Obviously, a reality TV show shouldn't really be taken for reality, but there's something about the seemingly wholesome quality of the infamous Duggars that had always left me wondering why exactly people had a problem with them.
Is it the fact that Michelle never seems to raise her voice with a million children while I can't make it through the morning without doing the same? Do we reflect our own mothering insecurities on her apparently unflappable vats of patience? Or does our annoyance lie in the fact that they all so seem so darn cheerful all the time?
Maybe I'll never know the answers, but one writer, who grew up in a household that held the same beliefs as the Duggars, shed a little light on why this reality TV family may have more going on behind the scenes than we realize.
Apparently, the Duggars prescribe to many of the teachings of Bill Gothard, who founded the Institute in Basic Life Principles, which offers the homeschooling program that the Duggars use through the Advanced Training Institute, or ATI.
While the Duggars aren't always openly supportive of the movement, after allegations of sexual abuse by Gothard surfaced, women who were also raised in the same culture recognize the principles and teachings that the Duggars describe as Gothard's. And if you do some digging, you find that the guy is pretty creepy. He's not married and prefers young women with long, curly hair. Hence, it is more godly if women wear their hair long and curly — a Duggar trademark, even though most of their hair is naturally straight. That fact alone really makes me look at the Duggar ladies in a different light.
In her piece for Patheos, writer Libby Anne describes how many people, myself included, don't see what's wrong with the Duggars because, well, they seem so happy. Not so fast, she says. "The Duggars follow parenting methods that teach that children should only ever be allowed to be cheerful, smiling and happy. Yes, really. Those are the only emotions that are permitted," she writes. Say what?
Having grown up in the subculture of the extreme homeschooling beliefs of the ATI, she sheds light on the fact that children are literally taught to be smiling and happy at all times or else they are not living up to what Jesus expects of them. If you don't believe me, check out this song that is played at the ATI conferences, which the Duggars attend.
Obedience at all times is expected not only from older children, but right from the beginning of the baby years. On the Duggar family blog, Michelle writes about her technique for using blanket training to teach even babies obedience. "'What they're learning is self-control,'" she says on the blog. "'They're learning to obey Mommy's voice.' One of Michelle's favorite mantras is 'The first time I say it, you obey it.'"
To my mothering ears, this doesn't sound all too bad, but Anne paints a different picture of blanket training that is often used in families who follow the same teachings as the Duggars. "What they do is place a baby on a blanket and tell the baby not to get off. If the baby crawls off, he or she is spanked on the leg, told “no,” and placed back on the blanket," she writes. "If you do this for long enough, the baby will learn to stay on the blanket, and then you can safely leave the baby there while you cook lunch or school the older ones. This all seems counter to the nature of a naturally curious baby."
Now, I'm not one to judge the Duggars, because maybe there could be worse things than raising smiling, obedient kids, but I do have to say that in their case, there may be more than meets the eye in this family.
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