duggar and Evolution. In this unpublished post, I basically was telling the media to get off her back, that they have no clue what it is like to grow up believing that the Bible is the foundation of all truth and that nonbelievers cannot be trust. Jessa Duggar may be wrong, but she is just that, wrong. Not evil, and not an object for the Americans to mock, just because her dad decided to parade their family on TV.

Everywhere I turn on the internet, the media and viewers never considers what it is really like to grow up Duggar.  The last few days, even as people have begun to connect the dots that the Duggars aren’t all as they appear to be, people have blamed Anna and pointed fingers at Anna, never considering the lack of choices that Anna really had. I wrote a post last year about a girl I use to babysit whose parents married her off, right before she was finally going to break free and attend college. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but I had two homeschool friends married off as minors, and one of my guy friends had a father approach him to marry his 16 year old because he couldn’t afford to feed her anymore (he thankfully said ew and declined). Yet none of these girls felt forced or under privileged to marry because they have been trained that marriage is their God-given duty.

Even Josh’s crime did not happen in a vacuum. The ATI cult grooms young men to devalue women, teaches that all sex is sin, has no concept of consent, and teaches young teens to suppress their sexuality. There is no excuse for Josh’s crime, but Mr. and Mrs. Duggar’s crime is not just overlooking that he molested children. The purity culture/modest doctrine/ATI environment fueled the crime. I recommend this post at Diary of an Autodidact.

Meanwhile, the American people watch the Duggar kids smile and pretend that it is all okay. It has to be okay, for the Duggar kids, because the TV is how they feed their siblings.

As you can imagine, I’m tired and pissed. I’m tired of the show. I’m tired of thinking about it. I want it off the air. I want the American people to shut up their mouths, for once, and stop talking about what the Duggars think about evolution and guns and courtship and hell and evangelism, and even sex.

It’s cruel, it needs to stop.

Two nights ago I started having these flashbacks of my days in ATI. I remember walking the halls of the ALERT academy, a good little girl. I remember the jumpers. I remember the men pushing my freakin’ chair in at the dinning hall. I still remember the day in the early ’90s when I talked to the Duggars, never knowing they would be famous.

That world was both empowering and frightening. It was empowering because we felt empowered to be the light on the hill that would never die; it was empowering because we had community. It was empowering because we were not like everyone else, those poor worldly souls. But it was frightening because I would never be good enough.

I remember crying as a teen and praying to God. Every time things got more dysfunctional at home, I just kept going back to my pillow at home and praying to God.

I couldn’t break free because God wanted me to be strong and because God would use our shit for good.

I couldn’t break free because I distrusted everyone and everything outside my own home.

I couldn’t break free because I never left my own house. Once, I attempted to run away for the day, and after running and running, I realized that the nearest person who would let me stay with them until dad got off work, was just too far away. I couldn’t make it there on foot. While other kids I knew got a driver’s license just so they could go to their buddies house, I just wanted a driver’s license so I could feel safe.

I don’t know what it’s like to grow up Duggar, because I don’t know what it’s like to have 18 brothers and sisters to worry about and be put on national TV.

But I do know this, the last few days I’ve been exhausted and depleted because the Duggar news has hurt my heart at a personal level. And I think I have a good reason to be. ATI stole my childhood, and ATI is at least semi-responsible for my friend who ended up taking his own life after his experience growing up ATI and going through ALERT.

We, homeschool alumni, are angry, pissed, and worn out.

I don’t hate the Duggars; I’m sure, even if their current dresses-only condition, we could get together and have fun. But I do hate their show.

TLC we are waiting. Please, cancel 19 Kids and Counting.


  • Jacqueline Johns

    I truly feel bad for those poor kids every time I think of them, especially the girls. I wish we’d all be able to see the day when one or more of them break free, and learn to stand on their own feet, stand up to their own sexist parents, and actually experience what freedom in Christ really means…I think we might someday actually see that; I wonder what those children actually think of their limited lives, limited freedom, deep down within themselves. Whatever it is, I’m sure they can’t be truly fulfilled with their little lives; Let’s hope one day they’ll be able to see that for themselves.

  • I think it’s just plain abusive to have these kids living their real lives in front of the camera. I remember feeling absolutely appalled whenever I made a mistake or had to be disciplined; I couldn’t imagine having my mistakes and lectures aired to millions of people for them to laugh at and comment on. OMG, it’s just sick. I don’t know how any of them could have a shred of self-esteem after years of that. Not to mention, the show probably came the most effective tool of keeping them in line with all the “keep sweet” ATI bull that their parents peddled to the world. Barf.

    • Matthew Chiglinsky

      My mom always taught me that if I made a mistake, it was okay if I told the truth about it. I wonder if it’s the reason I have so much honesty and self-discipline as an adult.

      Well, at least my actions are disciplined. My mouth sure isn’t, But that’s where the honesty comes in. Who do you trust more: the liar who makes you feel good or the honest person who might occasionally offend your tender sensibilities?

      (My mom was a “Christian” by the way, but she was more into the “love” than the “discipline”.)

      • This isn’t an honesty issue, or an aversion to discipline issue. I’m an honest person, and I welcome correction when I am in error. However, I’m also a very sensitive person and don’t care to have my personal missteps aired to a bunch of strangers before I’ve had a chance to address them in private. That’s what this is: a privacy issue.

        It’s also an exploitation issue. These kids’ personal lives are being put on screen for the entertainment of strangers. They had no say in the matter, or at least very little choice. They are celebrities whether they want to be or not. The media will follow them for the rest of their lives and comment on every major thing they do. It’s one thing to make that decision for yourself as an adult, when you at least have some understanding of what you’re signing up for. These sheltered children had no clue. And living in such a restricted environment with no privacy whatsoever means these kids will have a very difficult time discovering who they really are.

        The Duggar children are in an abusive environment, and the presence of cameras only compounds the abuse.

  • Diane Alton-Kaighin

    Sorry you had to go through this. It must be painful having old wounds resurfacing. I am glad the Duggar’s had their show as it exposed what had been going on in silence for decades. Time for the nonsense to stop. P.S. I hope R.L. Stollar writes a book one day.

  • I’m glad I’m not the only person affected by all of the news on the Duggars. I’ve been raw emotionally since it came out and although I’m glad things are getting talked about I also wish it would go away. I’ve been an emotional mess lately due to all kinds of past trauma resurfacing thanks to this. The fear, the anger, the sadness, all if it. I’m utterly and completely exhausted. Especially so because I don’t have anyone to talk to about this that has lived and breathed it.

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